A critical view of how nursing has defined spirituality


  • Janice Clarke

    1. Author:Janice Clarke, PhD, RGN, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Health, Social Care and Psychology, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK
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Janice Clarke, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Health, Social Care and Psychology, University of Worcester, Worcester WR2 6AJ, UK. Telephone: 01905 855367.


Aims.  To offer a detailed discussion of the issue of ‘lack of critique’ in the literature on spirituality in nursing. The discussion will include the limited use of sources from theology and religious studies and the demand to separate spirituality and religion and will go on to examine the consequences of the resulting approach. The drive for unique knowledge to further professionalisation and the demands of inclusiveness are suggested as possible reasons for the development of the current model. The dangers and pitfalls of definition are explored. The paper suggests that theology could provide insights into explaining spirituality.

Background.  The last four decades have seen a proliferation of definitions of spirituality in the nursing literature. Recently, in response to their own concerns and prompts from outside the ‘spirituality’ community authors have suggested that we revisit this literature with a more critical stance. This paper is in response to that suggestion. During the course of a PhD supervised from a department of practical theology I have critically analysed the literature from several perspectives and this paper is one result of that review.

Design.  Literature review.

Methods.  Critical reflection on how spirituality has been defined.

Conclusion.  The lack of critique has produced a bias in the literature towards broad, generic, existential definitions which, together with the intentional divorce from religion and theology have led to definitions which have the tendency to result in a type of spiritual care which is indistinguishable from psychosocial care, hard to explain to patients and difficult to put into practice.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The acceptance of a diverse range of understandings of spirituality and a greater focus on practical ways of using it in nursing care are the direction the profession should be moving into.