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The standard reference work for the science of spirituality is the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, on which hundreds of scholars worked from 1932 to 1995. The thousands of entries are divided into two main categories: persons/trends and themes. The Dictionnaire is largely confined to Christian traditions and is historically oriented. It deals mainly with classical forms and themes, as becomes evident when one compares it with, for instance, the Dictionnaire de la Vie Spirituelle. The latter tries to bring spirituality and everyday life together, as is evident in the entries: present-day categories, cultural involvement, a human sciences approach, et cetera. The overall result is a categorisation containing 50% new material compared with the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité. If we compare these two reference works with spirituality journals, we observe a further thematic shift of some 40%. About half the themes in journals are not really reflected in the dictionaries. In several respects SPIRIN Encyclopedia will update the existing reference works.


Encyclopedia of Modern Devotion

The study of the Modern Devotion (Devotio Moderna) has gained considerable momentum over the last few decades. This religious reform movement had gained the dubious reputation, mainly due to the well-known historian Johan Huizinga, of being an assembly of small-minded moralists hiding away in the shelter of their own inner chamber, but new interdisciplinary research has revealed the innovative and provocative dynamism that was sparked by the sisters and brethren of the Common Life or that was at the very least embodied by them. The wealth of new perspectives generated by studies in the last few decades has also given rise to countless new questions: questions not only about the nature and the purpose of this religious innovation but also about the relations of this seemingly clear-cut movement with other developments in the culture of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.


How are we to understand the influence – or the lack of it – of the Modern Devotion on painting, philosophy, music, and politics? And, conversely, what developments have influenced the intellectual representatives of these movements? How are we to interpret the influence of the Modern Devotion on subsequent developments in Europe’s religious and spiritual awareness? Is the Reformation a continuation of the Modern Devotion or does it mark its termination? How are we to construe its oft-cited influence on the Jesuit movement? And what is the impact of the Modern Devotion on the burgeoning bourgeois world view in the urbanizing late mediaeval culture? Or is the new devotion rather an effect of the rising bourgeoisie?


The fact that the Modern Devotion flourished at the crossroads of the collapsing mediaeval world view and the modern discovery of the individual and the world means that we can also understand the movement as a magnifying glass, allowing us to take a closer look at the rise of our current, contemporary world. How one chooses to interpret the Modern Devotion, one might say, also determines how one understands modern culture: does it mark the decline of a grand past or herald the tentative and as yet immature start of something new? Or is it to be taken as a unique compound of ways of thinking and living, of cultural expressions and religious thought never seen before and never to be repeated afterwards?


It will be clear that none of these questions can ever be answered definitively and that they rather open up a scope for absorbing scholarly knowledge of the Modern Devotion and making new connections that, in their turn, will serve to generate new understandings. It is vital to explore these relations precisely because the Modern Devotion has lately been the subject of so many interesting studies.


The Encyclopedia has always been the research instrument par excellence for discovering relations that have tended to escape our awareness and that may put a new meaning on particular research results. An Encyclopedia is an open and living research instrument that always allows new connections to be made, new understandings to arise, new images to be generated, perspectives to change and horizons to shift. In this sense, an Encyclopedia assembles bits of knowledge of different kinds from different disciplines, offering users the opportunity to discover connections, raise their own questions – and find answers.


Here we present an Encyclopedia that means to unlock the field of the Modern Devotion and to enable scholars to articulate questions like the ones mentioned above in a responsible manner and to formulate tentative answers. This Encyclopedia, therefore, goes beyond being a tool box: it is an aid to discovering and learning to understand the right questions and connections. This is also why it comprises more than a traditional list of entries or bibliographies and also taps into current receptions of the Modern Devotion and reaches out to wider audiences.


At the core of this Encyclopedia, moreover, is the Modern Devotion as a spiritual movement, embodying religious awareness in its own unparalleled way and linking into the major cultural developments in the Late Middle Ages and the Early-Modern Period in countless ways. With this spiritual focus, therefore, the significance of the Modern Devotion also goes beyond the purely historical to include its relations with other aspects of religious history and, indeed, aspects of one’s personal life.


The study of spirituality must needs be an interdisciplinary undertaking that connects the historical with the personal in addition to raising questions of theory and praxis and wider cultural developments. At the core, however, of this network of questions, understandings, and prospects is the concrete movement of the Modern Devotion as it arose in the 14th century and came to full fruition in the 15th century.