Publication Date

August 2003

Degree Granted


Institution Granting Degree

Penn State University


spirituality, adult, adult education, adult education practitioners, phenomenology, qualitative research


This phenomenological study examined how eight adult education practitioners understand spirituality and how that understanding impacts their practice. The investigation defined and grounded the notion of spirituality within a specific religious/theological tradition, Christianity broadly defined. The study began by exploring the religious, theological, and etymological foundations of a Christian understanding of spirituality. The analysis was framed around two organizing principles: first, viewing research through the metaphoric lens of the story and second, the notion of filling in gaps.

Using informal, conversational, taped interviews as the primary means of data collection, three main themes and thirteen subsuming themes emerged. The study used these results to interrogate the discourse of spirituality within the field of adult education. The research found that a number of serious problems exist within that discourse including the non-definition and misuse by the discourse of the term spirituality, the hazards of individualized spirituality caused by imprecise definitions of the term, a failure to address issues of faith substantively, and the separation in the discourse of religion from spirituality.

The study concluded that by couching discussions in spiritual terminology, the discourse creates the illusion of confronting and dealing with issues of faith in a substantive manner. In reality, however, the difficult issues are avoided. Suggestions for future research on spirituality in adult education are given, including a proposal to move the discussion from issues framed in terms of spirituality towards a discourse of faith.