Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Unit rationale, description and aim

It is increasingly common for people to describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’. However, when spirituality is disaffiliated from a religious tradition, it can easily dissipate. Christian spirituality is rooted in history. It has developed over two millennia and includes many classic treasures and ways of praying and acting that can still be life giving today. You may be motivated to undertake this tour purely by an interest in Christian spirituality, but if you are an employee or a member of a Christian organisation, you should benefit from seriously considering the lived experience of Christian faith. This is particularly true if you are a teacher in a Christian school or engaged in some form of lay or ordained ministry. 

This study tour will be based in Rome, where many layers of Christian history, art and spirituality can be explored. We will go into ancient catacombs where frescoes convey the early Christian hope in life after death. There will be a day trip to Subiaco, where St Benedict lived and prayed in the sixth century, and two nights in Assisi, the hometown of Saints Francis and Clare in the thirteenth century. We will visit the rooms where St Ignatius Loyola lived and died in Rome, and other sites associated with significant spiritual traditions. We will also encounter contemporary spiritual movements, such as the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay movement founded by young Catholics in Rome in the 1960s, which has become renowned internationally for its practical responses to poverty and oppression. 

In short, the aim of this unit is to provide a rich immersion experience in which important aspects of Christian spirituality in the Catholic tradition can be encountered in a memorable and transformative way.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Identify and explain the sources and theological premises of Christian spiritual traditions (GA1, GA4).

LO2 - Critically reflect on the historical, ecclesial and cultural contexts of different forms of Christian spirituality (GA1, GA4, GA5) 

LO3 - Evaluate the ongoing relevance of Christian spirituality, with particular reference to one major spiritual tradition encountered on the study tour.  (GA1; GA4; GA5).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 


Topics will include:

  • An introduction to the sources and theological premises of Christian spirituality
  • The development of Christian spirituality in the ancient Roman Empire
  • Early Christian spirituality—faith, martyrdom and hope in the resurrection
  • Tradition, ecclesial context and the significance of Rome in Roman Catholicism
  • The importance of the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist and the Church’s material culture through the centuries
  • Benedictine spirituality
  • Franciscan spirituality
  • Jesuit spirituality
  • Spirituality and Art
  • Marian devotion
  • Contemporary forms of spirituality such as the Community of Sant'Egidio

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Underlying the teaching and learning strategy are constructivist and andragogical principles which emphasise that students are active, adult learners who engage best when what they are learning is relevant to them and gives them the opportunity to be responsible for their own learning. The focus is therefore on student-centred learning, with consideration of how the learning content applies to the students themselves and their contemporary context.

Overall, the study tour is intended to be a rich immersion experience, one with the potential to lead to much deeper learning than is possible in a conventional classroom environment.

A broadly chronological approach will be taken, starting with the foundations of Christian spirituality in the first centuries of the Church and concluding with recent developments.  However, as there are so many layers of history in Rome, it is seldom possible to strictly segregate different periods.

Preliminary online learning activities, including synchronous seminars and an asynchronous forum discussion, will be available to help you prepare for the tour. Further learning material and suggestions for reflection will be available online as instructional scaffolding during the tour. In this way, classroom time will be minimised in Rome, with most days devoted to site visits. There will be opportunities for you to reflect with other participants in ‘debriefing’ sessions, including informal gatherings during meals. If you wish, you can participate in celebrations of the Eucharist and other spiritual practices. 

Throughout the tour, you will be encouraged to ponder the historical and cultural context of different spiritualities and the theological, ecclesial, personal and professional implications of them. One technique which can help facilitate reflection is journaling. Some people choose to keep a travel diary when overseas, and you will be urged to follow this practice and keep a reflective journal.

Assessment strategy and rationale

Critical reflection is a vital skill in tertiary education. It is also a crucial component of a healthy spirituality. Although the focus of this unit will be on spirituality as an academic discipline, this is a field of study which has a clear self-implicating dimension. Few if any students are entirely neutral when they come to study spirituality. It is, therefore, necessary to take one’s personal assumptions into account and be open to engaging with different perspectives and new ideas. The “critical” in “critical reflection” does not mean that you must express negative comments; rather, it encourages you to engage in scholarly analysis so that you can form sound and reasonable judgements.

