Foundations of Christian Spirituality - Denis Robinson CSSp

This module is part of the Distance Learning Website of the Carmelite Institute of Britain and Ireland (CIBI)



Relationships constitute our very being, and for this reason Christianity is primarily about relationships; relationship between God, self, others, and the world. The formal study of spirituality is a means of realising and exploring all our relationships from the perspective of our fundamental divine –human relationship with God.  Spirituality acknowledges how body, mind, heart and soul provide a privileged place for knowing and experiencing the self-revealing God. Spirituality is about how we relate with and appropriate for ourselves the reality, experience, ministry and spirit of Jesus. Spirituality explores the human interaction with the Transcendent and how this reflects something of the character of our relationship with God, through Jesus, lived in the here and now.

The study of spirituality addresses how we uniquely understand and express the entire spectrum of this relationship - ranging from the experience of deepest interiority with God, to the social expression of that relationship in the world. Christian spirituality invites us to the cultivation of relationship with God and the deepest possible experience of that relationship. It is through this primary relationship that we are invited to understand and develop all our relationships. For this reason spirituality involves our understanding of creation, gender, the perspective through which we read scripture, our image and concept of God, the level of our theological understanding, and the willingness to honestly evaluate our personal experience of God. We look at spirituality from these different perspectives because they are the lens through which we experience and reflect our relationship with God. The study of spirituality also provides a history and synthesis of insights regarding the many aspects of this divine-human relationship with the view to helping us integrate the personal, spiritual, social aspects of our individual, and communal life, in service of a better relationship with God, with self, others and the world.

Consequently this module provides a broad based overview of the different aspects of spirituality and how they are interconnected and made known in the heart and mind, and in the personality and social presence of a person or group. St. Irenaeus said:  the glory of God is the person fully alive. So the study of spirituality investigates our growth and development as a human being, and it describes the nature of the spiritual life and the process by which people grow in the spiritual life to become a unique reflection of God. This multifaceted approach is essential for an integrated and genuine appreciation of Christian spirituality; and how we appropriate and re-appropriate the spiritual heritage of the Christian faith in our lives and time.

The assigned textbook for this module is

Phillip Sheldrake, Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology and Social Practice. New York: Paulist Press, 2010.

The assigned reading for each of the ten units of this module is listed in the table below. This material will be made available as part of the module but you might also consider locating some other background reading material on Christian Spirituality in the library of one of the houses of the Carmelite friars or nuns that is located near you. In their submitted assessments, students should will be expected to show that they have engaged with both the relevant sections of the assigned textbook and with the relevant assigned reading.


Assigned Reading


Dermot Lane, The Experience of God: An Invitation to Do Theology. Dublin: Veritas, 2003. Chapter 2: Experience, God and Theology, pp. 16-45.


Scripture as the Soul of Theology, edited by Edward J. Mahoney, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000. Chapter 1: Biblical Foundations for Spirituality by Sandra Schneiders, pp. 1-23.


Michael Downey, Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality. Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2000. Chapter 2: A Grammar of Gift: The Doctrine of the Trinity, pp. 40-59.


Pat Collins, Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century: Christian Living in a Secular Age. Dublin: Columba Press, 1999. Chapter 1: Models of Spirituality, pp. 13-36.


Ronald Rolheiser, Seeking Spirituality: Guidelines for a Christian Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1998. Chapter 10: Sustaining Ourselves in the Spiritual Life, pp. 202-228.


Ann Ullanov and Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech: The Psychology of Prayer. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1999. Chapter 2: Prayer as Primary Speech, pp. 115-127.


Christian Spirituality: Post Reformation and Modern, edited by Louis Dupré and Don Saliers, London: SCM Press, 1989. Chapter on Christian Feminist Spirituality by Sally Purvis, pp. 500-519.


James Nelson, The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality. London: SPCK, 1992. Chapter 6, New Ways in our Sexual Spirituality, pp. 113-132.


Jon Sobrino, Spirituality of Liberation: Towards Political Holiness. New York: Orbis, 1988. Chapter 2: Spirituality and Liberation, pp. 23-45.


James Bacik, Spirituality in Transition. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1996. Chapter 1, Christian Spirituality in a Postmodern World, pp. 1-50.

Module Tutor: Denis Robinson CSSp


The module is divided into 10 units, with a formative assessment and two questionnaires, spread over the period of the module, and a final examination at the end.

Once posted, each unit will be available until the end of the module. The dates on which each of the units, and the other material for this module is available in the calendar in the Student Section.








Formative Assessment



























Examination Questions

Please click HERE to access the STUDENT SECTION for module start and end dates

During the listed dates, you can click on the relevant unit to access it. Once you have successfully accessed and studied the material in each set of units, please click on the relevant Formative Assessment or Questionnaire to access it when it is launched. Read the questions and write your answers under each question. Then upload your answers to the Turnitin website.

One question must be chosen from the three final Examination Questions posted and your paper answering the question of your choice should be uploaded to the Turnitin website by the required date.



The author of the course holds the copyright to this material (text, graphic and other); distribution to family or friends, or publication (including on internet) of any part of the material is not permitted without the author’s explicit written permission.

© Denis Robinson CSSp and Cibi