Spirituality, Diversion, and Decadence

The Contemporary Predicament

By Peter H. Van Ness

Subjects: Philosophy Of Religion
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9780791412060, 350 pages, October 1992
Hardcover : 9780791412053, 350 pages, November 1992

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Introduction: On Praxis and Pleroma

I. The Philosophical Problem


1. A Historical Perspective
2. A Contemporary Evaluation


II. Categoreal Themes and their Practical Applications


3. Semiotic Self-Reference
4. Physical Symmetry
5. Biological Equilibration


III. Rethinking the Nature of Spiritual Disclipline


6. Nietzsche's Negation
7. A Novel Response


Conclusion: Beyond Diversion and Decadence


Select Bibliography



This book presents a philosophical rethinking of the meaning and nature of spiritual discipline. It offers a new way of describing and justifying practices like praying, meditating, fasting, and yoga, and it provides an innovative case for their contemporary importance.

Spiritual discipline is especially effective at combatting Pascalian diversion, the pursuit of activities that occupy the mind just enough to avoid thinking about important things; and Nietzschean decadence, the proclivity for extirpating instinctive drives instead of satisfying or sublimating them. In addition to overcoming diversion and decadence in contemporary consumerist culture, VanNess recommends spiritual discipline as a means of political resistance to powerful institutions which seek to exercise social control in democratic societies by promulgating addictive patterns of consumption.

Finally, he argues that regimens of spiritual discipline can serve healthful and liberating purposes, and generally promote fullness of life, only insofar as they are shaped by an ethos of intellectual criticism and aesthetic experimentation.

Peter H. VanNess is Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Union Theological Siminary in New York City.


"This is a more interesting and insightful approach to the topic of spiritual discipline than I have previously encountered.

"The major problem with contemporary religion (especially Western) is its lack of effective spiritual disciplines—witness the fascination with the disciplines of the East. Add to that the fact that as religion in the traditional sense decreases in popularity, spirituality increases. " — Harold Coward, University of Calgary

"The book shows tremendous erudition, depth, and perception, and carries its argument through in a most impressive and systematic manner. It is very rich in detail and provides valuable information on the subject with which it deals. It also is provocative, original, and profound. It is one of those books one would like to discuss with its author. " —Klaus K. Klostermaier, University of Manitoba