In defence of the indefensible: An alternative to John Paley's reductionist, atheistic, psychological alternative to spirituality

Nursing Philosophy 10 (3):203-213 (2009)
John Paley has rightly observed that, while spirituality is widely discussed in the nursing literature, the discussions are uncritical and unproblematic. In an effort 'to reconfigure the spirituality-in-nursing debate, and to position it where it belongs: in the literature on health psychology and social psychology, and not in a disciplinary cul-de-sac labelled "unfathomable mystery" ', Paley has proposed an alternative, reductionist approach to spirituality. In this paper, I identify two critiques developed by Paley: one political, the other 'logical'. Paley's political critique claims the concept of 'spirituality' has been appropriated by nursing theorists as part of an attempt to accrue professional power and jurisdiction over occupational territory. I suggest that Paley's analysis masks his own exclusivist, secularizing jurisdictional claim made at the expense of spirituality. Paley's so-called 'logical' critique is motivated by an intention to 'determine what the "spirituality" terrain looks like from the naturalistic point of view'. However, noting a number of inconsistencies, I challenge his 'logical move' as a naïve attack on a straw man. In place of Paley's reductionism, I propose my own alternative alternative and argue (after Foucault) that 'spirituality' is a discourse, a non-reductionist attempt, in a post-religious society, to speak about the human condition open to the unknown. I conclude with a definition and a description of empirically congruent spirituality.
Keywords secularism  Paley  Foucault  non‐religious spirituality  discourse  spirituality
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DOI 10.1111/j.1466-769X.2009.00400.x
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