Spiritual Direction in Australia

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Research & Practice

Cutting-Edge Research

This exciting new handbook offers a broad range of academic writing and study on spirituality and spiritual direction from Australian researchers.

For anyone interested in the academic study of spiritual direction and companionship, this handbook offers an insightful range of essays showcasing the breadth of cutting-edge research from an Australian context. These researchers have generously shared many of their experiences in post-graduate study, the wisdom learned from these experiences, and practical advice. Exciting new methodological and theoretical frameworks are also presented to help support your own research in this area. Guidelines for undertaking an ethics application and receiving successful approval are also offered.

It is the aim of this handbook to support you, the researcher, in finding your own path in post graduate studies – to remind you that you are not alone on the journey, and there exists a thriving community of passionate researchers ready to support you.

“If only I had this handbook when I began post-graduate research in the late 1990s. It would have saved me a bucket load of blood, sweat and tears as I ventured into unknown academic territory. This text is a good starting point if you are considering doctoral studies in either spirituality or spiritual direction. The guidebook will give you important practical and theoretical information essential to completing your inquiry.”

Stephen Truscott,
SM, PhD, Director, Fullness of Life Centre, Perth

Authors & Contributors

Rev. Dr. Xiaoli Yang

Lucy Tierney

Catherine Lambert

Mel Palmer

Noel Cabigting

Rev. Dr. Tim McCowan

Dr. Kristen Hobby

Dr. Bernadette Miles

Anne Pate

Dr. Christopher Morris

About the Book

This handbook offers writing and reflection from many researchers across a broad discipline of post-graduate studies in spirituality and spiritual direction. Undertaking research in this discipline is often challenging, as dealing with the deeper mysteries of life doesn’t easily fit within existing academic frameworks. Often, successful research is dependent upon finding a sympathetic supervisor who will support the research goals of the student. However, things are slowly shifting in academia and the range of doctoral studies in this discipline is continuing to grow in some new and unexpected areas.

The authors and contributors above have been through the rigors of pursuing their respective research, have experienced the ups and downs, and have come to be respected spiritual directors and companions in their various fields. Contained within you will find a wealth of resources, strategies, and wisdom to assist anyone interested in academic study of spirituality and spiritual direction and companionship.

Thanks to the generous support from the Anthony and Patrick Wright Formation and Education Foundation for making this handbook possible.

Part 1: Essays

This handbook invites researchers to contribute essays on their areas of academic interest in spirituality and spiritual direction. In these pages, you will find:

  • Xiaoli Yang’s essay on listening during the pandemics in the context of multi-cultural Australia

  • Lucy Tierney shares how the wisdom of Teilhard de Chardin can speak into a modern-day Australian spirituality context

  • Cathie Lambert offers readers the experience of the thirteen century Beguines and how they may have insights for Australian women who self-identify as being on the edge of the church

  • Mel Palmer explores the concept of ‘cloud’ as a paradigm of technological advancement and how it evokes a sense of the nebulous and mysterious

  • Noel Cabigting (who sadly passed away in 2021) explores the role of IFS (Internal Family Systems) as a resource for spiritual directors.

Part 2: Interviewing Ph.D. Graduates About Their Research Journey

The second part of the handbook is an opportunity to learn from those who have completed or almost completed their doctoral thesis. Researchers were invited to respond to the following questions:

  • What was the initial spark that led you to undertake research?

  • How did you decide upon the path, methodology, and theoretical framework that you pursued?

  • How would you describe your methodology or approach?

  • Did you end up writing the thesis you set out to write? What helped or hindered the writing process?

  • How could the post graduate process be improved?

Part 3: Methodologies and Theoretical Frameworks for the Research Journey

The third part of the handbook takes a closer look at some of the theoretical and methodological frameworks that work particularly well in the area of spirituality and spiritual direction. It offers some new ways of considering research, which may be new to students. Inside you’ll find:

  • Outlines on socio-cultural theory

  • Vygotsky’s concept of Perezhivanie

  • An overview of Gilligan’s “Voice Centred Relational” model

  • Pope et al.’s helpful methodological approach

  • A guide to applying for ethics approval.


When I began teaching a unit on spirituality in the 1990s at an Australian university, I found there was much hunger for the material yet this wasn’t supported by the academic structures I was working in. Spirituality and academia have always made uncomfortable bedfellows and the pursuit and engagement in this area is often at loggerheads with the systems we work in. How can we re-imagine a gentler and more collaborative environment to consider the larger mysteries at play in the world and support students who are drawn to this? This book attempts to answer that question by inviting students to consider post graduate studies from a number of different perspectives, whether that be the theory or methodological approaches underlying their research, or simply to let them know that they are not alone in their endeavours. This book will be immensely helpful to students as they begin their post graduate journey.
David Tacey
Emeritus Professor, La Trobe University, Melbourne and author of "The Spirituality Revolution"
Dr Hobby has provided a great help to students at the start of their PhD (or DMin) with this handbook. This book is a timely attempt to validate experimentation with various qualitative methods in the area of spirituality. It provides a series of stimulating narratives from recent researchers. These contributors suggest practical ways for research in spirituality to be advanced using innovative methodologies. The book’s appendices guide the novice researcher through the minefield of ethics approval. One other gift of this handbook is how it offers a guide for post graduate academics in spirituality to shape the future of this developing field of study.
Rev. Dr Iain Radvan
I serve people during, at and after death. I am with their loved ones and the distraught, with the grief and the relief. Spiritual training was and continues to be for me an ongoing heart powered ride of deepening my service to all that exist in our fragile world, sentient beings, the environment, the history and the outcome of the future.To be trained deeply in Spirituality as this post graduate study will offer, is to be trained in the often invisible connections with life and the mysteries of death. Spirituality cannot be separated from all that we do in life. Just like mind and body, spirituality becomes an integral part of the warp and weft of our chosen lifestyle. One cannot hold up without the other.
Annie Whitlocke
We live in challenging times, which means that spiritual direction is as necessary today, as it ever was. Therefore, this handbook is timely. The handbook offers practical, relevant, and easy to access information for researchers seeking to weave together the time-honoured heart of spiritual direction; their own voice, and contemporary practice of spiritual direction; a diverse Australian spiritual landscape; and the challenges of finding their own pathway through a post graduate academic journey.
Kaye Twining
BTheolGradDip (Spiritual Direction) MA, Tree of Life Spiritual Practice Education, Author of "Call of the Era: Being the Change, Through Changing Our Being"
This is the book that I wish had been available when I commenced my post-graduate studies in spirituality. It is clear, concise and filled with helpful information. The various essays from a wide range of contributors gives confidence that the path forward has been successfully navigated by others. It will surely become a must-have for all students contemplating further studies in this field.
Cath Connelly


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