Framing spirituality more broadly

Spiritual Dimensions of Ageing by Malcolm Johnson & Joanna Walker (eds) (Cambridge University Press; Pb £24.99); reviewed by Fraser Watts.

The last 20 years have seen a number of books on the spirituality of people in later life. This book is not path-breaking but it is a very useful edited book, with 17 chapters by a range of different authors, including some of the key players in the field. It thus introduces the reader to a range of different perspectives but, inevitably, lacks the coherence of a book written by a single author.

The chapters ae organised under four main headings, ‘The Spiritual Journey of Ageing’, ‘Cultures of the Spirit in Modernity’, ‘Searching for Meaning in Later Life, and ‘Meeting Spiritual Needs in Older Age’. I was not familiar with much of the work included here, but was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of the research data, and by the sophistication with which it is being discussed and interpreted. The field with which this book is concerned is now well established and is making good progress, both academically and professionally.

As in work with other groups, ‘spirituality’ has proved a helpful concept; it raises fewer controversial issues than ‘religion’. Most people recognise that finding meaning and purpose is relevant to many people throughout life, and that it takes on a particular character in later life. For various possible reasons that are discussed here, older people are more likely to explore these spiritual issues in the context of traditional religion. However, for the most part this book reflects the desire of professionals working with older people to frame spirituality more broadly.

One puzzling feature of this book is that none of the contributors is a psychologist. They are mostly gerontologists, social scientists, and ministers of religion. Most of the chapters are, in effect, concerned with psychology, and might well have been written by psychologists. I hope that an increasing number of psychologists working with older people will take an interest in their spiritual life, and that a comparable book in 5-10 years’ time would automatically have a significant psychological presence.

- Reviewed by Fraser Watts, Visiting Professor of Psychology of Religion, University of Lincoln

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