Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Carla Dahl


What is the relationship between relational spirituality and grief? This dissertation pursues this question by employing a practical theological method for practitioners of pastoral care and counseling when tending to unique grief experiences. Grief is understood in terms of contemporary bereavement science. Relational spirituality is developed as an interdisciplinary, interpretive lens with the capacity to describe how individuals relate to the sacred in light of four dimensions: human-human, human-God, God-human, and inner Trinitarian. The outworking of these dimensions suggests a relational approach to interdisciplinary dialogue. Applying relational spirituality to individuals’ unique grief experiences produces a process of care for tending to grief experiences. This exemplifies how relational spirituality is an explicitly relational, interdisciplinary paradigm that creates transformational dialogue applicable to a breadth of human needs.

Chapter One tends to the complexity of integrating contemporary bereavement science with pastoral care and counseling by describing how this dissertation is guided by Richard Osmer’s four tasks of practical theology: descriptive-empirical, interpretive, normative, and pragmatic. Also, the Chalcedonian Pattern of Logic is extended in order to propose a relational approach to interdisciplinary dialogue. Chapter Two represents the interpretive task, as it is based on psychological literature that describes the history and trends in grief research, highlighting resilience as the hallmark of contemporary bereavements science. Chapters Three and Four engage in the normative task by developing relational spirituality in each of its four dimensions. Concepts used to develop these include attachment theory, interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), analogia spiritus, imago Dei, Trinitarian relationality, and the immanent-economic distinction. Each of these concepts highlights normative relational patterns that lead to thriving in human life, particularly in light of specific virtues. Normativity is also suggested in terms of what it is not, namely suffering. The descriptive-empirical task occurs in Chapters Five and Six, which includes an in-depth, qualitative exploration of individuals’ unique grief experiences. Chapter Seven concludes the dissertation with a thorough explanation of research findings and development of pragmatic guidelines, as described in the process of care. It is hoped that relational spirituality not only serves practitioners with a descriptive paradigm to creatively elicit dialogue and co-create life-giving narratives with others and God.