Vol. 28 No. 1  Spring 2001

Constructing A Spirituality of Teaching:
A Personal Perspective

Robert J. Nash

"There is a place where we are always alone with our own mortality, where we must simply have something greater than ourselves to hold onto – God or history or politics or literature or a belief in the healing power of love, or even righteous anger. Sometimes I think they are all the same. A reason to believe, a way to take the world by the throat and insist that there is more to this life than we have ever imagined."
Dorothy Allison, Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, and Literature, 1999

The Professor of Education As Spiritual Seeker

In the early 1980s, during a long-awaited sabbatical, I, a tenured full professor at a so-called "public ivy," returned to graduate school to earn a degree in applied ethics and religious studies. In the late 1980s, I took time off to earn still another graduate degree, this one in moral theology. Why, I asked myself, would a person who for so long claimed to be temperamentally indisposed to matters of the spirit spend so much money and energy pursuing further studies in religiously-oriented disciplines? Was this my way of having something "greater than myself to hold onto," of seizing the "world by the throat" in order to find more to life than I could ever have imagined? At least on the face of it, these degrees had no palpable payoff for my work as a teacher educator. In fact, to this day, I do not even bother to mention them on my Curriculum Vitae for fear of appearing impractical, or worse, intellectually self-indulgent, to colleagues in my professional school.

In retrospect, I now understand that while I may never have been comfortable as a conventional religious practitioner, or even as a believer, I have always been an eager student of religion and spirituality. I have been fascinated throughout my intellectual life with issues of meaning and emptiness, faith and doubt, transcendence and immanence, the secular and the sacred, the ineffable and the expressible. I now accept the fact that in all the professional courses I teach – applied ethics, philosophy of education, moral education, and others – I am actually a spiritual seeker and proud of it. I am a spiritual seeker because, although the world of material phenomena (science and technology) is important to me (after all, I do work in a college of education that is concerned with the prosaic, but no less real, problems of teachers, administrators, and students) the world of the intangible is important to me as well. This world of the intangible evokes questions of being, first principles, intuition, the origin and validity of knowledge and morality, and, most important, the meaning and purpose of the educator’s existence.

As a spiritual seeker, I love to ponder the imponderable. And, maddeningly, I invite my students to ponder these imponderables right along with me. I nag them to wonder, to speculate, to ask the truly difficult, often unanswerable questions, the questions that end up exasperating most of us, because they threaten our deep-down, secure, and certain places. Examples of these questions are:

[Spring 2001 Issue Contents]