Older people: visibility and embodied experiences: spiritualities for a changing context

  • Diane Holmes

Student thesis: Phd


"Older people are beautiful!""Older people are beautiful images of God!"Even though contemporary western society is powerfully shaped both by the visual and by an increasingly ageing demographic, the above statements are rare and counter-cultural. Yet they are statements totally true to my own experience as a minister with special responsibility for older people. I am drawn to wondering how the beauty of older people can be highlighted in ways that our culture will see and engage with; and therefore begin to own, and even possibly celebrate the ageing process.In the first part of my thesis I aim to discover why our society does not see beauty in age, or even perceive age itself. I begin with a historical study of western artistic expressions of beauty, tracing a reoccurring and influential strand of classical symmetry and perfection. A social analysis of our contemporary culture of youth is followed by an overview of the church's attitudes towards ageing. All three studies reveal a picture of deeply rooted ageism in society. Alongside these discoveries, an alternative perspective and antidote to ageism is offered through an inclusive reader response to Paul's description of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.My discoveries inform my choice of research methodology - the ways in which I endeavour to uncover new perceptions of older people and forms of expression that honour and include them. Thus embracing them as part of the Body of Christ. Participant observation, the inclusive tool favoured by social anthropology suits the aesthetic and subjective nature of my research. Older people themselves are my research participants. Group situations, where they play with clay and comment upon portraits and landscapes, enable them to express their perceptions of what is beautiful and so reflect a perceptible beauty of their own. A biblical structure allows the participants' thoughts about beauty to become expressions of their own particular spirituality.This uncovering of an embodied spirituality of older people as vital and beautiful is offered as a counterpoint to a culture that renders older people invisible. I discover that there is much that older people can offer younger generations through their laughter and tears, their interpersonal relationships and their intrepid journeying through the unknown territory of ageing itself. A search for and reflection upon theological perspectives and art images that resonate with these discoveries and illuminate older people as beautiful images of God forms the final part of my thesis.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester


  • older people
  • beauty

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