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Spirituality and Aging

Winner, 2009 Richard Kalish Innovative Publication Award. Gerontological Society of America

A spiritual life, one focused on personal growth and deep human experience, is a major focus and motivator for people over the age of forty. Yet there is a marked lack of rigorous academic study of spirituality's importance in the lives of aging people. Noted gerontologist Robert C. Atchley remedies this problem by developing complex concepts and language about spirituality.

Spirituality and Aging incorporates material from two decades of interviews, observations, study, and reflection to illustrate ways of thinking about and discussing spirituality—what it is, why it is important, and how it influences the experience of aging. This book provides a nuanced view of spirituality and the richness it brings to the lives of older people.

The book is divided into three sections, with the first providing basic frames of reference for examining spirituality and aging, such as the nature of spirituality, spiritual development, and the spiritual self. Atchley next focuses on two dimensions of spirituality that are likely to manifest later in life: becoming a sage (developing the capacity to bring spiritual light to everyday issues) and serving from spirit (creating opportunities for service that are rooted in spirituality). The last section illustrates how spirituality informs other aspects of late life, such as psychological coping and the experience of dying and death.

Separating spirituality from religion—something few books on this topic do—Spirituality and Aging offers a plan for incorporating spirituality into gerontological scholarship, research, education, and practice.

About the Author

Robert C. Atchley is a distinguished professor of gerontology emeritus at Miami University, Ohio, where he also served as the director of the Scripps Gerontology Center. Professor Atchley was previously a professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colorado, and is the author of Social Forces and Aging and of Continuity and Adaptation in Aging: Creating Positive Experiences, also published by Johns Hopkins.


"Considers fundamental questions about the meaning of being and how it is shaped by the experience of aging. Atchley’s major goal is to provide a conceptual and theoretical picture of spirituality as a subject in its own right, separate from, though sometimes overlapping with religion. He acknowledges that many find that their religious beliefs provide an important and maybe even exclusive context for spirituality, but discovered that as age increases so does the proportion of people who see spirituality in a broader context than formal or organised religion. He sets out to use language that will enable conversation around spiritual experiences we can share rather than religious concepts that separate us."

"This innovative essay will stimulate theory development and research."

- David O. Moberg - Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

"Indeed, because of Atchley's extensive knowledge and experiences in spirituality and aging, this volume should serve as an excellent supplement for anyone interested in research, practice, or teaching of spirituality and aging."

- Holly Nelson-Becker - Canadian Journal on Aging

"Atchley is... to be greatly commended for opening our eyes to a fuller and richer view of the place of spirituality in the ageing process. That he is able to explore all of these themes with such insight and depth in this slim and accessible monograph is to his credit. Spirituality and Aging is a seminal work for the religious gerontology field and should be added to the must-read list for anyone seeking to be an informed scholar or practitioner in this field."

- Jeff Levin - Journal of Ageing and Society

"Understanding Atchley's spiritual perspective on aging will benefit readers both inside and outside of academia."

- Wilkie Au - Religious Studies Review


"Atchley’s book is an enormous, and unprecedented, contribution to the field. The book will be very important, and he’s absolutely the best person to write it."

- Harry R. Moody, Director, Office of Academic Affairs, AARP

"This is a wise and important work that could make a difference in the way aging persons, and gerontologists, think about spirituality and aging."

- Susan H. McFadden, The University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
Johns Hopkins University Press
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224 Pages
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Continuity and Adaptation in Aging

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