Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Self-transformation and Spiritual Exemplars

Victoria S. Harrison, Rhett Gayle


This paper focuses on the process of self-transformation through which a person comes to embody the ideal of her religion’s vision of the divine, as far as that ideal is expressible in a human life. The paper is concerned with the self as the subject of religious commitments, traits, religious aspirations and religiously inspired ideals. The self-transformative journey that people are invited to undertake poses a number of philosophical and practical difficulties; the paper explores some of these difficulties, concentrating on those that arise in connection with the notion of potential future selves. This paper suggests that imaginative reflection upon exemplary individuals provides one way through these difficulties, for these individuals can show us what it looks like when someone achieves, or draws close to, the ideal.

Full Text:



Athens, L. H. 1995. “Dramatic Self-Change”. The Sociological Quarterly 33, no. 3: 571–86. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.1995.tb00454.x.

Flanagan, Owen. 1991. Varieties of Moral Personality: Ethics and Psychological Realism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Gaita, Raimond. 2000. A Common Humanity: Thinking about Love and Truth and Justice. London and New York: Routledge.

Gayle, Rhett. 2005. Multiplying Multiplicity. University of Colorado at Boulder.

Gergen, K. J. 1991. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic Books.

Gunnarsson, L. 2002. “What is constituted in self-constitution?”. In Personen: Ein interdiziplinärer Dialog, edited by J. Quitterer, C. Kanzian and E. Runggaldier, 76–78. Kirchberg: Austrian Wittgenstein Society.

Harrison, Victoria S. 2000. The Apologetic Value of Human Holiness: Von Balthasar’s Christocentric Philosophical Anthropology. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

—. 2018. “Imagination and the Lives of Others”. In Imagination: Cross-Cultural Philosophical Analyses, edited by H.-G. Moeller and A. Whitehead, 187–202. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Hick, John. 2005. An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

Jopling, David A. 2000. Self-Knowledge and the Self. London: Routledge.

Kidd, Ian J. 2018. “Spiritual Exemplars”. International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 79, no. 4: 410–24. doi:10.1080/21692327.2017.1412267.

Kristjánsson, Kristján. 2010. The Self and Its Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Martin, Thérèse. 1990. Historie d’une âme: manuscrits autobiographiques. Paris: Cerf.

Merton, Thomas. 2009. The Seven Storey Mountain. London: SPCK.

Montaigne, Michel de. 1958. “Of the Education of Children”. In The Complete Essays of Montaigne, translated by Donald Frame. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

Moshman, D. 2004. “False Moral Identity: Self-Serving Denial in the Maintenance of Moral Self-Conceptions”. In Moral Development, Self, and Identity, edited by D. K. Lapsley and D. Narvaez, 83–110. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Nan, Huai-chin, and William Bodri. 2010. Spiritual Paths and their Meditation Techniques. Nevada: Top Shape Publishing.

Ricœur, Paul. 1990. Soi-même comme un autre. Paris: Seuil.

Rose, N. 1996. Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Stump, Eleonore. 2010. Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Valdes, Mario J., ed. 1991. A Ricœur Reader: Reflection and Imagination. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

Zagzebski, Linda T. 2004. Divine Motivation Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

—. 2006. “The Admirable Life and the Desirable Life”. In Values and Virtues, edited by Timothy Chappell. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

—. 2010. “Exemplarist Virtue Theory”. Metaphilosophy 41: 41–57. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9973.2009.01627.x.

Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


  • There are currently no refbacks.