Quests of the Human Spirit (1962, Marsh Chapel, Boston University, Boston, MA)


”Quests for the Human Spirit” is an eleven-part lecture series focused on the creative process of self-actualization. Thurman shows how this process centers and affirms a person’s purpose in life. Discussing pursuits like freedom, stability, values, identity, and integrity, he illuminates the importance of questing in identity formation.




Descriptions by Dr. Tim Rainey

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Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 1, 1962 February 4
In his introductory lecture to “Quests for the Human Spirit,” Thurman describes the quest as an act of bringing to focus the purpose of one’s life. Thurman notes that this is a creative work wherein one’s mental resources are organized into the raw materials needed to energize and pursue growth within the human spirit. Choosing between alternatives on the life journey is a matter of mind and heart – resources that drive the quest. Thurman argues that questing is essential to life because it is…

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 2: The Quest for Freedom, 1962 February 11
Thurman explains that freedom is the “capacity to determine the future by action.” He sees the possibility of death as the guarantor of the experience of freedom because that possibility is always open to the person. The fact that this option is available rather than accepting any present conditions is only to suggest that this means one can imaginatively project oneself into another possibility. For Thurman, grappling with one’s final option opens the door for pushing back the frontier of…

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 3: The Quest for Values, 1962 February 18
For Thurman, the quest for value cannot be distinguished from the human experience of meaning. He suggests that ideas regarding value are not created in isolation within the mind, but they are “indigenous to the very life of personality.” The content of values largely reflects our communities of meaning and when one begins to develop a personal way of assessing them through her own experiences, she arrives at what Thurman terms a “priority of value.” This means that individual knowledge of…

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 4: The Quest for Truth, 1962 March 4
When the sense of personal reality becomes part of an enlarging reality, one encounters truth. The quest for truth may be the essence of all quests, Thurman notes. Such striving is a sole aim and may not always produce or correlate with social change. It is more than a technique. The pursuit of what is spiritually true compels something within the individual to participate in a broader meaning. When one’s inner “root” is absorbed into and becomes the “root” in existence, Thurman says, the truth…

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 5: The Quest for Stability, 1962 March 11
In this brief lecture, Thurman addresses the need for stability. The sense of stability can be experienced when a person possesses what is most “significant and worth-full” to them. One must have morale to be stable, belief in one’s cause, faith in the enterprise to which one has committed, affirm these feelings, and finally, relate to the community. Stability is peace and security within with the vast universe beyond.

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 6: The Quest for Authority, 1962 March 18
Authority is more than a final limit. It also the persisting substance of limitations that remain with us after withdrawing from the presence of power. For Thurman, this sense of abiding authority is summed up in the biblical words “thus says the Lord.” We are “naked without authority,” he argues. There must be authority wherein one can lay oneself bare and yet not feel violated. Thurman believes religion accomplishes this. In the act of submitting to a higher reference point, human beings are…

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 7: The Quest for Integrity, 1962 March 25
Integrity is the alignment of self-image with the facts, or, the truths concerning a person. It is the “creative synthesis and wholeness inside the man.” Such inner “unanimity within,” Thurman claims, allows a person to take a stand and possess humility. Never fooled by any single or biased opinion about oneself, one must turn to ultimate judgment – to God. Meaning can only be defined in the presence of sovereign critique.

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 8: The Quest for Identity, 1962 April 1
Possessing a name provides a sense of being situated in the world. It is how the person marks one’s claim against society, Thurman notes. Identity in this regard requires the person to have a sense of one’s own body and idiom. Distinctive character underlies the capacity to probe the social world wherein one exists so that who one is becomes more articulate and more integrated within the whole.

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 9: The Quest for Peace, 1962 May 6
In the first of this two-part lecture, Thurman defines peace as a sense of “inner togetherness.” Experiences of peace are diverse and unfold through manifestations of innocence, exhaustion, reconciliation, conformity, and triumph. Here, Thurman emphasizes peace associated with “trials.” He does so because only tranquility on these terms persist within when external conditions do not change. This, he says, is the peace that passes all understanding.

Quests of the Human Spirit, Part 10: The Quest for Peace (continued), 1962 May 13
In Thurman’s second lecture on peace, he focuses on the collective experience of harmony in a world context. While human beings are deeply embedded within the ambitions and structures of governments and states, it is essential for the individual to establish a sense of being separate and distinct from the world in which one is nourished. Amid Cold War politics nearly twenty years after the use of the first atomic bomb, Thurman considers the meaning of thinking about peace in light of the threat…
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  • Quests of the Human Spirit (1962, Marsh Chapel, Boston University, Boston, MA)