Nontheistic Sanctification:
The Sacred in the Here-and-Now

A free, live course on finding the sacred in non-traditional places, taught by
professors and grad students from Loyola University and SUNY Plattsburgh.

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Course Overview

Many people today find themselves in a process of deconstructing, understanding, and reconstructing their religious, spiritual, and philosophical inheritances.

By drawing on the construct of sanctification from the psychology of religion and spirituality, this four-week course aims to offer some useful building materials for this process -- helping people explore their relationship with the sacred through a psychospiritual framework.

The course will take place over four Wednesdays, from 7:30-9:00pm EST: 11/10, 11/17, 12/1, and 12/8.

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Syllabus

Through a combination of assignments, readings, and class discussions, participants will learn about the foundations of sanctification theory, how the sacred emerges through everyday lived experiences (including outside of traditional religion), how to track and identify sacred moments, and what constitutes and occurs during sacred spaces.

At the end of the course we will ask participants to complete a brief evaluation of their experience in the course and comment on other course topics of interest.  

Wednesday 11/10: Sanctification Theory

Instructor: Gina Magyar-Russell, PhD (she/her)

This class session will delve into the details of sanctification theory which describes the process through which people come to perceive the sacred in their daily lives and has been a relatively recent focal point for research in the psychology of religion and spirituality (Pargament & Mahoney, 2005). Sanctification theory and research does not attempt to study the ontological reality of the sacred, rather, the social scientific study of the sacred centers on human perceptions of the sacred and understanding of the sacred as a product of psychological, social, institutional, cultural, and situational forces (Pargament, Oman, Pomerleau, & Mahoney, 2017). Participants will learn more about the theory, how social scientists measure the sacred, and explore their own perceptions of the sacred in their lives.

Key Questions:

  • How does the field of psychology approach the scientific study of religion and spirituality?
  • What is sanctification theory and why is it important?
  • What is sacred in your life?  Why?  How did it come to be that way?

Readings Due Today:

  • Pargament, K. I., & Mahoney, A. (2005). Sacred matters: sanctification as a vital topic for the psychology of religion. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15, 179-198.
  • Pargament, K. I., Oman, D., Pomerleau, J., & Mahoney, A. (2017). Some contributions of a psychological approach to the sacred. Religion, 47, 718-744.

Assignment Due Today:

Please spend some time reflecting on and writing about your intentions for pursuing this course.  What do you hope to get out of it?  Next, please consider your current religious and spiritual worldview. What has the path been like to get here?  Where are you on this journey?  How does the sacred fit into your worldview and your life? Does sanctification and the conceptualization of the sacred as presented in today’s readings fit into your religious or spiritual worldview?  

Wednesday 11/17: Non-theistic Sanctification

Instructor: Paul Deal, PhD (he/him)

We will begin by summarizing how a secular age (Taylor, 2007) has opened up and normalized new “middle ground” ways of experienced the sacred, particularly those that are nontheistic. We will then review some of the literature on the nontheistic sanctification of nature for environmental activists. This will include a review of the lived experiences through which nature becomes sacred and some of the psychological and spiritual implications. Finally, we will consider how the nontheistic sanctification of nature may speak to the vital human need for belonging.

Key Questions:

  • How does a secular age influence and inform our ways of understanding and experiencing the sacred?
  • What are some of the possible ways nontheists come to experience the sacred?
  • What are some of the psychological and spiritual implications of nontheistic sanctification?
  • How does nontheistic sanctification speak to the vital human need for belonging (in the body, as earthlings, as Nature)?

Readings Due Today:

  • Deal, P. J., & Magyar-Russell, G. (Accepted). A qualitative study of sanctification: How nature becomes sacred for environmental activists. Spirituality in Clinical Practice.
  • Deal, P. J, O’Grady, K. (2020). Environmental Justice Activism: A Transformative, Contemporary Nature Religion. Review of Religious Research, 62, 315–332. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-020-00409-y

Assignment Due Today:

Reflect on your lived experiences of sacredness. How has it come alive for you in everyday life? What has this looked like and felt like? Be as descriptive as possible. What were the ripple effects of these lived experiences, large and small?

