US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read: Forging the Male Spirit

By James P. Cahill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

By W. Merle Longwood et al (Wipf & Stock, 2011)

A primary stated goal of Forging the Male Spirit: The Spiritual Lives of American College Men is to answer “whether there is a connection between masculinity and spirituality,” particularly on college campuses. The authors attempt this task through a series of surveys and interviews conducted at seven different religiously affiliated colleges and universities.

The most successful institutions, they conclude, are those that bring together groups of men who are serious about their spirituality. The schools provide these groups with safe places to discuss their faith openly, without needing to present the false veneer of “traditional masculinity.”

Unfortunately the study suffers from an ambiguity of terms. If the primary goal of the volume is to trace the relationship between masculinity and spirituality, definitions for both of these terms are needed. Spirituality is a famously amorphous term that can be applied to anything from religious ecstasy to a walk in the park.

While a number of the students interviewed express their preference for a broader spirituality, as opposed to the more narrow term religion, the authors themselves frequently juxtapose the terms, leaving the reader somewhat confused. Though the authors do propose a broad definition of spirituality, it does not appear until halfway through the book, leaving readers to interpret the term in their own way in the previous chapters.

This book’s research and interviews serve as a worthy study of men’s personal conceptions of the divine and their ability (or inability) to reach out to one another. It is also a fascinating sociological examination of the different ways college men view and practice spirituality. The authors ask what a man is, especially viewed with the eyes of faith, but they unfortunately decline to answer.  

This article appeared in the February 2013 issue of  U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 2, pages 50-51).