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Page 1




Religions

2012
,

3
,

251

265
;

doi:10.3390/rel30
2
0
251


religions

ISSN

2077
-
1444

www.mdpi.com/journal/religions

Article

Spiritual

Identity:

Personal

Narratives

for

Faith

and

Spiritual

Living


Kevin

S.

Reimer

1
,
*

and

Alvin

C.

Dueck

2

1

School

of

Humanities,

Religion

&

Social

Sciences
,

MCD

210
,

Fresno

Pacific

University
,


1717

South

Chestnut

Avenue
,

Fresno,

CA

93702
, USA

2

Department

of

Clinical

Psychology

and

Marriage

and

Family
,

School

of

Psychology
,

Full
er

Graduate

School

of

Psychology
,

135

N
,

Oakland

Avenue,

Pasadena,

CA

91182
, USA
;


E
-
Mail
:

[email protected]

*

Author

to

whom

correspondence

should

be

addressed;

E
-
Mail:
[email protected]
;

Tel
.
:

+
559
-
453
-
2075

or

+
559
-
453
-
5558
.

Received:

21 March 2012; in revised form: 1 April 2012
/

Accepted:

6
April 2012
/


Published:

13
A
pril 2012


Abstract
:

In

this

article

we

outline

a

theoretical

and

methodological

framework

for

spiritual

identity

as

meaning

in

folk

psychology.

Identity

is

associated

with

psychological

elements

of

personality

that

help

people

manage

a

time
-
bound

existence.

This

discussion

is

extended

on

anthropological

grounds,

noting

that

spiritual

goals

are

reinforced

when

they

become

symbolically

self
-
important,

often

through

religious

ritual.

This

makes

religious

tradition

and

culture

of

monotheist

exemplars

centrally

important

to

understanding

idiosyncratic

folk

narratives

like

spiritual

success
.


Keywords:

spiritual identity
;

personal narratives
;

traits
;

goals


Introduction:

Spiritual

Identity

and

Narrative

As

the

introduction

to

this

special

edition

explains,

spiritual

exemplars

are

persons

who

have

acted

and

achieved
.

Also

as

explained,

their

actions

and

achievements

are

motivated

by

powerful

faith.

But

how

are

we

to

explain

the

workings

of

powerful

faith?

Here,

we

explore

one

way

of

explaini
ng,

namely,

in

terms

of

mature

spiritual

identity

that

becomes

a

core

feature

of

the

faith

of

spiritual

exemplars

and

also

becomes

a

way

of

connecting

personality

traits

to

goals

is

taken

to

be

sacred

within

the



spiritual

tradition.

OPEN ACCESS




Page 2




Religions
2012
,
3















252

Spiritual

identity

is

dependent

on

a

narrative.

The

story

draws

upon

historical

truth

but

is

never

meant

(or

able)

to

provide

a

completely

accurate,

factual

account

of

history.

It

does,

however,

provide

meaning.

This

account

of

spiritual

identity

follows

closely

the

model

laid

out

by

Dan

McAdams,

the

most

renowned

expert

on

identity

since

Erikson.

For

McAdams,

identity

is

embedded

in

personality

and

memory.

But



more

than

this.

Identity

is

the

mythical

story

you

and

I

create

which

helps

explain

our

behaviors,

experiences,

and

relationships.

We

have

many

versions.

It

can

be

the

superficial

stuff

you

tell

strangers

at

a

cocktail

party.

It

can

be

the

naked

honesty

of

conversation

with

your

spouse

at

the

end

of

a

difficult

day.

Whether

the

issue

is

moral

identity

or

ethnic

identity

or

whatever,



critical

is

the

meaning

we

attribute

to

this

story,

what

it

means

to

the

self,

and

how

the

narrative

shapes

our

behavior

into

the

future.

For

McAdams,

story

specifically

assigns

meaning

to

experience

[1
,2
].

This

pushes

important

theoretical

and

methodological

buttons.

Stories

require

embodiment;

organic

encounters

with

marriage

partners

or

morning

prayers.

But

there

is

more.

Stories

are

speech

acts

that

creatively

assemble

experience

into

characters

and

plot,

a

pr
ocess

dynamically

engaged

with

religious

and

cultural

context.


As

an

example

of

how

this

happens

in

the

lives

of

spiritual

exemplars,

consider

Riza,

a

46

year
-
old

Muslim

spiritual

exemplar

from

the

Van

Nuys

region

of

San

Fernando

Valley

in

Los

Angeles.

In

one

conversation,

Riza

reflects:

I

try

to

be

helpful

to

other

people

every

day.

My

goal

is

not

to

live

for

myself

but

for

society.

I

really

care

about

spirituality,

about

religion.

