The Philosophical Spirit

One of my favorite tasks as a theological librarian at Drew University is orienting new seminarians to the theological reference room, which sits apart in isolated splendor from the rest of the library. Perhaps housing theology books in their own room is meant to illustrate the concept of sanctity, which in its original Hebrew simply meant separate.

Because of recent space limitations in the library, some philosophy books, which began to overflow their shelves, have infiltrated the theological reference room. They bunch together at one end of the room in free-standing shelves, not like the religion books, which snugly hug the walls. I like warning the students to beware of philosophical intruders like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard, because many were hostile to the seminarian’s chosen profession. And though my warning brings a chuckle, it carries a grain of truth. For philosophical reason, even at its most virulently antirational, seems to inhibit those elements of the mind that must be engaged if spirituality is to flourish.

I explore this topic in a class I teach at the New School University in New York. The class, called Philosophical Spirituality, examines the potential of philosophy, apart from religion, to nurture spiritual life. This holds special interest in a cultural climate like ours, which differentiates spirituality from religion. Religionless spirituality is often criticized for...

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About the Author

Ernest Rubinstein is the theology librarian at Drew University and the author of Religion and the Muse: The Vexed Relation between Religion and Western Literature (SUNY Press, 2007).