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Conceptual Definitions

2 March, 2015 - 10:41
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A key issue in this study is the definition of spirituality. It is common to link spirituality with religion. Indeed it is mostly used in that context. From the days of Biblical Abraham, to the writings of Saint Paul, up to the Protestant Reformation spirituality was closely connected with religion. The reformers thought that religion had become too political and sought to free the practice of religion from the ties to earthly institutions. The reformers wanted believers to concentrate on the interior world of faith rather than the exterior world of religious practices. This led, indirectly and unintentionally, to a separation of spirituality from religion (Jamison, 2006). Williams James, in 1902, proposed separating religion from spirituality in order to study personal spirituality (Jamison, 2006).

While many writers discuss religious spiritually, there are writers who explore the elements of spirituality that can be generalized to a secular usage. Often writers associate spirituality with a search for meaning (Carroll, 2001). In her seven part definition of spirituality, Tisdell (2003) stated that in its deepest form spirituality is about meaning making. Meaning, or purpose, becomes tightly woven into one's existence and influences other aspects of life (Sawatzky, Ratner, & Chiu, 2005).

In examining the interior world, one is looking both beyond the outside physical world that can be perceived by the senses and within the self that has been formed and influenced by the same senses. Thus one transcends the physical, psychological, or social facets of life (Sawatzky, et al., 2005).

Spirituality is not a passive, inert characteristic. It makes life more than bodily functions and chemical processes (Porter, 1995). The Latin etymology of the word spirituality is life or vigor. Spirituality is not an academic study. It is studied with the purpose of experiencing it. Spirituality is a way of life and not a series of mystical, isolated experiences (Spohn, 1997). How can a person experience spirituality? Are there practices that help a person encounter life's deepest meanings? The practices or activities are a part of spiritual development. Spiritual development is discovering personal genuineness; finding meaning, purpose, and direction in one's life; "continually transcending one's current locus of centricity"; and "developing a greater connectedness to self and others through relationships and union with community" (Estanek, 2006, p. 273).

According to Rose (2001), spirituality involves these three elements: (1) some sort of experience of matters of essential concern dealing with meaning and reason, (2) some exertion in spiritual development, and (3) a life entwined with selfless activities (Rose, 2001). In a discussion with Father Thomas Berry (personal communication, December 22, 2008), a priest in the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, the term spirituality was described as an effort to identify the world of meaning. He said that a spiritual leader acts for the purpose of the work itself and not for personal gain or benefit

In summary, there are three themes that are seen in the literature in defining spirituality. First, spirituality is an attempt to find meaning in one's life. Secondly, one is driven to seek this meaning outside of selfish and personal desires. Spiritual people perform their actions without regard to personal gain or loss. Thirdly, there are practices that can help people develop their spiritual or interior lives. These practices assist with pursuing the first and second themes. Spiritual Leadership is defined as looking out for the welfare of others in such a way that a task is completed and the group, however large or small, is unified throughout the process. Leadership is a motivation to change (Fry, 2003). Kouzes and Pozner (1987) write that "leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations." (p. 30). The leader is both an organizer and a parent figure. The idea of shared aspirations brings a sense of community into the definition.


Integrity is the correlation between the interior values of a person and the actions and decisions of the same person. Integrity includes the ability to disregard personal desires and appetites when they conflict with well thought out and internalized values. Integrity will often be tested and strained.


Community is used on several levels. It means the connection shared by the members of a group. It can reach beyond the group. Community can stand for the connection some feel they have with the natural world and the universe. It indicates the place people feel they have in the world. It is often the basis for meaning or purpose. Other words for community are membership and connectedness.


Meaning is used to indicate the value of the work. It directly afects motivation. The more meaningful the work the harder people will work to attain completion. Meaning is associated with purpose and calling.


Ethics in educational leadership is multidimensional, however in the context of spiritual leadership the focus is thought of in two diferent dimensions; the ethics of care and the ethics of justice (Starratt, 2004).

Ethics of Care

The ethics of care is also referred to as the ethics of common good. In this context, ethics for leaders are bridging the political, communal and economic norms into an action that is good for all (Knapp, 2007). No one person, policy, or organization is given preferential treatment, but all are given equal weight in making decisions. In education, the administrator must take into account the effects of the decision on the student, school and division, not only the policies involved, but the effects on the culture and school climate. What is good for all is, at times, in direct conflict with what is good for the individual. The leader must overlook any personal bias and make a decision that takes into account the care of the entire division.

Ethics of Justice

Ethics of justice is the actions of a leader that are considered right and fair. These actions are not only ensuring that the law and school board policies are followed but questioning the validity of the laws and policies when they are in confict with the norms, customs and morals of the organization in which they are applied. Justice in these terms goes beyond the courts and school board and force the leader to apply the necessary fair treatment to all, regardless of the law or policy. The idea of challenging the agreed upon social norms that laws and policies may seem idealistic, however, if leaders are to act in an ethical manner, they must challenge these norms. The ethics of justice forces leaders to always question the validity of policies in light of what is fair given the morals and norms of the organization they lead (Starratt, 2004).