On Spiritual Violence

Harper Center, Room 3028

Saturday, April 14, 2012 @ 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Dr. Theresa W. Tobin, Philosophy Department, Marquette University delivers the keynote address for the 14th Annual Midwestern Undergraduate Philosophy Conference.

Abstract: In ordinary usage, ‘violence’ typically picks out the use of pronounced physical force to inflict material harm, but this is not the kind of harm spiritual violence names. In this paper, I argue that spiritual violence is a form of violence insofar as it constitutes a violation of persons, which harms them by inhibiting their psychological capacity for spiritual development. It is distinctively spiritual both in terms of its typical means—religious teachings and rituals, for example—and in terms of its target—one’s spiritual identity. I understand spiritual harm to be a unique psychological harm, which affects the particular psychological capacity for self-transcendence and for establishing and maintaining a relationship with the sacred. I consider several examples in order to test, illustrate, and defend the account of spiritual violence I advance. Victims of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic clergy presents a particularly glaring example of spiritual violence. The use of religious authority and language, and sacred space and texts in perpetrating sexual abuse caused physical, sexual, and emotional damage but many victims also name spiritual damage as a devastating consequence. Spirituality is a good that for many people contributes deeply to human flourishing. Spiritual violence is morally wrong in part because it curtails peoples’ psychological freedom to pursue this good.

Contact Info

Anne Ozar
(402) 280-2847

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