Transfiguring fantasy : spiritual development in the work of George MacDonald
This study addresses two questions. What light does the work of George MacDonald shed on the concept of 'spiritual development' and what is the pedagogical function of his fantasy? The thesis is largely concerned to clarify these conceptual issues but the reason for raising them is practical. The promotion of spiritual development in schools is a statutory requirement. The conclusions of this thesis contain implications for curricular strategies for meeting that requirement and attention will be drawn to them. Two major claims are made. The first concerns the issue of whether a coherent spirituality necessarily depends on - and thus must be promoted within - a religious framework. The implication of MacDonald's recourse to fantasy, a discourse dispensing with traditional religious categories, to explore the theme of spiritual development is that a spiritual pedagogy does not need to be rooted in traditional religious concepts and truth-claims. The two discourses, the 'theistic' and the 'non-theistic', are compatible and complementary. Secondly, the concept of 'transfiguring fantasy' is introduced and commended. MacDonald's transfiguring fantasy functions pedagogically, as potentially does all such unclosed flmtasy, by calling in question the distinction between the narrative one reads and one's own life-story. The two realms, those of the text in one's hands and the life one is leading, elide and the task of resolving the enigmas of the fantasy becomes one with the unfinished business of making sense of one's own story. This thesis also considers the familiar Romantic themes of nature, childhood and the imagination, which MacDonald treats with original insight. Nature is akin to fantasy in its capacity to engage and direct the attentive spirit. Childhood is the pattern of what we must become. The imagination's role is to summon us to press beyond the borders of what may be scientifically proven or rationally articulated.