I

try

to

achieve

the

best,

spiritually,

and

I



care

about

my

success

in

this

life

as

much

as

I

care

about

spiritual

success.

Because

things

are

not

in

our

hands,

right?

Things

change

and

we



be

worried

about

what

is

not

in

our

hands.



spiritual

identity

myth

is

directed

toward

social

obligation

and

responsibility.

These

are

framed

in

transcendent

terms,

particularly

as

Riza

reaches

for

spiritual

success
.

It

is

likely

that

others

corroborate

this

goal

within

his

Turkish

Muslim

community.

Even

if

the

expression

originates

with

Riza,

related

meaning

ext
ends

well

beyond

his

person.


Furthermore,



spiritual

identity

myth

is

based

on

experience,

which

is

interpreted

as

religious

experience.

All

this

is

consistent

not

only

with



model

but

with

that

of

Ann

Taves

as

well.

She

is

a

distinguished

scholar

of

religion

at

the

University

of

California,

Santa

Barbara.

Her

most

recent

book

provides

an

incisive

review

of

theoretical

and

methodological

issues

in

the

study

of

religious

experience

[
3
].

It

happens

that

religious

studies,

much

like

psychology

and

anthropology,

is

saddled

with

its

share

of

internal

conflict.

Early

in

the

last

century

a

score

of

pioneering

researchers

argued

that

religious

experience

was

sui

generis
,

a

categorically

unique

phenomenon

necessitating

special

interpretive

methods

[
4
]
.

Critics

mustered

against

this

argument,

contending

that

religious

experience

is

inevitably

bound

to

social

influences

like

any

other

kind

of

narrative.

Consequently,

religious

experience

was

a

suitable

candidate

for

exposition

with

tools

of

critical

theory

from

literature

and

feminist

studies

[
5
].

Toward

the

end

of

the

twentieth

century,

these

camps

evolved

into

perennialists

(who

believe

religious

experience

is

physically

embodied)

and

constructivists

(who

believe

religious

experience

is

socially

constructed

through

language).

Although

an

uncomfortable

truce

is

currently

observed,

the

field

of

religious

studies

languishes

for

lack

of

strategies

integrating

the

best

from

both

worlds.

The

vacancy

is

problematic

given

advances

in

the

study

of

experien
ce

from




Page 7




Religions
2012
,
3















257


What

will

you

be

like

in

10

years?



Hopefully

a

better,

stronger,

wiser

mentor

to

others.



be

the

same

person,

just

more

so.

I

hope

to

be

even

better

at

putting

myself

in situ
ations

which

play

to

my

strengths.

I

want

to

be

thinking

about

the

end

of

my

life,

not

in

the

doomsday

sense,

but

straining

to

be

deliberate

in

a

mentor

capacity,

striving

for

being

an

excellent

leader.

A

humble,

excellent

leader.

These

are

my

goals

now

in

the

short

term,

but

they

also

go

into

the

long

term.



content

with

myself

right

now.

I

love

it

here,



fine,

but

a

time

will

come

for

the

next

adventure

and

where

I

can

best

serve.



going

to

be

there,

ready

for

adventure

looking

for

the

really

cool

things

that

will

happen,

and

with

God

doing

it

all.



What

kind

of

person

does

your

mother

or

father

expect

you

to

be?



Well,



be

my

mother.

I

think

given

the

complications

of

how

I

came

into

this

world,

my

perception

was

that

she

always

wanted

me

to

turn

out

right.

She

brought

me

up

in

the

church;

she

wanted

me

to

turn

out

right

and

not

make

the

mistakes

that

she

made

or

be

one

of

those

kids

in

church

that

throws

God

away

and

goes

to

the

other

end

of

things.

She

always

expected

me,



voice

it,

but

really

wanted

me

to

come

out

right.

I

think

it

was

just

as

simple

as

that.

I

think

a

part

of

that

is

still

there.




What

kind

of

person

does

your

best

friend

expect

you

to

be?



Much

the

same.

I

think

to

be

real,

to

be

my

very

best.

All

of

the

descriptions

that

I

gave

earlier.

We

talk

about

anything

and

everyone

and

we

want

to

make

the

world

a

happy

place!

I

remember

I

spent

one

Fourth

of

July

with

him

and

we

sort

of

came

to

this

conclusion,



it

be

wonderful

if

we

could

get

all

of

our

friends

together

into

one

happy

family.

Help

each

other

become

the

very

best.

His

reply

was,



maybe



what

heaven

will

be






narrative



change

much

with

regard

to

circumstances.

This

is

mature

identity

myth,

a

composite

of

episodes

and

experiences

referencing

self.

