HomeThe Spiritual: a Valid Category for the Humanities?

HomeThe Spiritual: a Valid Category for the Humanities?

The Spiritual: a Valid Category for the Humanities?

Le spirituel : concept opératoire en sciences humaines ?

An interdisciplinary debate

Débat interdisciplinaire

*  *  *

Published on Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Ce colloque se propose de tenter une théorisation de la notion de spirituel afin d'en faire une catégorie scientifique utilisable dans le champ des sciences humaines. Depuis le poststructuralisme, la théorie, notamment littéraire, est devenue experte en matière d'analyse et de remise en question du soubassement idéologique de tout discours. Toutefois, cette « herméneutique du soupçon » (Ricoeur, 1975) se trouve démunie lorsqu'il s'agit d'élaborer une herméneutique « instauratrice de sens » (Ricoeur, 1965) permettant de penser l'humain au-delà de sa matérialité.



In the wake of poststructuralism, critical theory, especially literary theory, has become adept at analyzing and questioning the ideological foundation of speech. Historical and socio-political contexts, race and gender as well as the problematic relationship of language to reality have all been perspectives used to examine literature as discourse. However, such critical stances are helpless to go beyond their own “hermeneutics of suspicion” (Ricoeur 1975) to construct a “positive, restorative interpretation” (Goetz 2011 ; Ricoeur 1965) particularly when it comes to approaching the human being from a non material viewpoint. Researchers are then confronted to a major epistemological question: how should one refer to what eludes rationality and the five senses? What word(s) should be used to characterize the nature of the aesthetic, political or existential quest undertaken in fields as varied as art and literature, sociology, education, environmental philosophy or medical care? Rather than terms like “mystical” or “religious”, laden with connotations and in many respects too reductive to fully express the diversity of human experience, the “spiritual” is a notion that has been gaining epistemological momentum for several decades (Foucault 1979, 2001 ; Hadot 2002, 2008 ; Le Brun 2015 ; Vesperini 2015).

This conference thus wishes to initiate an interdisciplinary debate with a view to examining whether the spiritual might serve as a valid academic category in the humanities.

In medical care, several specialists have listed hundreds of different definitions of the spiritual and still wish to retain the word, despite some semantic confusion (Swinton 2001 ; Pesut et al. 2008 ; Swinton & Pattison 2010 ; Jobin 2012). In Indigenous Studies, spirituality is a notion that is helpful to account for the specificity of indigenous relationship to the world and nature (Sefa Dei 2000 ; Goldin Rosenberg 2000). In the field of environmental philosophy and decreasing theory, the spiritual appears as an unavoidable concept to analyze climate crisis and suggest enduring solutions to contemporary challenges (Bourg & Roch 2010 ; Viveret 2012 ; Egger 2012). In philosophical discourse, whether atheistic or deliberately taking distances from religious traditions, the spiritual is increasingly involved (Ferry 2010 ; Comte-Sponville 2006). While in sociology, it is the object of some debate between the supporters of this category (Wuthnow 2000 ; Heelas & Woodhead 2005) and its opponents (Carrette & King 2005 ; Wood 2009, 2010), others are in favour of a more consensual position (Flanagan & Jupp 2007 ; Ammerman 2013, 2014). Lastly, theology finds itself questioned and rejuvenated both by its dialogue with postmodernity (Mark C. Taylor 1984, 2007 ; Ingraffia 1995 ; Vanhoozer 2003 ; Ward 1997, 2001 ; Nancy 2005, 2010) and by a newfound vitality of belief, understood as spiritual (Schneiders 2005 ; Robert 2009 ; Theobald 2015 ; Moingt 2015).

For contemporary literatures and the arts, based though they are on a break away from the religious, the spiritual is just as topical. At the heart of a greater number of literary studies (Fiddes 2000 ; Tate 2008 ; Wöhrer & Bak 2013 ; Zaugg & Birat 2014), it also conditions one’s relationship to signs, images (icons or idols), the invisible and ecstasy. There is a mystical approach of art that takes up existential and spiritual themes (Bordas & Gay-Barbier 2002 ; Cottin 2007 ; Conte & Laval- Jeantet 2008), making philosophers track contemporary signs of the sublime (Saint-Girons 2005) and the sacred (Dupuy 2008 ; Agamben 2016). A certain awed sense of the absolute (Jossua 2000), issues like the immemorial (Thélot 2011), wonder (Boblet 2011) and beauty (Froidefond & Rabaté 2016) among others still haunt literature. This is the reason why Eagleton (2012) casts a critical eye on literary studies that are suspicious of the meaning and experiential effects of forms that have anything to do with the spiritual. French theory, itself, has been shown to harbor a definite spiritual dimension (Caputo 1997). In a western context of declining interest in the religious as well as complex relationships to transcendence (C. Taylor 2007), examining the links between aesthetics and spirituality has become a matter of some emergency (see the collection « Esthétique et spiritualité », E.M.E, 2012 and following).

