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Palgrave Macmillan

The Direction of Desire

John of the Cross, Jacques Lacan and the Contemporary Understanding of Spiritual Direction

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  • © 2023


  • Presents a Juanist-Lacanian intervention in the modern practice of spiritual direction
  • Argues that certain forms of spiritual direction have become therapeutic in their aims
  • Demonstrates the potential of Lacanian psychoanalysis to reinvigorate spiritual direction

Part of the book series: The Palgrave Lacan Series (PALS)

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About this book

This book examines Lacanian psychoanalysis and Christian mystical theology demonstrating the former’s potential for reinvigorating spiritual direction. The author outlines how current methods of spiritual direction become saturated with self-help psycho-pop methodologies, and that desire has therefore been foreclosed in these practices. He suggests that the root of this is a focus on ‘positive affective experientialism’, which means spiritual direction must focus on emotional wholeness, healing and positivity. Finally, he argues that a new dialogue between John of the Cross (a mystic whose writings on spiritual direction formulate part of the core of the Catholic spiritual tradition) and Jacques Lacan can open the way for a spiritual direction beyond the confines of experientialism. The book concludes that we can only escape the experiential commodification of spiritual direction by critiquing the drive to experience in and of itself. This novel work will appeal in particular to students and scholars of psychoanalysis, religion, philosophy and critical theory.


Table of contents (8 chapters)

  1. The Loss of Mystical Desire in Christian Spiritual Direction

  2. Recovering Mystical Desire in Spiritual Direction: A Juanist-Lacanian Approach


“Two features elevate Murphy’s The Direction of Desire far above many studies on Lacan and mystical theology. His book is not just a comparative study but a deeply engaged inquiry into the possibility of mystical spiritual direction today - the true topic of the book is ourselves, our spiritual fate. Furthermore, Murphy ruthlessly analyses how mystical experience is caught in the global capitalist commodification - if you really want an authentic spiritual experience, you should begin with a critique of capitalism. These two features alone make The Direction of Desire obligatory reading for thousands well beyond the academic community.” (Prof. Slavoj Zizek, International director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, UK. Author of Surplus-enjoyment: A Guide for the Non-perplexed (2022).

“Murphy offers an original and timely insight into John of the Cross’ deep concern that experience of God can be commodified to satisfy mere projections of what God is orshould be.  Through a powerfully illuminating reading of Jacques Lacan’s ‘anti-experientialist’ psychoanalytic practice, Murphy uncovers the cultural forces which reduce spirituality to superficial notions of wellbeing.  He opens up the alternative offered by John of the Cross with new urgency, as a practice of spiritual direction which deliberately lets go of this quest for experience, in favour of the undifferentiated space into which the desire for God more deeply leads.  He articulates anew this truly transformative dimension of the practice of spiritual direction for today.” (Dr Edward Howells, Associate Tutor in Christian Spirituality, Ripon College Cuddesdon and Associate Member of Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK. Author of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross: Mystical Knowing and Selfhood (2002).)

“Mark G. Murphy’s The Direction of Desire is a masterful attempt to establish some preliminary groundwork forany Lacanian-inspired practice of Catholic spiritual direction. You are offered an antidote to spiritual practices that remain saturated in capitalist modes of enjoyment. Hence, its accomplishment — which should be celebrated — is to locate a point of opposition in the concept of kenosis from Saint John of the Cross. Perhaps this will help us to rediscover the letter of God. Moreover, the book avoids the trap of historicizing the Lacanian-Catholicism connection by focusing explicitly on structure, thereby developing a worthwhile dialogue between psychoanalysis and spirituality.” (Prof. Duane Rousselle, Lacanian Psychoanalyst and Professor of Sociology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. Author of Post- Anarchism and Psychoanalysis: Seminars on Politics and Society (2023).)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gillis Centre, St Mary’s University, Edinburgh, UK

    Mark Gerard Murphy

About the author

Mark Gerard Murphy is an editor for the political journal and blog Taiwan Insight and a Lecturer at St Mary’s University, Scotland, Gillis Centre, where he convenes courses on ethics, philosophy, and mystical theology and spirituality. His research interests include the relationship between psychoanalysis and mystical theology. He has published in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory and the European Journal of Psychoanalysis

Bibliographic Information

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