Spirituality and Aging
Robert C. Atchley
John Hopkins University Press Maryland 2009
There are a growing number of people who are consumers of literature, retreats, and personal growth programs concerning spirituality. In this admirably concise and important book a retired American teacher of Gerontology offers a contribution to the growing literature which struggles to understand, communicate and study aging and spirituality.
Atchley understands the term spirituality to refer to an inner field of human experience: “ it is a capacity that can grow enormously over time. Many of the most spiritually developed human beings are older men and women”. (p iv). The book aims to provide the reader with a conceptual map of the nature and practise of spirituality offering to scholars guidance in the addressing of spiritual growth amongst older adults.
Atchley argues that the spiritual dimension of human growth is too often neglected and that the recovery of what he terms ‘spiritual capacity’ is a significant factor for lifestyle decision making, and an important resource in coping with what life brought. Key influencing factors on this book include the authors previous research and US pioneers in Old Age thinking – Ram Dass, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Maggie Kuhn, Rick Moody and Thomas Cole. The thinking is grounded in many years of listening to and learning from older people.
The book offers a well organised plan. The introduction provides an overview of the book and some orienting discussion of the concepts and language that are used to describe spirituality. Part one in three chapters offers a basic frame of reference for the examination of spirituality and aging. Part two in two chapters focuses on two dimensions of spirituality that Atchley believes are likely to emerge and ripen in later life. Part three in a further three chapters illustrate how spirituality and spiritual development interact with other specific areas of life. The conclusion helpfully draws the examination together and draws out implications for future study, education and practice within this field. There is a comprehensive bibliography and index. Appendix A reprints a Spirituality Inventory which outlines 85 questions to offer the reader an opportunity to review various dimensions of their lives and Appendix B has an especially wise set of questions for Reflection and Spiritual Self Assessment.
The book is wise, provocative, challenging and an important contribution to the literature on aging and spirituality. It will become the standard work of reference for anyone who wishes to understand this complex field of study.