Syracuse University Magazine

Soulful Journey

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"Just imagine what it would do for your religion if you shifted your sense of the miraculous from some astounding feat of a master magician to a profound appreciation of the miracle of rain. You would be a different kind of person living a different kind of life. You wouldn’t be sad from the weight of your religious obligations, but rather joyful at the beauty and the holiness of the natural world. You’d be happy, open, and graceful, all because of your positive, world-based spiritual vision.” 

—From A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World 

Thomas Moore G'75 is an esteemed spiritual advisor and the beloved author of the bestselling book Care of the Soul and 19 other popular volumes on topics related to deepening spirituality and cultivating the soul in all aspects of daily life. A monk for 12 years before earning a Ph.D. degree in religion at Syracuse, he went on to be a musician, professor, and psychotherapist. He now writes and lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy, and the arts. His latest book is A Religion of One’s Own (Penguin, 2014).

Moore spoke to Syracuse University Magazine associate editor Amy Speach from his home in New Hampshire.

What was your time at the University like and what did it mean to you?

I feel good about being connected to Syracuse and grateful for what I received there so many years ago. I wanted to study religion in my own way and wrote an essay to the religion department about how I thought it should be done. I wanted to use sources that were not just from the spiritual traditions. I liked the idea of going to psychology and literature, to the arts, as a resource for the study of religious questions. I thought nobody would want me to do that, but at Syracuse, that was right down their alley. And I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve written 20 books and they are all very much based on that work.

How did you come to enter the monastery at age 14?

It’s hard to describe these days because it’s unusual, but we’re going back quite a while. When I was a young man, it was not at all unusual. I grew up in a Catholic family and went to a Catholic grade school. I was kind of a bright kid, and when the nuns see that they spot you at about 5 years old and prepare you to be a priest. That was their job. So I think I was just led in that direction. My mother and dad didn’t want me to leave so young. Now that I have children, I know I wouldn’t want my own children to do it. But the fact is I went, and I stayed with it until I was in my mid-20s. Shortly before I would have been ordained a priest, I realized that it was over. It was an internal decision. I had no big complaints. I didn’t want to get married or anything like that. I just felt I had changed.

What significance does your newest book—A Religion of One’s Own—hold for you?

It means a lot to me, because my whole life I’ve been devoted to religion in some form. I don’t see religion as an institution, but as a way of being in relation to the world, in which you appreciate the mystery and the infinite that you perceive in nature and how, when you’re participating in the arts, you’re really encountering this deep archetypal world, this world that is invisible to us. This book is about a religion of one’s own—about finding your own way and putting together all these different resources, including psychology. I’ve been a psychotherapist, too, for 30 years, so I like to put psychology and religion together. I call it “care of the soul and spirit” in my language.

How did your work of speaking about holistic health develop?

After I published Care of the Soul in 1992, I began getting invitations from medical schools and conferences to come and speak. I had never thought of my work as having any relation to medicine, but I went, not knowing what to expect. And when I began speaking at these places, I realized that both patients and health professionals have trouble with the really deep matters that come up when you deal with illness, especially serious illness. These doctors and hospitals were treating people as though they were machines, like they were bodies. And the soul and the spirit of the person are not taken into account. When you talk about holistic medicine, the holistic part of it is considering the person and the family, not only of the patients, but also of the professionals. I try to give doctors and nurses a deeper appreciation of what their calling is.

Would you say something about your sense of purpose regarding your writing?

In all of my books, I am really writing because I’m concerned about the state of the world. I’m always thinking about domestic violence, violence on our streets, and warfare all around the world. We still haven’t learned to deal with these conflicts. And I think they are largely due to a neglect of the soul. That’s why I write all these books on the soul. My purpose is to try to make a contribution to the society we’re in. I do a lot of research for every book. Then I have the task of translating all that research into language that people can read and be inspired by. I think that’s a valid and a good way to write.