The first task for this unit is designed to encourage you to reflect on insights which strike you as significant as you approach spirituality from an academic perspective. 

While the assignment should be in essay form, you are not expected to adopt a neutral tone. In a reflective essay, the writer should be in the foreground. You are therefore encouraged to relate your learning to past experiences, highlighting anything that might have questioned, challenged or confirmed previous assumptions. This paper is to be submitted before departure.

The second assignment is due a fortnight after return to Australia and provides an opportunity for you to integrate your learning from the study tour.  For privacy reasons, your reflective journal will not be assessed. However, you are encouraged to include selected extracts from your journal in an integrated learning report. Photographs taken on the tour can also be included. 

The third assignment, due six weeks after the study tour, enables you to delve deeper into a particular branch of spirituality encountered on the tour (such as the Benedictine, Franciscan or Ignatian schools), significant figure (eg. St Benedict, St Francis or St Clare), text (eg. Benedictine Rule or Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises), practice (eg. Lectio Divina), contemporary spiritual movement (such as the Community of Sant’Egidio), or significant issue, such as art and spirituality or ecological spirituality. In a research essay, you are expected to demonstrate that you can analyse the historical, theological and ecclesial context of your chosen aspect of spirituality, noting in particular how it was both a response to the needs of its original time and also grounded in the Christian tradition. In addition, you are asked to assess the potential effectiveness of this spirituality today and offer some personal reflection on how the spirituality could be applied to your own life and/or discuss how you could utilize this spirituality in your classroom, parish or other workplace. Through this essay you will be able to demonstrate that you have attained the learning outcomes of the unit.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Reflection Paper: What is Spirituality?

This paper is to be submitted prior to departure. The purpose of the assignment is to encourage you to reflect critically on different understandings of what “spirituality” actually is and how it can be studied. You are encouraged to reflect on your own prior experience and also on any insights you have gained from the set readings and online discussions which might have questioned, challenged or confirmed previous assumptions.   

1500 words



GA1, GA4

Rome Tour Report

This paper is to be submitted a fortnight after return to Australia.  It should include:

  1. Critical analysis of at least three site visits and the links between these places and spiritual classics of the Christian tradition.
  2. Personal reflection on the relevance of certain forms of Christian spirituality to your own life and work.
  3. Evaluation of the learning in Rome, including what was most useful and insightful and what questions remain unanswered.

3000 words


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA4

Research Essay

This is due six weeks after return to Australia.

You can choose a significant branch of Christian spirituality encountered on the tour, figure, text, practice or issue.  The purpose of this assignment is to give you an opportunity to delve deeper into the chosen topic and demonstrate the unit learning outcomes. 

In particular, you are asked to:

  1. Analyse the historical, theological and ecclesial context—how the spirituality of the person, school, text or practice was both a response to the needs of its original time and also grounded in the Christian tradition.
  2. Assess the potential effectiveness of this spirituality today.
  3. Offer some personal reflection on how the spirituality could be applied to you own life and/or discuss how you could utilize this spirituality in your classroom, parish or other workplace

2500 words


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA4, GA5

Representative texts and references

Collins, Kenneth J. Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Dreyer, Elizabeth A. and Mark S. Burrows. Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2005.

Holder, Arthur, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Perrin, David Brian. Studying Christian Spirituality. New York, Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2007.

Sheldrake, Philip. Spirituality. Guides for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Dupré, Louis and Don Saliers. Christian Spirituality, Volume 3: Post Reformation and Modern. London: SCM, 1990.

Egan, Harvey. An Anthology of Christian Mysticism. 2nd Ed. Glendale, AZ: Pueblo, 1991.

Holder, Arthur, ed. Christian Spirituality: The Classics. London: Routledge, 2012.

McGinn, Bernard. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. Modern Library Classics Series. New York: Random House, 2006.

Sandra M. Schneiders, “Religion vs. Spirituality: A Contemporary Conundrum”, Spiritus 3 (2003), 163-185. Reprinted in St. Augustine Papers 9, no. 1 (2008): 23-53.

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