07: Spirituality cont’d

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Another interesting point is illuminated when we start to explore the nature of “masculine spirituality.” Two academic studies about masculinity and spirituality unwittingly highlight the issue of what is and is not “masculine” (and even “spiritual”) in these conversations. In an article, “Male spirituality and the men’s movement: A factorial examination of motivations” in the journal Psychology and Theology, J. D. Castellini and colleagues identified the following motivations for men’s involvement with spirituality which are here ordered in a way that arguably moves from the most spiritual to the least: relationship with God; faith/prayer community; self-awareness, or relationship with self; isolation or existential emptiness; fear or grief; father-son relationships; coping strategies; male bonding, or relationships with other men.

The results of the study showed, “the factor accounting for the largest portion of the shared variances was that of Male Bonding, or relationships with other men.” Interestingly, of the motivations Castellini identified, only two (relationship with God and faith/prayer community) can accurately be described as spiritual. All the other motivations could equally be discussed in exclusively non-spiritual contexts. Of the motivations Castellini identified, only two (father-son relationships and male bonding) are uniquely “masculine” (in terms of pertaining only to men), and neither of these count among the two motivations that are uniquely spiritual. In Castellini’s findings there is no single variable that is at once uniquely masculine and spiritual, yet it confidently describes “male spirituality.”

Similar conclusions can be drawn from an article, “Ten Tenets of Male Spirituality” in The Journal of Men’s Studies by Ian M. Harris, who undertook several surveys among predominantly Christian men. The ten tenets identified are: finding inner wisdom; searching for truth; speaking from the heart; confronting the dark side; loving; working for a better world; passing a test; belonging to something great; following scripture; believing in destiny. Harris locates these tenets within a spiritual context, but even Atheist Fundamentalists (Richard Dawkins, I’m talking to you) could happily sign up for all but the last two (following scripture and believing in destiny). As it is, the participants of Harris’ study ranked those two tenets as the least important. The highest ranked tenet was “belonging to something great,” which is not inherently spiritual. Furthermore, not one of those tenets is “masculine” or “male”: they are simply factors that influenced the study participants who happen to be men. Rather than “Ten Tenets of Male Spirituality,” Harris has actually defined “Ten Tenets of Spirituality Perceived By Some Men”: a perfectly worthy exercise, but of a very different nature and one which again does not exactly describe a uniquely “male spirituality.”

What both these studies demonstrate is that the conspiratorial claims about “masculine spirituality” do not stand up to even cursory examination. Let’s put aside the issue of what does and does not count as spirituality, as this is another debate that rightly belongs in a different book called The Spirituality Conspiracy, and focus instead on masculinity. Six out of eight of Castellini’s motivations had nothing to do with even a normative understanding of masculinity (in other words, connected with being a man). Similarly, all ten of Harris’ tenets could be experienced equally by men and women.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

August 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm

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