Spiritual Development and Realistic Optimism

May 20th, 2009Robert C. Atchley, PhDAuthor, "Spirituality and Aging"Host: Barry Erdman

About the Presentation

Holistic psychology sees spiritual development as an equal partner with other aspects of individual development. How do we invite the spiritual journey into conversations about a personal life story? What language works best? Realistic optimism is a sense, based on life experience, that one has the capacity to cope with whatever life brings. It is an adaptive strength that serves most aging adults well and is often related to spiritual development. What underlying processes create and reinforce the value of realistic optimism for most aging people?

About the Presenter

Robert C. Atchley, Ph.D. is an award-winning teacher, scholar, author, and mentor who since 1985 has focused on the subject of how human beings develop spiritually and manifest spirituality in their lives. He has presented numerous lectures and workshops to a wide variety of audiences and has written more than a dozen articles for general audiences on this subject. His programs are lively and accessible. His knowledge of the subject comes from extensive interviews and research, being part of several working groups of researchers, writers and lecturers focusing on spirituality, being involved in several organizations promoting “conscious aging” and/or spiritual growth, and his own 30-year conscious spiritual journey.

In the mid-1970s at age 35 Atchley began a conscious spiritual journey. He read dozens of classic texts on spirituality from a variety of spiritual traditions, took numerous workshops on meditation and spiritual development, went to India to study with the Indian sage, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and spent several years teaching at Naropa University, which emphasizes contemplative education and is Buddhist-inspired. Since 1996 he has found spiritual community in a Quaker Meeting.

In the 1980s, Atchley began teaching about spiritual development as part of his university course on adult development. He also began to include questions about spiritual life in his research interviews with middle-aged and older adults. In the 1990s, he published a series of articles on various aspects of spirituality and spiritual growth. He also became involved with the Omega Institute’s series of programs on “conscious aging” and in the Spiritual Eldering Institute and the Sage-ing® Guild. In addition to doing many workshops on his own, he was co-presenter of workshops with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi on “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” and with Ram Dass on “Conscious Aging.” Since 2000, he has published entries on spirituality for three different encyclopedias.

Atchley is Distinguished Professor of Gerontology (emeritus) from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is author of more than a dozen books and research monographs, including Understanding American Society (1970), The Sociology of Retirement (1976), Aging: Continuity and Change (1987), Continuity and Adaptation in Aging: Creating Positive Experiences (1999), and ten editions of his introductory gerontology text, Social Forces and Aging (2004). He is working on his next book, Spirituality and Aging: Expanding the View, forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press.
He has received more than a dozen awards for his teaching, writing, and service, including the Distinguished Career Achievement Award from the Gerontological Society of America and the Benjamin Harrison Medallion, Miami University’s highest honor given to a faculty member. He received the American Society on Aging’s award for Distinguished Contribution to the Education of the Nation.

Additional Resources

Handout for Presentation

PowerPoint for Presentation

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