The Project & Adrian van Kaam

In 1963 Duquesne University, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offered a new three year Master of Arts degree. The Institute of Man, through which the degree was offered, developed out of Duquesne's psychology department. There is variety in the stories, but it appears that the famous priest-psychologist Adrian van Kaam, Amadeo Georgi, Charles Maes and Bert van Croonenberg, who together gave the psychology department a phenomenological air, established the Institute to study the relation between religion and psychology.

In 1978 the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools suggested that the level and amount of academic work could support the accreditation of the degree Doctor of Philosophy. The following year the name was changed to the Institute of Formative Spirituality (IFS). In addition to the Ph.D., two Master of Arts degrees were offered as well as a sabbatical program. Georgi and van Croonenberg were no longer directly involved in the project which was guided by van Kaam.

In 1995 Duquesne announced that the IFS would be closing its doors for "budgetary reasons". Thus, an exciting project ended, and a new field of study may have collapsed without having been made known to many of those who would have had an interest.

Van Kaam's writings are voluminous, but largely unknown. He is author of at least thirty books and hundreds of articles. We may be able to divide van Kaam's work into an "early" and "late" phase marked by the publication of the Formative Spirituality series.

Early on it appears that van Kaam addressed his work to two main audiences: Catholics and psychologists. His earliest works are oriented towards two main areas: a critique of contemporary psychological theories, and writings specifically pertaining to Catholicism. Both of these areas at times overlapped. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s van Kaam had written on the basic tenets of a science of spirituality which seems to have been the preamble to the veritable explosion of writing that makes up the Formative Spirituality series.

It is an understatement to say that the sheer amount of material, as well as the specialized language used in the Formative Spirituality series, are daunting to those for whom it would be of interest. Van Kaam himself wrote in 1981, two years before the Formative Spirituality series began publication:

The groundwork of this [Formative Spirituality] approach is laid in its steadily expanding body of knowledge as developed so far by faculty and students. Its principles, assumptions, and methods are explained in approximately 30 books and over 150 articles published by faculty members. Furthermore it is developed to date in 15 volumes of Humanitas, in 160 issues of Envoy, and in the more than 125 theses by Institute graduates. It is also contained in the tape library of courses, lectures, and films given within and outside of the university and in theses and dissertations at other universities in the United States, Canada, and Rome.

Obviously, given this amount of material, any brief introduction is necessarily restricted in its scope. Others familiar with the material might even select out constructs other than those I have chosen for this site.


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© 1995-2000 Jeremiah D. McAuliffe, Jr., Ph.D.