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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


GOOSEN, Danie. On the Spiritual. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.4, pp.707-718. ISSN 2224-7912.

Linking up with the discussion in a previous edition of the Journal of Humanities on the present state of "human spirituality" (Volume 52:1, March 2012), it is argued in this article that talk about the crisis of the human spirit is indeed legitimate. However, unlike the trend among authors in the mentioned edition of JH to isolate the crisis from the religious and metaphysical tradition, it is argued in this article that it must be evaluated against this background. While "Jerusalem" and "Athens" in the past formed the necessary preconditions to the important place awarded to the spiritual in Western culture, the present crisis is marked by the absence of these sources. Without falling prey to the nostalgic yearning for a forgotten paradise of the spirit, it is argued that the crisis can best be understood when compared to a previous historical era. In this regard brief reference is made to the High Middle Ages, and more specifically the latter's tendency to express its high regard for the spiritual by means of Gothic architecture. In comparison with the latter's tendency to direct the gaze of the believer upwards to the spiritual, contemporary architecture, as exemplified by the "mall", horizontalises the gaze of the consumer, fixing it in a reductive fashion on the material. In the second section of the article the focus shifts to a closely related argument based on the history of ideas. Although "Jerusalem" and "Athens" gave an unqualified preference to the spiritual above the material, the spiritual and the material were also seen as necessarily intertwined and mutually dependent. In contrast, modern thought isolates the spiritual from the material, causing a reduction in the meaning of both. While the material was henceforth seen as dead and pure malleable material at the disposal of the modern subject, the spiritual in turn was withdrawn from the external world and made to exist only in the inner recesses of subjective feelings, moods, and convictions. The last section continues the emphasis on the history of ideas. Following on the argument above it is argued that the contemporary crisis of the spirit can be traced back to the dominance of historicism in the humanities and the resultant lack of belief in die authority of the spiritual. While the tradition associated the spiritual with the authoritative command to realise a condition beyond the material (see the ideal of Bildung at the modern university), a rampant historicism destroyed the very precondition thereof, leaving the humanities defenceless in the face of the neo-liberal philosophies ruling our public institutions.

Keywords : spirit; spiritual; High Middle Age; Aquinas; modernism; facts and values; Bildung; historicism; neo-liberal; modern universities.

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