Trait

knowledge

and

goals

are

woven

into

future
-
oriented

projections

of

self,

engaging

relationships

marked

by

different

responsibilities.


Developmental

research

indicates

maturation

occurs

where

individuals

move

from

a

self

of

concrete

action

to

a

self

of

agency

or

conscious

intention.

The

transition

is

typical

of

adolescence,

with

ongoing

reformulations

across

the

life

span.

Our

younger

selves

were

focused

on

concrete

actions

(
I

am

good

at

helping

mom
)

which

later

yield

to

more

abstractly

sophisticated

accounts

(


a

good

leader

because



an

outgoing

and

sensitive

person
).

The

crux

of

the

transition

is

found

with

recognition

that

self

is

capable

of

influencing

and

controlling

external

events.

Adolescence

inaugurates

a

process

whereby

abstract

experiences

of

self

are

catalogued

in

memory

[1
3
].

The

mature

result

is

found

in



identity

myth.

He

is

compelled

to

become

a

better

mentor,

to

turn

out



in

the

perception

of

his

mother.

New

episodes

and

experiences

support

the

notion

that

gregariousness

and

service

goals

are

capable

of

exerting

a

lasting,

positive

impact

on

others.

This

becomes

stronger

with

time,

expediting

a

more

nuanced

folk

psychological

understanding

of

personal

values

and

goals

that

reference

divinity.


To

further

illustrate

the

nature

of

mature

spiritual

identity

as

a

partial

explanation

of

how

spiritual

exemplars

and

their

faith

function

in

everyday

life
,

consider

the

following

exemplar,

Patricia,

who

lives

within

yet

another

faith

tradition

but

who

illustrates

common

features

of

powerful

faith

and

spiritual

identity.




Page 8




Religions
2012
,
3















258

We

are

in

Mar

Vista,

directly

south

of

Sawtelle

in

Los

Angeles.

The

swagger

of

Venice

Beach

is

nearby

to

the

west,

with

Culver

City

and

Interstate

405

to

the

east.

Hilly

reaches

of

Mar

Vista

(Spanish

for

ocean

view)

serve

up

panoramic

scenery

and

ridiculous

property

values.

The

neighborhood

is

famous

for

its

collection

of

Gregory

Ain

homes.

A

decorated

architect

who

specialized

in

affordable

modernism,

Ain

is

a

postwar

staple

in

LA.

The

local



market

takes

place

weekly

on

the

corner

of

Venice

and

Grand

View.

Ubiquitous

throughout

Southern

California,



markets

deliver

community

identity

and

antioxidant

produce

against

the

entropy

of

life

spent

behind

carcinogenic

tractor
-
trailers

hurtling

down

the

interstate.


The

spiritual

exemplar

is

named

Patricia.

She

is

of

average

height

with

closely

cropped

grey

hair

and

dark

complexion.

A

youngish

62,

she

is

an

amateur

linguist

able

to

easily

switch

between

English,

Yiddish,

Spanish,

and

German.

Educated

in

Tennessee,

Patricia

spent

much

of

her

working

life

in

Central

America,

using

her

microbiology

background

to

help

indigenous

peoples

secure

reliably

clean

drinking

water.

Her

Jewish

roots

are

Polish,

Lithuanian,

and

Hungarian.

Like

Riza

and

Edward,

she

is

committed

to

service.

Earlier

in

the

interview

Patricia

states

her

life

story

revolves

around

the

word

compassion.

She

pauses

and

reflects

before

offering

a

soliloquy

on

what

this

means

to

her

identity.



I

think

we

are

moving

to

a

place

where

structure

is

important

and

the

mitzvah

[viz.,

commandment,

referring

to

613

divine

commandments

given

in

Torah]

is

important

and

the

spiritual

discipline

that

Judaism

offers

is

incredibly

valuable.

I

impose

these

restrictions

on

myself

because

I

believe

that

they

will

better

my

life

and

bring

more

holiness

and

more

blessing

and

more

peace

and

more

harmony

and

more

compassion

to

others.



an

everyday

follower.



a

thinking

person

and



an

evolving

person

and

religion

should

shape

us

to

be

the

very

best,

the

most

compassionate

we

can

be

at

our

moment

in

history.

[waving

hands]

Judaism

kind

of

got

stuck

in

seventeenth,

eighteenth

centuries

where

things

just

froze

out

of

fear,

reaction

to

the

Enlightenment

and

everything

else

changing.



when

orthodoxy

grabbed

hold.

But

Judaism

used

to

be

a

much

more

fluid

tradition

and

was

very

open

to

change

and

very

open

to

radical

ideas

and

very

involved

in

the

world.



trying

to

get

back

to

that

and

to

think

about

it

theology

that

helps

people

with

compassion.