This international conference is an invitation to explore the ways in which a possible theory of the spiritual might be constructed, in a cultural context marked by “postsecularity” (McClure 2007) and new, postmodern forms of belief (Hungerford 2010). It purports to continue the work of the international and interdisciplinary network “Theorias”.

Submission guidelines

Abstracts (250 words max) and a short bio/bibliography should be sent

by January 15th 2017

to the conference website: https://theospirit2017.sciencesconf.org/.

Scientific Committee

  • Claude Le Fustec, Rennes2 University (claude.lefustec@univ-rennes2.fr)
  • Myriam Watthee-Delmotte, FNRS/Louvain University (myriam.watthee@uclouvain.be)
  • Xavier Gravend-Tirole, Lausanne University (xavier.gravend@unil.ch)


  • Research team ACE (EA 1796), Rennes2 University


Agamben G., Homo Sacer, rééd. 9 vol., Paris, Seuil, « Opus », 2016.

Ammerman Nancy T., « Spiritual But Not Religious? Beyond Binary Choices in the Study of Religion »,

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (52(2), 2013.

Ammerman Nancy T., Sacred stories, spiritual tribes, Finding religion in everyday life, Oxford, Oxford UP, 2014.

Boblet M.-H., Terres promises. Émerveillement et récit, Paris, Corti, 2011.

Bordas A. & Gay-Barbier G. (dir.), Peinture et spiritualité, Paris, Noesis, 2002.

Bourg Dominique & Roch Philippe (dir)., Crise écologique, crise des valeurs ? Défis pour l’anthropologie et la spiritualité, Genève, Labor & Fides, 2010.

Caputo John D., The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. Religion without Religion, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1997.

Carrette Jeremy et King Richard, Selling Spirituality. The Silent Takeover of Religion, Abingdon, Routledge, 2005.

Comte-Sponville André, L’esprit de l’athéisme – Introduction à une spiritualité sans Dieu, Paris, Albin Michel, 2006.

Conte R. & Laval-Jeantet M., Du sacré dans l’art actuel ?, Paris, Klincksieck, 2008.

Cottin J., La Mystique de l’art. Art et christianisme de 1900 à nos jours, Paris, Cerf, 2007.

Dupuy J.-P., La marque du sacré, Paris, Flammarion, « Champs essais », 2008.

Eagleton T., The Event of Literature, Yale, Yale University Press, 2012.

Egger Michel-Maxime, La terre comme soi-même. Repères pour une écospiritualité, Genève, Labor et Fides, 2012.

Ferry Luc, La révolution de l'amour : Pour une spiritualité laïque, Paris, Plon, 2010.

Fiddes Paul S. (dir.), The Novel, Spirituality and Modern Culture: Eight Novelists Write about Their Craftand Their Context, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2000.

Flanagan Kieran & Jupp Peter C. (dir.), A Sociology of Spirituality, Farnham, Ashgate, 2007.

Foucault Michel, Herméneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France (1981-1982), Paris, Seuil/Gallimard, 2001.

Froidefond M. & Rabaté D. (dir.), Que reste-t-il de la beauté, revue Textuel n°3, 2016.

Goetz Rose, « Dire l’être-à-dire: l’intrépidité ontologique de Paul Ricoeur », Le Portique [En ligne], 26 | 2011, http://leportique.revues.org/2508

Goldin Rosenberg Dorothy, « Toward Indigenous Wholeness: Feminist Praxis in Transformative

Learning on Health and the Environment » inSefa Dei George J., Hall Budd L. et Dorothy

Goldin Rosenberg (dir), Indigenous knowledges in global contexts. Multiple readings of our world, 2000.

Hadot Pierre, Exercices spirituels et Philosophie antique, Paris, Albin Michel, 2002 [1981].

Hadot Pierre, N'oublie pas de vivre : Goethe et la tradition des exercices spirituels, Paris, Albin Michel, 2008.

Heelas Paul & Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution. Why Religion is Giving Way to SpiritualityOxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2005

Hungerford A., Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010.

Ingraffia B. D., Postmodern Theory and Biblical Theology, Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1995.

Jobin Guy, Des religions à la spiritualité. Une appropriation biomédicale du religieux dans l’hôpital, Bruxelles, Lumen Vitae, 2012.

Jossua J.-P., La littérature et l’inquiétude de l’absolu, Paris, Beauchesne, 2000.

Le Brun Jacques, « La “spiritualité” dans l’histoire religieuse et l’anthropologie de saint Paul à Michel

Foucault », dans Bert Jean-François (dir.), Michel Foucault et les religions , Paris, Éditions La Manuscrit, 2015.

McClure J. A., Partial Faiths : Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison, Athens, GA, University of Georgia Press, 2007.

Moingt Joseph, Croire au Dieu qui vient. I. De la croyance à la foi critique, Paris, Gallimard, 2014.

Nancy J-L., La déclosion. Déconstruction du christianisme 1, Galilée, 2005.