Wednesday 12/1: Sacred Moments

Instructor: Kate Berger (she/her)

In today’s class, students will learn about the characteristics of “sacred moments” (I.e. transcendence, boundlessness, ultimacy, interconnectedness, and spiritual emotions) and learn about how sacred moments have been explored in the literature and applied to both theistic and nontheistic moments of sanctification. Students will then be grouped in small discussion breakout rooms with the tasks of 1) discussing what it was like to make their timeline (e.g. “it was difficult for me to come up with critically evaluating the extent to which each of the 5 characteristics are captured by their sacred moments, 2) if there is a theme or pattern across their sacred moments (e.g. “most of these moments seem to be centered around moments in nature”), and 3) Does what you sanctify in these sacred moments fall into categories of life that you already find sacred? Then, students will come back as a class to discuss their small group’s findings.

Key Questions:

  • What is it like to make a timeline of the sacred moments from your life?
  • Is there a theme or pattern across your sacred moments?
  • Does what you sanctify in these sacred moments fall into categories of life that you already find sacred?

Readings Due Today:

  • Magyar-Russell, G., Pargament, K. I., Grubbs, J. B., Wilt, J. A., & Exline, J. J. (2020). The experience of sacred moments and mental health benefits over time. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000394.
  • Pargament, K. I., Lomax, J. W., McGee, J. S., & Fang, Q. (2014). Sacred moments in psychotherapy from the perspectives of mental health providers and clients: Prevalence, predictors, and consequences. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1(4), 248–262. https://doi.org/10.1037/scp0000043

Assignment Due Today:

You are to create an electronic or handwritten timeline to bring to this class in which you chart "sacred moments” (moments in time that you consider to be sanctified (either while you were living them – in vivo – are now, retrospectively). In other words, you are to take account of moments that you feel have taken on divine character and/or are grounded in experiences of immanent transcendence (the “here and now,” lived experience of the spiritual in the world). For some, there may only be a handful; for others, there may be too many to list and you can just list those that feel most relevant. You will not have to turn in this assignment; it is for your exploration, and you will only have to share what you feel comfortable with.

Wednesday 12/8: Sacred Spaces

Instructor: Zachariah Aaron (he/him)

In this class, we will examine the spatial and environmental aspects of sanctification and the sacred. We will discuss elements that actively or passively contribute to a sacred space/place. Using the assigned reading, we can discuss what verbiage and vocabulary would be appropriate for discourse about sacred spaces (e.g., “orchestrating” or “enactment” or “creating”). We will explore the various spaces that have historically been venerated as sacred, and reflect on how we can take insights from them. Next, we will engage in discourse about what it would mean to establish sacred spaces for an organization like OpenDiv (i.e., virtual connections, a physical location). Finally, we will allow time at the end of class for reflection about all four classes, and father feedback from participants.

Key Questions:

  • How do we denote a space as sacred?
  • What can we learn from spaces historically viewed as sacred?
  • What would it mean to establish sacred spaces for an organization like OpenDiv?

Readings Due Today:

  • Ivakhiv, A. (2003). Orchestrating Sacred Space: Beyond the Social Construction of Nature. Ecotheology, 8(1). 11-29.
  • *Second reading To Be Determined*

Assignment Due Today:

Reflecting on the first three classes, where have you felt sacred moments? Where were you when you had an experience of nontheistic sanctification? Do you hold any places to be uniquely sacred to you (perhaps rethinking places in your life to see if they could be conceptualized as sacred). What feel like essential elements needed for a sacred place? Does the sacred moment facilitate the sacred space, or does a sacred space facilitate sacred moments?

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faq

Frequently Asked Questions

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answer

From A Biblical Point Of View, Heaven Is Super Cool

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13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Psalms 139:13-14

Ut ultrices porta nisi, a euismod dui viverra a. Aenean finibus velit non viverra tincidunt. Aenean auctor scelerisque magna, a fermentum nibh.
Etiam tristique, metus pretium rutrum elementum, risus tortor euismod urna, ac porta felis felis vel dui in bibendum justo vel pellentesque accumsan.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

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answer

Why Did From A Biblical Point Of View, Jonah Was Really Swell Up By A Big Fish Or Maybe A Whale Did Not Allow Bees Into The Ark?

Etiam tristique, metus pretium rutrum elementum, risus tortor euismod urna, ac porta felis felis vel dui in bibendum justo vel pellentesque accumsan.

