Religion in Development: Rewriting the Secular Script

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Another characteristic of spiritual experiences identified by researchers 1, 8, 10, 15, 18, 19 is that they frequently bring a deeper holistic understanding about life in general. The experience below was reported by a US Olympic rifle team member:. It is evident that an in-depth understanding of this phenomenon is becoming increasingly important to assist with athletic coaching and training enhancement. The main aim of this paper was to provide a greater understanding of these transcendent states and a context for coaching. Major research milestones of spiritual lived experiences in the West and terms frequently used to describe them were reviewed from the medieval period 13, 16, 26 , the early s 10 , the postmodern and New Age era 1, 9, 14, 15 , and present day occurrences in sport 1, 6, 8, 18, 19, 22, 24, The results of the review process suggested that the reported subjective nature of spiritual experiences across historical time frames was inherently the same; and although remarkably similar, an essential difference remains between religious and secular experiences.

Spiritual experiences across historical time frames are inherently the same A review of the major historical research milestones of spiritual experiences in the West suggested that the reported subjective elements across the centuries were remarkably similar. He also identified that these experiences occurred not only through religious practices but also in secular contexts The major elements of these experiences reported across a wide range of professions including sport similarly involved heightened positive emotions and transcendent states of consciousness higher than normal every day awareness.

The State And The Steeple: A Story of Religion in Public Schools

These lived experiences all typically involve transcendent states beyond the limits of normal day-to-day consciousness, heightened positive emotions, and frequently elicit feelings of awe, wonder and amazement. Despite the different terms used across the decades, the accumulative historical research suggests the reported subjective nature of these experiences is inherently the same. The notion that spiritual experiences in sport today have their origins in ancient mysticism could also arguably be supported.

Difference between religious and secular experiences Although the transcendent elements described above were consistently reported in both religious and secular experiences, one essential difference was apparent. Non-religious experiences typically involved a transcendent feeling of union with the universe 10, 15 rather than a divine encounter.

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In a sporting context, the term spiritual experiences is also generally understood to include both religious and secular experiences. The increasing importance of an in-depth understanding of spiritual experiences in sport is supported by research in other related areas. Studies by Sports Chaplaincy UK 25 indicate that in order to cope with current high pressure sporting demands, faith had become a central aspect of the culture and lives of a growing number of international athletes.

Another related study by Deneulin and Bano 2 found religious and spiritual beliefs often have a powerful and wide ranging influence.

Acknowledgements

While athletes with religious affiliations have a context in which to interpret transcendent states, many secular athletes do not. Accumulative research indicates that intrinsic motivation, where a task is undertaken for love rather than extrinsic rewards such as money, also plays a key role in peak performance 1, Examples of intrinsic activity known to generate spiritual experiences range from deep religious medieval contemplation 26 ; secular contemplation while walking in nature 10 ; performing tasks to high levels of perfection 15 ; intense concentration on a specific activity 1 ; and total involvement in a sporting task Also of note in this regard is the foundational work of James 10 and Maslow 15 , who both found transcendent spiritual states were a common trait of people who were high achievers in their respective fields.

Additionally, it could also be assumed that elite athletes would be well aware of the personal effects of their training regimes and could clearly differentiate between physiological and spiritual experiences. Finally, although this review has highlighted that religious and secular spiritual experiences have inherent similarities as well as essential differences, the subjective reports demonstrate they remain highly individual in nature. Because spiritual experiences take place in personal, internal worlds and are interpreted through states of feeling rather than the intellect, they remain difficult to generalise 5.

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It is hoped that the findings of this review will provide a greater understanding and a coaching context for peak performance spiritual experiences in sport today. Csikszentmihalyi, M. Csikszentmihalyi Eds. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Severine Deneulin - Google Scholar Citations

Deneulin, S. Religion in Development: rewriting the secular script. London: Zed Books. Flower, L. Fuller, A. Psychology and Religion: eight points of view. Lanham, Md: Littlefield Adams Publishers. Hutch, R. Sport as a Spiritual Practice: mastery, failure and transcendence in the life of athletes.

Spiritual Experiences: Understanding Their Subjective Nature in Peak Performance

New York: Edwin Mellen Press. Sport and Spirituality: Mastery and failure in sporting lives. Practical Theology, 5 2 , Why sport is a spiritual experience — and failure can help. The Conversation. Jackson, S. Flow in Sports: keys to optimal experiences and performances. Champagne: Human Kinetics Publishers.