Nancy J-L., L’adoration. Déconstruction du christianisme 2, Galilée, 2010.

Pesut Barbara et al., « Conceptualising Spirituality and Religion for Healthcare », dans Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17 (21), 2008.

Ricoeur Paul, La métaphore vive, Paris, Le Seuil, 1975.

Ricoeur Paul, De l'interprétation. Essai sur Freud, Paris, Le Seuil, 1965.

Robert Sylvie, « Vocation actuelle de la théologie spirituelle », Recherches de Science Religieuse Tome 97/1, 2009.

Saint-Girons B., Le Sublime de l’Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, Desjonquères, 2005.

Schneiders Sandra, « Approaches to the Study of Christian Spirituality » dans Holder Arthur (dir.), The

Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Sefa Dei George J., « African Development: The Relevance and Implications of ‘Indigenousness’ » in

Sefa Dei George J., Hall Budd L. et Goldin Rosenberg Dorothy (dir), Indigenous knowledges in global contexts. Multiple readings of our world, 2000.

Swinton John, Spirituality in Mental Health Care: Rediscovering a ‘Forgotten’ Dimension, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2001.

Swinton John et Pattison Stephen, « Moving beyond Clarity: towards a thin, vague, and useful

Understanding of Spirituality in Nursing Care », dans Nursing Philosophy, 11, 2010.

Tate Andrew, Contemporary Fiction and Christianity, London: Continuum, 2008.

Taylor M.C., Erring. A Postmodern A/Theology, Chicago, Chicago UP, 1984.

Taylor M.C., After God, Chicago, Chicago UP, 2007.

Taylor C., A Secular Age, Cambridge MA, Belknap Press, 2007.

Thélot J., L’immémorial. Etudes sur la poésie moderne, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2011.

Theobald Christoph, Selon l’esprit de sainteté. Genèse d’une théologie systématique, Paris, Cerf, 2015.

Theobald Christoph, « La “théologie spirituelle”, point critique pour la théologie dogmatique », Nouvelle revue théologique, 117 (2), 1995.

Vanhoozer K. J. (dir.), The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2003.

Vesperini Pierre, « Pour une archéologie comparatiste de la notion du “spirituel”. Michel Foucault et la “philosophie antique” comme “spiritualité” » dans Bert Jean-François (dir.), Michel Foucault et les religions , Paris, Éditions La Manuscrit, 2015.

Viveret Patrick, La cause humaine. Du bon usage de la fin d'un monde, Paris, Éd Les liens qui libèrent, 2012.

Ward G., (dir.), The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader, Oxford, Blackwell, 1997.

Ward G., (dir.), The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, Oxford, Blackwell, 2001.

Wöhrer F.K. & Bak, J. (dir.), British Literature and Spirituality. Theoretical Approaches and Transdisciplinary Readings, Lit Verlag, 2013.

Wood Matthew, « The Sociology of Spirituality. Reflections on a Problematic Endeavor », dans Turner

Bryan S. (dir.), The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, Oxford, Blackwell publishing, 2010.

Wood Matthew, « The nonformative Elements of Religious Life: questioning the Sociology of Spirituality Paradigm », dans Social Compass, 56 (2), 2009.

Wuthnow Robert, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000.

Zaugg B. & Birat K., Literature and Spirituality in the English Speaking World, Bern, Peter Lang, 2014. Collection « Esthétique et spiritualité », Louvain-la-Neuve, E.M.E. :

Vol. 1 : Decharneux B., Maignant C. & Watthee-Delmotte M. (dir.), Enjeux identitaires, 2012 ;

Vol. 2 : Decharneux B., Maignant C. & Watthee-Delmotte M. (dir.), La Circulation des modèles en Europe, 2012 ;

Vol. 3 : Lambert J. & Lerousseau A., À l’écoute de la vie intérieure. Approches interdisciplinaires, 2014 ;

Vol. 4 : Le Fustec C., Storey F. & J., Théoriser le spirituel. Approches transdisciplinaires de la spiritualité dans les arts et les sciences, 2015 ;

Vol. 5 : Watthee-Delmotte M. & O’Connor M., Enjeux esthétiques et spirituels de la commémoration, 2016.


  • Rennes 2 University, place Recteur H. Le Moal
    Rennes, France (35)


  • Sunday, January 15, 2017


  • spiritual, interdisciplinarity


  • Xavier Gravend-Tirole
    courriel : xavier [dot] gravend [at] unil [dot] ch
  • Claude Le Fustec
    courriel : claude [dot] lefustec [at] univ-rennes2 [dot] fr
  • Myriam Watthée
    courriel : myriam [dot] watthee [at] uclouvain [dot] be

Information source

  • Claude Le Fustec
    courriel : claude [dot] lefustec [at] univ-rennes2 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The Spiritual: a Valid Category for the Humanities? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, December 07, 2016, https://doi.org/10.58079/wf4

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