Spiritual exemplars

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This paper proposes that spiritual persons are an excellent focus for the study of 'living religion' and offers a methodology for doing so. By ‘spiritual persons’, I have in mind both exemplary figures – like Jesus or the Buddha – and the multitude of ‘ordinary’ spiritual persons whose lives are led in aspiration to the spiritual goods the exemplars manifest (enlightenment, say, or holiness). I start with Linda Zagzebski's recent argument that moral persuasion primarily occurs through encounters with exemplars of moral qualities, of a sort that invite admiration and emulation. A plurality of modes of spiritual exemplarity is distinguished, each reflecting a distinct form of spiritual aspiration, which will show in the lives of the members of different traditions. I develop this claim by focusing on the ways that spiritual aspirants can encounter exemplars through their depictions in spiritual narrative. It emerges that narrative encounters can activate certain forms of admiration and enable certain forms of emulation if they depict the suffering of exemplars.
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Archival date: 2018-01-02
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