I

think

about

a

different

approach,

we

have

to

make

our

commitments

with

religion

that

has

not

become

like

everything

else.

You

can

choose

to

diet,

you

can

choose

to

exercise,

etcetera.

My

practices

have

spiritual

consequences.



what



thinking

about

right

now,

spiritual

consequences.

I

approach

my

life

in

a

spiritual

sense.

I

pray

three

times

a

day

and

believe

that



not

necessarily

in

control

of

everything.

I

partner

with

God



a

follower

of

Abraham

Joshua

Heschel,

a

theologian

and

philosopher

who

talked

a

lot

about

being

partners

with

God.

So

I

wake

up

every

morning

and

thank

God,

I

pray

and

take

time

out

of

the

day,

three

times

a

day

to

stop

and

pray

before

I

eat,

after

I

eat.



an

important

daily

ritual.

In

a

religious

context,

I

try

to

see

the

world

through

the

lens

of

the

divine.

Everything

has

the

potential

to

be

part

of



will,

whether



at

a

baseball

game

or

observing

Yom

Kippur,

I

try

and

operate

with

the

fact

that

the

spiritual

is

always

happening,



not

compartmentalized

and



a

message

I

try

to

give

to

people.

You



wait

for

the

big

moment,

you



need

to

come

to

synagogue;

it

can

be

anytime,

the

moment

you

open

your

eyes

and

in

fact,

discover



breathing.

[chuckling]

I

meditate

on

that

regularly,

every

breath

is

a

miracle

and

I

try

to

keep

a

childlike

amazement

and

wonder

about

the

world.

We

tend

to

become

jaded

as

we

get

older.

My

grandkids

are

just

in

awe

at

a

shoestring!

[laughs]

Part

of

it

is

the

newness

of

discovery

and

part

of

it

is

the

ability

to

still

be

awed

and

see

that

everyday

the

amazing

becomes

possible.




Page 14




Religions
2012
,
3















264

pervasive

that

it

occupies

a

portion

of

her

identity

narrative.

Patricia



tell

us

what

is

meant

by

partnership

in

just

a

few

words.

Instead,

she

provides

us

with

the

cont
ext

of

its

origins.

Partnership

invokes

Jewish

law

through

observance

of

mitzvah
.

Partnership

reflects

the

implication

of

divinity

working

through

physical

surroundings.

Partnership

ratifies

convention

that

religion

is

not

exclusive,

but

obliged

to

create

a

better

world.



spiritual

identity

account

challenges

polarized

conceptions

of

transcendence

as

divisive

or

individualized.

Her

story

is

written

at

a

strange

intersection

of

tolerance

and

tradition,

without

self
-
important

arrogance.

Religion

serves

an

important

scaffold

in

her

spiritual

identity

narrative,

providing

a

collective

opportunity

to

participate

in

transcendent

experience

through

concrete

observance

and

ritual.

Although

we

did

not

ask

her

the

question,

we

seriously

doubt

her

understa
nding

of

divine

partnership

could

have

become

as

compassionately

meaningful

without

ritually

iconic

and

factually

indexical

references

that

make

transcendent

symbol

real.



spiritual

identity

narrative

is

constructed

through

knowledge

of

traits

and

goals

in

relationships.

It

is

self
-
importantly

meaningful

because

of

symbolic

associations

rooted

in

social

interactions

involving

observance,

ritual,

and

culturally

interpretive

systems.


Concluding

Remarks:

Listening

to

the

Stories

Here

we

have

considered

theoretical

contributions

from

psychology

and

anthropology

in

framing

spiritual

identity

through

understanding

spiritual

exemplars.

The

narratives

of

Riza,

Edward,

and

Patricia

provide

useful

illustrations

of

spiritual

identity

related

to

psychological

and

anthropological

dimensions

of

meaning.

Goals

of

compassion
,

service
,

and

spiritual

success

come

alive

through

unique

experiences

and

associations

recounted

through

their

myths.


If,

then,

spiritual

identity

is

storied,

it

seems

imperative

we

should

listen

carefully

to

people

regarding

the

stories

they

tell

of

their

experiences

and

with

particular

attention

to

the

spiritual

meaning

found

in

the

stories

themselves.

And

if

the

spiritual

identity

stories

have

evolved

within

particular

cultural

and

faith

traditions,

then

we

need

to

be

aware

of

how

the

language

of

those

stories

contains

symbols

with

meanings

derived

from

those

traditions.


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1
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D.P.

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We

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The

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Americans

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©

2012

by

the

authors;

licensee

MDPI,

Basel,

Switzerland.

This

article

is

an

open

access

article

distributed

under

the

terms

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of

the

Creative

Commons

Attribution

license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

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