Spiritual learning: Hidden dynamics in moral injury

Bruce Stevens

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review

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We learn a great deal without words, or even an awareness that we are learning something. In academic psychology this is called implicit learning, but the focus of this research has not had any theological or spiritual implications. We can think about this as implicit spiritual learning to convey a non-conscious process. Spiritual learning is a kind of emotional learning, a term used in some therapeutic circles (Ecker, et al. 2013). Emotional learning is more general, but both are about the same process. The most straightforward version of this learning occurs before we can use words.
This learning is not the same as the Freudian unconscious. Freud considered a range of mental processes, occurring automatically and not available to ‘thinking-about- the-self’ (or introspection). This included memories, motivations, repressed feelings, desires, instincts, automatic skills, subliminal perceptions, habits and automatic reactions. Both emotional and spiritual learning refer to what has been acquired through a learning process. Attachment theory is a good example of emotional learning, with the classification of the attachment relationship in terms of avoidant, secure, ambivalent and disorganized (Cohen 1996). The implications of such early learning have been explored with later adult relationships (Crittendon 2000). Also there has been research on the believer’s relationship to God (Granqvist, et al. 2010; Miner 2009). However, attachment theory is limited to dyadic relationships. The realm of emotional and spiritual learning is wider.
The reality of moral injury (MI) was first identified by Marine veteran,Camillo ‘Mac’ Bica, in his journals from Vietnam (Nakashima-Brock &Lettini, 2012). He recognized, first in himself, the impact of doing things that violate a sense of common humanity. Moral Injury “results when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs, and in evaluating their behaviour negatively, they feel they no longer live in a reliable, meaningful world and can no longer be regarded as decent human beings” (Nakashima-Brock & Lettini, 2012, p. xv). Jonathan Shay (2010) highlighted the paradox of “fighting for one’s country can render one unfit to be its citizen” (p. xx). Trauma is obvious for victims but not for perpetrators. This paper explores the dimension of spiritual learning in moral injury and suggests some possible steps forward.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the spirituality, culture and well-being conference
Subtitle of host publicationInaugural conference of the Lumen Research Institute, Excelsia College & Indiana Wesleyan University
EditorsMaureen Miner, Martin Dowson
Place of PublicationMacquarie Park NSW
PublisherLumen Research Institute
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)1740580699
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016
EventInaugural Conference of the Lumen Research Institute: Excelsia College & Indiana Wesleyan University - Excelsia College, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 04 Oct 201605 Oct 2016


ConferenceInaugural Conference of the Lumen Research Institute: Excelsia College & Indiana Wesleyan University
Abbreviated titleSpirituality, Culture and Well-Being
Internet address


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