Design and Spirituality : A Philosophy of Material Cultures book cover
1st Edition

Design and Spirituality
A Philosophy of Material Cultures

ISBN 9780367619978
Published February 4, 2021 by Routledge
332 Pages 12 Color Illustrations

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Book Description

Design and Spirituality examines the philosophical context of our current situation and its implications for design. It explores how modernity and our constricted notions of progress have contributed to today’s crisis of values, and argues for a re-establishment and re-affirmation of self-transcending priorities, together with an ethos of moderation and sufficiency.

A wide range of topics are covered, including material culture and spiritual teachings; sustainability and the spiritual perspective; traditional and indigenous knowledge; technology and spirituality; notions of meaningful design; and how particular material things can have deeper, symbolic significance. There are also reflections on areas such as the language of design; busyness and its relationship to wisdom; design and social disparity; and traditional sacred practices. While not avoiding issues that are controversial, and sometimes hard-hitting, Design and Spirituality gets to the heart of the key issues affecting us today and presents them in a highly readable and accessible format.

The author is a leading thinker in the field and he presents his arguments in a manner that invites the reader to reflect and think about where we are going, why we are going there and what really matters.


Table of Contents


    1. Introduction
    2. The Nature of Design
    3. Material Things and Spiritual Teachings
    4. Sustainability and Secular Liberalism
    5. Busyness and Wisdom
    6. Heartless
    7. When the Devil Drives
    8. Nipping the Bloom
    9. The Serpentine Walk
    10. Language Speaks
    11. A Complacency of Strangers
    12. Insecticides and Suicides
    13. Transcending Technology
    14. Jericho Road
    15. Design and Spirituality
    16. Lucratively Loveless
    17. Unity, Love and Design
    18. Shallowness and Depth
    19. An Impression of Intentionality
    20. Failings
    21. The Inner Flame
    22. Religion and Atheism
    23. Techno-spirituality
    24. A Higher Purpose
    25. Material Things and Spiritual Goods
    26. Meaningful Design
    27. The Deeper Significance of Things
    28. At the Valley
    29. Traditional Knowledge
    30. The Dobby Stone
    31. Natural Magic
    32. Ex Voto
    33. The Well of Fajã dos Padres
    34. Sacred Smoke
    35. Under the Volcano
    36. An Expression of the Sacred
    37. The Mexelhote and the Molinillo
    38. An Object of my Affection
    39. Memento Mori
    40. Bread of Life
    41. The Conference of the Blind
    42. Something and Nothing
    43. The Faraway Bird
    44. Aesthetic Roots
    45. Wabi Sabi
    46. A Beachfront View
    47. Local
    48. Provenance, Presence and Posterity
    49. Tradition
    50. Nootka Sound
    51. Along the Highway
    52. Clear cut
    53. A Northern Town
    54. Vanity Fair
    55. What is Truth?
    56. The Spiritual Sensibility
    57. A Suitable Metaphor
    58. Higher Goods
    59. Making Special
    60. Truth, Goodness and Beauty
    61. Creating from the Heart
    62. Sine Fide
    63. The Third Exit
    64. Restart or Reform?




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Stuart Walker is Chair of Design for Sustainability at Lancaster University where he co-founded the ImaginationLancaster Design Research Lab. He is also Visiting Professor of Sustainable Design at Kingston University and Emeritus Professor at the University of Calgary. His research focuses on environmental, social and spiritual aspects of sustainability; it has been supported by the SSHRC in Canada and the AHRC and the Arts Council in the UK. His experimental designs have been exhibited in Canada, Australia, Italy and the UK. His books include Sustainable by Design; Design Roots (lead ed.); Design for Life; and Design Realities.


"If the path to spiritual integrity lies through the way we use material things, every aspect of our relation to what is around us is significant. The challenge for us as human beings is to work out how we live humanly, taking our part in a larger and more mysterious set of processes – not trying to stand above or outside the world that makes us real. In a mixture of reflection, recollection and poetry, Stuart Walker anchors us in that ‘real world’ – so different from what we often mean by the phrase – and reintroduces us to our physical and spiritual selves."