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Psalms 139:13-14

Ut ultrices porta nisi, a euismod dui viverra a. Aenean finibus velit non viverra tincidunt. Aenean auctor scelerisque magna, a fermentum nibh.
Etiam tristique, metus pretium rutrum elementum, risus tortor euismod urna, ac porta felis felis vel dui in bibendum justo vel pellentesque accumsan.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

answer

From A Biblical Point Of View, Yes All Pets Go To Heaven

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13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Psalms 139:13-14

Ut ultrices porta nisi, a euismod dui viverra a. Aenean finibus velit non viverra tincidunt. Aenean auctor scelerisque magna, a fermentum nibh.
Etiam tristique, metus pretium rutrum elementum, risus tortor euismod urna, ac porta felis felis vel dui in bibendum justo vel pellentesque accumsan.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

answer

Well, it was not Moses but Noah...

Etiam tristique, metus pretium rutrum elementum, risus tortor euismod urna, ac porta felis felis vel dui in bibendum justo vel pellentesque accumsan.

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Psalms 139:13-14

Ut ultrices porta nisi, a euismod dui viverra a. Aenean finibus velit non viverra tincidunt. Aenean auctor scelerisque magna, a fermentum nibh.
Etiam tristique, metus pretium rutrum elementum, risus tortor euismod urna, ac porta felis felis vel dui in bibendum justo vel pellentesque accumsan.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

Aenean tellus urna, vehicula quis quam vel, finibus sollicitudin quam maecenas mollis risus eu purus faucibus efficitur. Praesent a turpis sit amet massa bibendum laoreet eu sit amet lacus.

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Come Join us every Sunday at our main installation located behind the hospital St Peter. We have parking lots available and nursery for your little kids.

Come Join us every Sunday at our main installation located behind the hospital St Peter. We have parking lots available and nursery for your little kids.

Come Join us every Sunday at our main installation located behind the hospital St Peter. We have parking lots available and nursery for your little kids.

Come Join us every Sunday at our main installation located behind the hospital St Peter. We have parking lots available and nursery for your little kids.

Come Join us every Sunday at our main installation located behind the hospital St Peter. We have parking lots available and nursery for your little kids.

Come Join us every Sunday at our main installation located behind the hospital St Peter. We have parking lots available and nursery for your little kids.

Initiatives

Open Div Initiatives

Our initiatives tend to fall within three main pillars:

Resources

From curated reading lists to interviews with top theologians to white papers on church-planting, we aim to translate the wisdom of the world's religious traditions into formats that are easily-consumable by the spiritually curious.

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Through 1-off courses, retreats, self-guided material, our online community, and year-long fellowships, we aim to provide seekers and leaders in the secular world with pathways to spiritual formation outside of a single religious tradition.

Scholarship

Through research and original scholarship, we aim to contribute to the conversation around spirituality and meaning-making in an increasingly secular age.

Instructors

Here is a bit more about the people teaching this course:

Gina is a Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland. She is also a licensed psychologist in Maryland and specializes in psychological and spiritual adjustment following adverse life events, with emphasis on the treatment of anxiety, mood, and spiritual problems. She maintains an active program of research in the areas of religious and spiritual coping, sacred moments, and spiritual struggle, and I integrate religion and spirituality into my supervision of psychotherapy.

Paul is an Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at SUNY Plattsburgh. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, and his work as a clinician includes a college counseling center, an outpatient addictions program, and religious/spiritual communities. His primary research interests focus on integrating the existential and spiritual dynamics of human flourishing in mental health counseling, particularly in the areas of meaning-making in emerging adulthood, lived experiences of sacredness in environmental justice activism, and ecotherapy.

Kate Berger

Kate is a second year clinical psychology doctoral student at Loyola University Maryland. My clinical background is in personality disorder treatment while my current clinical work involves providing adult psychotherapy and psychoeducational assessment under the supervision of licensed psychologists at the Loyola Clinical Centers. My doctoral dissertation is in the area of sacred moments and the sanctification of the more-than-human world. Prior to entering the field of clinical psychology, I completed a B.A. in psychology and education from Bates College and worked as an ESL teacher at Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services and then in the Netherlands on a Fulbright scholarship.


Zachariah Aaron

Zack is a doctoral student studying Clinical Psychology at Loyola University Maryland. His clinical interests focus on identity development for Queer and gender-expansive adolescents. He has enjoyed participating in research on the construct of Meaning in Life in the context of psychotherapy, developing mindfulness interventions for mental health, and most recently reviewing literature on the construct of Nontheistic Sanctification. He is excited to incorporate the insights and knowledge he has gained from these experiences and share them with the burgeoning OpenDiv community!

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