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Johnson, S. The Sport Journal, 14 1 , Kington, T. The Guardian. Leyser, H. These investigations have predominantly focused on the reported spiritual experiences of athletes during peak performance 1, 6, 8, 18, 19, 22, 24, With a current global focus on achievement and success, not only in sport, but also in many other professional arenas. Peak performance is attracting significant attention. Through the high quality research generated in sport, it is common practice to apply peak performance knowledge to other high pressure areas. For example, the military and medical and legal professions However, current peak performance training techniques tend to focus predominantly on physical and mental enhancement 11 and the spiritual component is often overlooked.

In order to provide greater understanding and a coaching context, this review will examine the origins and major historical milestones of spiritual experiences in the West from ancient times 13, 16, 26 to the present day. Instances of religious mystical experiences have been well-documented across the ages. More detailed narratives about the subjective nature of mystical experiences appear in European medieval literature Monks and hermits deliberately induced mystical states through religious contemplation, praying, singing Psalms, and reading the Gospels A mystical episode experienced by the hermit Wulfric of Haselbury was described as follows:.

Separation of mystical experiences from religion The next major milestone in the history of spiritual experiences took place in the early s when the traditional understanding of mystical episodes broadened to include non-religious experiences. This change was pioneered by the work of American psychologist William James — in the new scholarly area of spirituality studies. This discipline was developed by intellectuals in Britain, Germany, and the United States with a variety of philosophical and religious backgrounds James made the discovery while studying the lives of prominent successful people, such as, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Leo Tolstoy, and others who were leaders in their respective fields.

James examined more than two hundred first-hand personal testimonies and discovered these mystical episodes usually took place at times of intense concentration and involved positive transcendent states outside of ordinary consciousness James also found these extraordinary experiences occurred not only through religious practices but also through non-religious activities such as deep concentration while walking in nature.

Postmodern era: peak and optimal experiences The notion of mystical experiences having both religious and secular aspects gained momentum with the advent of the postmodern era and the New Age movement These were viewed from two broad perspectives: doctrinal and existential. But despite the differing religious and secular triggers, doctrinal and existential spiritual lived experiences both involved transcending self-awareness beyond the limits of normal day-to-day consciousness Two prominent researchers in the postmodern era who provided the next major milestone in the understanding of spiritual experiences were humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Peak experiences typically involved heightened positive emotions and transcendent states of consciousness; were identified as religious or secular in nature; and occurred across a wide range of occupations, such as, politics, science, sport, dance, and the arts.

Building on the work of Abraham Maslow, his research focused on intrinsic motivation and the lived experiences of people while undertaking tasks they found deeply enjoyable. He studied a wide range of occupations such as artists, athletes, dancers, rock climbers, surgeons, and found they all experienced transcendent episodes during times of intense concentration. Despite the diverse range of professions, the participants all described their lived experiences in similar terms.

Sport and spiritual experiences Sport is now the most popular pastime in Western culture, surpassing previously dominant areas such as music and art This rise in popularity over the past thirty years has seen a corresponding growth in international sport research from perspectives such as sport psychology, philosophy, ethics, theology, and religious studies A major area of research is sport and spirituality and it is not uncommon for researchers to compare sport to religion.

As Hutch 6 notes, the two share many experiential similarities. Fans supporting their team show devotion similar to devotees practicing a religious faith and on an individual level, success and failure can act as tests of faith for athletes 7. The extensive scholarly literature about sport and spirituality relates primarily to lived experiences during peak performance.

These experiences have been reported by many thousands of athletes, with and without religious affiliations, and are frequently described as spiritual. In their landmark study, Murphy and White 18 examined more than 6, testimonies of peak performance transcendent states. The experience below was reported by a mountain climber during a near fall:. Although reports of secular and religious spiritual experiences in sport are remarkably similar, athletes with religious affiliations frequently interpret them from a purely religious perspective.


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Nesti 19 found many of these, such as being totally immersed in the task, time and space distortions, and an holistic world view, were closely connected to religious and secular spiritual practices such as contemplation and meditation. He also found that spiritual experiences in sport have much in common with feelings of intense love. For religious athletes this often equated to a love of God, while for secular athletes a love of life.

Recent qualitative research by Flower 3 into the peak performance experiences of seven former professional ballet dancers who with their strict training regimes are regarded as elite athletes confirmed previous sport and spirituality research. Another characteristic of spiritual experiences identified by researchers 1, 8, 10, 15, 18, 19 is that they frequently bring a deeper holistic understanding about life in general. The experience below was reported by a US Olympic rifle team member:. It is evident that an in-depth understanding of this phenomenon is becoming increasingly important to assist with athletic coaching and training enhancement.

The main aim of this paper was to provide a greater understanding of these transcendent states and a context for coaching.