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, author ofThe Way of St Benedict’

"Stuart Walker takes us on a captivating journey through places and times where he addresses what might be at the very core of the next revolution: spirituality and imagination. Design and Spirituality is highly refreshing, thought provoking and a most needed game-changer in the field of sustainable design. As a designer and researcher, I was thrilled by the challenging and inspiring form of the manuscript that demonstrates how design ways can also extend to academic writing. 

While recognizing and celebrating diversified worldviews, Walker shares with us a unique and profound reflection on the place objects occupy, and could occupy, in our lives. This book addresses critical aspects of dominant material cultures and the associated devastating production-consumption systems. It offers rare insights for designers by exploring alternative approaches to the world of objects, including ones that can lead to human fulfillment.

I haven’t read anything like this in the field. It is about time that design - and other disciplines that share in its early history of the industrial revolution - delve into the important body of knowledge that age-old spiritual and wisdom traditions have to offer.

Design and Spirituality is a wonderful and timely read, yet a work that will undoubtedly become timeless."

Anne Marchand, Associate Vice-Rector, Research, Discovery, Creation & Innovation, Université de Montréal

"In these short essays, Stuart Walker stimulates us to think more deeply about both design and the daily objects we take for granted. He argues that these are not just technical issues. They need to be considered in relation to wider questions about the kind of society we want to live in, the values we want to live by and in the end what we think and feel about the mystery of human existence."

Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, author ofArt and the Beauty of God’

"This book is timely and important. Many professions are making a turn to spirituality to engage questions of sustainability, ethics, authenticity and integrity in their practice. This book addresses such questions with depth and creative insight for those working in architecture and design."

Bernadette Flanagan, Chair, Spirituality Institute for Research and Education (SpIRE), Ireland

"This book is a wonderful example of how creativity and imagination that emerge from the academic study of design show the way to spirituality and to values of meaning and purpose, reconciling these two paths of knowledge."

Rossano Zas Friz De Col, SJ, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome

"Design and Spirituality explores the realm of meaning and symbolism, bringing back a transcendental dimension of humanity that has been eroded from our professional environments in the modern Western world. Through the lens of spirituality, Walker challenges us to look beyond the surface of our material existence to access the infinite layers of beauty and wisdom available to all who dare to seek. Walker shows that, despite cultural and philosophical differences, we all share universal truths. Design and Spirituality opens a new era and vision for design well suited to the new societies we envision, calling us to transcend our creative concern – from commodity to communion, from despair to hope, from fate to destiny."

Laura Santamaria, Director, Design and Culture, Loughborough University London

"We should renew our material culture to be more ecological and human-centered. By bringing spirituality into the discourse, Stuart Walker’s book is an excellent contribution to the accomplishment of this urgent task."

Laszlo Zsolnai, President, European Spirituality in Economics & Society Institute (SPES), Leuven, Belgium

"This book provides a holistic picture of a novel way of how design can be informed by the past to move into the future. It provides a practical and pragmatistic direction towards the kind of sustainability that is necessary to solve unsustainability. To have a tenured veteran engaged in this type of thinking and research carves out a meaningful space for early career researchers to be bolder with their own research and practice."

Spyros Bofylatos, Adjunct Lecturer, Department of Product and Systems Design Engineering, University of the Aegean, Greece

"Design and Spirituality embodies a series of inspiring and ingenious essays that explore and reconnect design and spirituality through the layers of interrelated topics involving the realities of everyday life through critical reflection, thus deepening and reaffirming the essence of design for sustainability. Design and Spirituality conveys ideas creatively and influentially, delving into the underlying social, cultural and environmental issues and presents an alternative medium of communication and discussion for design-related considerations, which is a fundamental source for designers, educators and researchers."

Çağla Doğan, Professor of Industrial Design, METU, Ankara, Turkey