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J Holist Nurs. 2011 Mar;29(1):44-52. doi: 10.1177/0898010110381116. Epub 2010 Sep 14.

Language and the (im)possibilities of articulating spirituality.

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School of Nursing, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, British Columbia, Canada V8W 2Y2.


Despite growing interest in spiritual matters throughout society, definitions and descriptions of spirituality seem incomplete or otherwise unsatisfactory. In this article, the authors consider the possibility that such incompleteness is perhaps necessary and welcomed in addressing spirituality. In particular, they investigate the challenges of using metaphor and metonymic approaches to "languaging" spirituality. By exploring these figures of speech they hope to diversify how nurses articulate deeply personal and perhaps enigmatic human phenomena such as spirituality. Metaphoric language uses everyday structures to help make sense of complex, emotional, and abstract experience. Whereas metaphor creates substitutive relationships between things and provides insights into conceptualizing spirituality, metonymy and metonymic writing establish relationships of contiguity. Whereas metaphor functions to represent and facilitates understanding and feelings about spirituality, metonymy disrupts while opening possibilities of moving beyond binary thinking. Attending to language and its various ontological assumptions opens diverse and potentially more inclusive possibilities.

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