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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: December 2016

15 - Spiritual Development in Later Life: A Learning Experience?

from Part IV - Meeting Spiritual Needs in Older Age
Summary

Introduction

As we get older, challenging questions can arise concerning the meaning and purpose of life, especially as we move beyond the main phases of career and family building and look back on the mix of experiences that most lives encounter. There is a common-sense and culturally based understanding that the meaning of our life so far, and of its future, becomes more salient with age and that life review in various forms is an important means of exploring these issues. Faith and spirituality have traditionally been lenses through which people have explored existential matters such as identity, calling and purpose in life as well as their significance within the cosmos, relationship with an ultimate ‘other’, and other great mysteries of life and death.

This chapter explores ideas about spirituality in relation to ageing and learning and in particular how spirituality is experienced in later life. It focuses on the question of whether, and in what ways, learning in the later years can enhance a spiritual dimension to life. As a gerontologist who has a special interest in lifelong learning, I find that spirituality can be usefully discussed in terms of learning and development over the lifetime, and as part of mature identity (Walker 2010). The relevance of older people's faith and spirituality, often expressed in membership of a religion, is being rediscovered by social scientists as an important element in the meaning, experience and quality of later lives.

Faith and spirituality can enable older people to experience their lives as meaningful despite challenges to their quality of life; new meanings and purposes can replace those that experience has found wanting. Where physical or economic powers may diminish, a potential remains to reflect and make sense of things using the resources of faith and inner spiritual strength. Membership of a faith community can offer a valuable source of support, encouragement and identity. Participation in communal expressions of hope and belief, as well as in symbolically meaningful activities, are still significant aspects of many older people's lives.

Gerontological research across many disciplines and professional fields of practice increasingly links faith and spirituality in older people with higher levels of life satisfaction, better adjustment and coping with stressful life events, and recovery from illness and bereavement.

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Spiritual Dimensions of Ageing
  • Online ISBN: 9781316136157
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316136157
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