Spirituality: A Brief History

Philip Sheldrake Spirituality: A Brief History 2nd edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013


Engagingly written by one of the world’s leading scholars in this field, this comprehensively revised edition tells the story of Christian spirituality from its origins in the New Testament right up to the present day.

  • Charts the main figures, ideas, images and historical periods, showing how and why spirituality has changed and developed over the centuries
  • Includes new chapters on the nature and meaning of spirituality, and on spirituality in the 21st century; and an account of the development and main features of devotional spirituality
  • Provides new coverage of Christian spirituality’s relationship to other faiths throughout history, and their influence and impact on Christian beliefs and practices
  • Features expanded sections on mysticism, its relationship to spirituality, the key mystical figures, and the development of ideas of ‘the mystical’
  • Explores the interplay between culture, geography, and spirituality, taking a global perspective by tracing spiritual developments across continents.

1 What is Spirituality?

Origins of the Word “Spirituality”

Contemporary Meaning

What is Christian Spirituality?

Spirituality and Mysticism

The Study of Spirituality

Spirituality and History


Types of Spirituality

Periods and Traditions

Conclusion: Criteria of Judgment

2 Foundations: Scriptures and Early Church

Christian Spirituality and the Scriptures

Scriptural Markers

Spirituality in the New Testament

Spirituality and the Early Church


Spirituality and Martyrdom

Shrines, Devotion, and Pilgrimage

Spirituality and Doctrine



The Cappadocians



Christian Spirituality as Transformation and Mission

Theories of Spiritual Transformation


3 Monastic Spiritualities: 300–1150

The Emergence of Monasticism

Widows and Virgins

Syrian Ascetics

Egyptian Monasticism

Wisdom of the Desert

Monastic Rules

Benedictine Expansion

The New Hermits

The Cistercians

The Spiritual Values of Monasticism

Spirituality and the Conversion of Europe

Local Spiritualities: Ireland

Spirituality in the East

Syriac Spirituality


4 Spirituality in the City: 1150–1450

The Gregorian Reform

Apocalyptic Movements

The Vita Evangelica

Twelfth-Century Renaissance

The Rebirth of Cities

Cathedrals and Urban Vision

The City as Sacred

Universities as Sacred Space

Vita Evangelica and Urban Sensibilities

The Mendicant Movement

Dominic, Francis, Clare, and Bonaventure

The Beguines

Fourteenth-Century Mysticism

Julian of Norwich

Crossing Spiritual Boundaries: The Influence of Islam

Devotional Spirituality

Spirituality and Eastern Christianity

The Renaissance


5 Spiritualities in the Age of Reformations: 1450–1700

Seeds of Reform: The Devotio Moderna and Christian Humanism

The Crisis of Medieval Spirituality

Spirituality and the Lutheran Reformation

John Calvin and Reformed Spirituality

The Radical Reformation: Anabaptist Spirituality

Anglican Spirituality

George Herbert

Puritan Spirituality

Early Quakers

The Catholic Reformation

The New Orders

Ignatius Loyola and Early Ignatian Spirituality

Spirituality Beyond Europe

Carmelite Mysticism

Lay Devotion

Seventeenth-Century French Spirituality

Russian Spirituality


6 Spirituality in an Age of Reason: 1700–1900

Spirituality in the Roman Catholic Tradition


Wesleyan Spirituality

American Puritanism and the Great Awakening

Shaker Spirituality

Orthodox Spirituality

Post-Revolutionary Catholicism

The English Evangelicals

The Oxford Movement

John Henry Newman

A Distinctive “American Spirituality”


7 Modernity to Postmodernity: 1900–2000

The Impact on Spirituality

The Prophetic-Critical Type

Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916)

Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)

Simone Weil (1909–1943)

Dorothy Day (1897–1980)

Thomas Merton (1915–1968)

Spiritualities of Liberation

Gustavo Gutiérrez (1928–)

Feminist Spirituality

Spiritualities of Reconciliation

Ecumenical Spirituality: The Example of Taizé

Spirituality and Inter-Religious Dialogue: Bede Griffiths

Eastern Orthodox Spirituality

Making Spirituality Democratic: The Retreat Movement

Making Spirituality Democratic: Pentecostal and Charismatic Spirituality


8 Twenty-First Century Trajectories

Will Christian Spiritualities Survive?

A Globalized World


Inter-Religious Encounter

Christian Spirituality and Secular Spirituality

Spirituality, Business, and Economics

Spirituality and Healthcare

Spirituality and the Meaning of Cities

The Spiritual and the Spatial

The Spiritual and Urban Virtues

Other Factors?

The Contemporary Turn to Practice



Philip Sheldrake is Senior Research Fellow at the Cambridge Theological Federation, UK, regularly a visiting professor in the USA, and a former president of the International Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. He is the author of numerous books including:


Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology & Social Practice Paulist Press, 2010

A distinctive exposition of the main elements of the study of Christian spirituality that also underlines the essentially socially transformative nature of the Christian spiritual tradition.


Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory & Identity (2001)

In Spaces for the Sacred, Philip Sheldrake brilliantly reveals the connection between our rootedness in the places we inhabit and the construction of our personal and religious identities. Based on the prestigious Hulsean Lectures he delivered at the University of Cambridge, Sheldrake’s book examines the sacred narratives which derive from both overtly religious sites such as cathedrals, and secular ones, like the Millennium Dome, and it suggests how Christian theological and spiritual traditions may contribute creatively to current debates about place.


Living between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Christianity Cowley Publications, 1995

Philip Sheldrake explores the roots and context of Celtic Christianity, its choice of particular landscapes and sacred sites, the ideal of enclosure and religious stability, the theme of pilgrimage, its strong sense of boundaries, and its reverence for the sacred in nature. He also seeks to explain the lure of Celtic spirituality for many church people today who are disillusioned with the institutional church and seek an alternative religious sensibility with strong roots and a capacity for wonder and surprise.


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