The Spiritual City
Philip Sheldrake “The Spiritual City: Theology, Spirituality, and the Urban” [Wiley-Blackwell, 2014]
The meaning and future of cities is arguably one of the most important and challenging issues of our time. In “A Spiritual City”, Philip Sheldrake provides a broad examination of the meaning and importance of cities within Christianity, uncovering some of its rich historical sources of urban thought and practice, as well as discussing some of the criticisms that Christianity has been hostile to cities and public life. The result is a deeply informative and thought-provoking account of cities and city-making that invites readers to rethink the idea of the urban life.
The book unites contemporary thinking about urban space and the built environment with the latest in urban theology. Sheldrake discusses the history of Christian urban thinking and practice in the first half of the book. He addresses its long-standing anti-urban bias and emphasis on inwardness and pilgrimage. In the second half, he reflects on the potential of cities to create a strong human community and a sense of sacred space. He delves into topics such as place identity, re-conceiving the sacred, redeeming memory, transformation and regeneration, and urban virtues. In doing so, Sheldrake puts forth a positive vision of the city in relation to Christian thought, along with ample ideas for its reinvention in the future.
“A Spiritual City” provides a broad examination of the meaning and importance of cities from a Christian perspective.
• Contains thought-provoking theological and spiritual reflections on city-making by a leading scholar
• Unites contemporary thinking about urban space and built environments with the latest in urban theology
• Addresses the long-standing anti-urban bias of Christianity and its emphasis on inwardness and pilgrimage
• Presents an important religious perspective on the potential of cities to create a strong human community and sense of sacred space”
“In his introduction to this paperback, Philip Sheldrake, Senior Research Fellow, Wescott House, Cambridge Theological Federation, writes:
“Cities have a vital role in shaping the human spirit for good or for ill. They represent and create a climate of values that define how we understand human existence and gather together into communities. Conversely, our understanding of what enhances the human spirit shapes the environments we build. As a consequence, their future is not merely social or economic matter but is also a profound spiritual challenge.”
Given the fact that more people now live in cities than ever before, it is imperative that Christians offer their views on the role of spirituality in urban life. Other questions which need to be addressed are: What makes a sacred city or a good city? What can religions contribute to human flourishing in an urban environment, especially in those which are radically multicultural and multireligious?
Sheldrake begins with a scholarly survey of cities influenced over the past thousand years by Christianity. He covers St. Augustine’s City of God, Christian monasticism, the city as a sacred place in the Middle Ages, and positive visions of cities from the Protestant and Catholic Reformations.
He also looks at Richard Sennett’s writings on urban centers along with those of Thomas Merton and the French Jesuit social scientist and historian Michel de Certeau.
In the second half of the book, Sheldrake discusses theology and spirituality in confluence with place, the nature of community, the practice of hospitality to strangers, and the idea of “Urban Virtues.” He concludes that the most sacred cities will be the ones where solidarity “grows from our commitment to a process of making meaning, creating values and negotiating a common ethical and spiritual vocabulary.””
“A quite exceptionally original and timely book, which combines deep knowledge of the Christian tradition with sensitivity to the issues of urban life today, and offers fresh insight into what the sacramental community of Christian faith brings to our current anxieties about social cohesion, justice and inclusion.” Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Philip Sheldrake is Senior Research Fellow at Westcott House in the Cambridge Theological Federation and Director, Institute for the Study of Contemporary Spirituality, Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio Texas. He has taught and written extensively in the field of Christian spirituality, on the nature of space and place in religion, and on spirituality more generally. He is involved internationally in interreligious dialogue. His dozen books include ”Spirituality: A Brief History, Second Edition” (Wiley Blackwell, 2013), “Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology and Social Practice” (2010), “Spirituality and History, Second Edition” (1998) and, as editor, “New SCM/Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality” (2005). He is a Past President of the international Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality.