In many ways, we are a society adrift, no longer anchored by the values and mores that once governed our social and ethical lives. We search for meaning, longing for something—a cause, a movement, a relationship—to which we can devote ourselves. Project Leader Paul Katsafanas’ recent book Philosophy of Devotion (Oxford University Press, 2022) argues that devotion—which is ubiquitous in both religious and secular contexts—plays a crucial role in anchoring us, imbuing our lives with meaning and potentially satisfying our spiritual yearnings. Devotion may become pathological, veering into fanaticism and extremism; but by understanding devotion’s mechanisms and motivations, we can experience devoted attachments in a healthy way that fosters flourishing.
We propose to deepen our understanding of devotion, and particularly its potential to satisfy non-religious spiritual yearnings, by conducting a collaborative, interdisciplinary investigation. To this end, we will host three events and publish two books (an edited volume and a monograph). The workshop and conferences will address conceptual and normative questions about devotion and its connection to non-religious spiritual yearning, and will focus, respectively, on the nature of devotion; what motivates individuals to express devotion; and the normative assessment of devotion. We will organize and frame the scholarly literature born of these conferences in an edited volume, which will disseminate the research to a broad academic audience. Additionally, Katsafanas will produce a monograph aimed at a popular audience that builds on and integrates this research, explaining the possibilities and pitfalls of devotion as a response to our human quest for meaning, purpose, and belongingness.
This body of work will open a novel interdisciplinary area—one that sheds needed light on how healthy devoted attachments can answer non-religious spiritual yearnings and enable us to flourish, individually and collectively.