Sacred interconnections: a practical theological examination of dream studies and Christian spirituality studies
Benzenhafer, Holly Claire
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This dissertation emphasizes the need for spirituality studies and practical theology to enter into robust scholarly engagement with dream studies. The study of lived experience and an interdisciplinary approach are key characteristics in all three areas of inquiry. Interconnecting these areas of inquiry opens new lenses for understanding how people experience, remember, interpret, and find meaning within daily experience. Chapter One outlines current trajectories of research in dream studies and highlights gaps in current scholarship regarding the relationship between dreams and Christian spirituality. A proposed framework for dialogue among these three areas of inquiry addresses these scholarly gaps throughout the dissertation. Chapter Two presents key aspects of the physiology of sleep and dreams while also describing prevalent American cultural attitudes towards sleep, rest, and work and their impact on attitudes towards dreaming. Holy Rest is proposed as a contemporary Christian practice with potential to recalibrate unbalanced preferences for productivity and waking experience over sleep and dreaming experience. Chapter Three asserts dreams are meaningful experiences which are potentially spiritually formative and thus require theological consideration. As such, dreamwork can be understood as a spiritual practice. Chapter Four positions dream reports in dialogue with theoretical literature on spiritual life writing as narrative, hermeneutical practices that create habits of recalling memories primarily via writing and using root metaphor. Chapter Five discusses pedagogical implications of research on dreamwork and summarizes common trajectories for research in practical theology, Christian spirituality, and dream studies. Specifically, this dissertation asserts that time imbalances between sleep, rest, and work pose spiritual as well as physiological concerns that impact theological meaning-making in daily life. It locates dreaming experiences as spiritually and theologically relevant and queries the lack of attention to Christian spirituality in contemporary dream studies discourse. It also proposes a means to examine how individuals’ memories may create communal practices of theological reflection based on shared narrative practices of dreamwork and spiritual life writing. This exploration of the hermeneutical, spiritual, and pedagogical significance of dreams and dreamwork suggests the merit of further scholarly examination of other undervalued and unnoticed experiences of daily life.