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DEVOTION . Religious devotion is ardent affection, zealous attachment, piety, dedication, reverence, faithfulness, respect, awe, attentiveness, loyalty, fidelity, or love for, or to, some object, person, spirit, or deity deemed sacred, holy, or venerable. Devotion may also be thought of as action, such as worshiping, praying, and making religious vows.

Devotion is a very common phenomenon in all areas of the world and in most religious traditions. In some traditions, sects, or cults, devotion is the central religious concern or is almost synonymous with religion itself. This is the case, for example, in some versions of Chinese and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, several Hindu devotional movements, and some Christian movements, such as Pietism. The centrality of devotion seems to be more common in religious traditions in which theistic tendencies are central, although its importance in Pure Land Buddhism is sufficient evidence to caution against equating devotion with theism. Religious devotion frequently exists in a theological context of hierarchy where there is at least functional if not ontological theism and divine being(s) are considered to be superior to and have power over a human devotee.

Objects of Devotion

The extensiveness of devotion in religion becomes evident when the variety of objects of devotion is considered. While deities are usually considered the principal objects of devotion, a great many other things are also given devotion in the world's religions. In many African religions, as well as in such historical traditions as Hinduism and Confucianism, ancestors are important objects of reverence, awe, and devotion. Various people, living and dead, are also objects of devotion or the focus of devotional cults. Gurūs in Hinduism, saints in Christianity, the xian (immortals) in Daoism, the sage kings in Confucianism, imāms in Islam, tīrthakaras in Jainism, and the buddhas and bodhisattvas in Buddhism are only a few examples of divine personages who receive devotion in the world's religions.

In most religions, devotion is primarily addressed to a deity. This could be male, female, or androgynous (as in the half-male, half-female deity Ardhanārīśvara in Hinduism,). The deity or divinity could be in the form of an animal or tree; sometimes, the deity may temporarily possess a human being and during the period of possession that person is the object of veneration. Devotion can also be shown to saints, gurūs, and charismatic teachers.

Relics associated with sacred personages are the objects of devotion in many religions. The physical remains of the Buddha were incorporated into stupas, the shrines around which devotional Buddhism began. To this day, parts of the Buddha's physical body are enshrined in temples such as the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. In Christianity, particularly in the late medieval period in Europe, there was a lively traffic in relics, which became extremely important in popular piety. Relics were incorporated into church altars and often represented the concrete, objective aspect of the divine around which the church was built. Pieces of the true cross, bones of martyrs, vials of the Virgin Mary's milk, even the foreskin of Jesus, were among the holy relics that were the objects of popular devotion. In contemporary Christianity the Shroud of Turin is probably the best-known example of a holy relic. In other traditions as well, the physical remains of saints are commonly revered, and the burial places of saints, where purported miracles attributed to devotion are not uncommon, often become centers of healing cults.

In many societies, charismatic leaders, relics, and shrines of saints also become the devotional focus of adherents from communities different from the one to which they were originally associated. Thus, Hindu devotees throng the dargāh s (shrines where ūfī saints are entombed) in India. In many cases, the land where these shrines were built was donated by Hindu rulers to the Muslim saints they venerated. Sites where miraculous cures and healing are said to take place also draw devotees from a variety of religious affiliations. Thus, Lourdes, Fátima, Velankanni, and other places where it is held that Marian apparitions took place are pilgrimage centers for devotees from a variety of religious traditions. Devotion in these cases is focused on a person, site, or object not ordinarily considered to be part of the religious tradition to which one officially belongs. These "fuzzy boundaries" between religions abound in South, Southeast, and East Asia, where rigid affiliation to a religious tradition has historically not been part of a community's ethos.

Rivers in Hinduism and mountains in Shintō are often especially revered; indeed, most religious traditions associate sacredness with specific places. Certain cities, such as Vārāasī in Hinduism, Jerusalem in Judaism and Christianity, Mecca in Islam, and Ise in Shintō, play an important role in the tradition of many religions and are often themselves the centers of pilgrimage and devotion. Sometimes whole geographical areas or countries are the objects of devotion, such as the Indian subcontinent as a whole for Hindus and Israel for many Jews.

Where it is not possible to visit an original pilgrimage site, devotion often focuses on ritual objects such as the Ark of the Covenant in ancient Judaism and the Host in Christianity. Sacred texts are also objects of devotion in some religions, insofar as they are seen to be the locus of divine revelation. Although the place and function of these texts in the various religious traditions are quite different, the Torah in Judaism, the Lotus Sūtra in Nichiren Buddhism, the Adī Granth in Sikhism, and the Qurʾān in Islam are books held in great reverence. Indeed, the sacred, holy, or divine has revealed itself to, or been apprehended by, humankind in so many different ways and in such a variety of forms that at some point in the religious history of the world almost every conceivable object has received religious devotion.

And finally, in a circular fashion, people perceived to be paradigmatic devotees themselves become the objects of devotion. Many saints, teachers, and devotees are honored, venerated, and prayed to as bestowers of earthly favors, as mediators between human beings and gods, and as exalted divinities in themselves.

Types of Devotion

Devotion is of different types and takes place in different physical settings, with different attendant moods, and within different kinds of communities. It is often meditative, emotionally disciplined, and subdued, and consists primarily of the willful directing of one's attention to the object of devotion. This is the nature of devotion, for example, as described in the Bhagavadgītā. There, Ka teaches Arjuna to center himself mentally on God in all his actions in order to make his entire life an act of devotion. There is a similar emphasis in most theistic traditions in which the devotee is taught to be attentive to God in all things.

Devotion may also express itself in emotional frenzy and passion. ūfī devotion is usually accompanied by music and dance, and much ūfī devotional poetry is intensely passionate. The Bhāgavata Purāa, a medieval Hindu devotional text, says that true devotion is always accompanied by shivering, the hair standing on end, tears, and sighs of passion. The Hindu saint Caitanya (14861533) exemplified this kind of devotion. He was so often overcome by fits of emotional devotion to Ka, in which he would swoon or become ecstatic, that he could barely manage the normal routines of daily life.

The setting of devotion may be quite formal. Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques are all places in which people devote their minds and hearts to the divine. In such settings devotion may be highly formalized, even routinized, and under the direction of professional clergy. In its formal expression devotion is often communal or congregational and arises from, or is even dependent upon, the coming together of a group of people for a common devotional purpose. On the other hand, devotion in such formal physical settings may also take the form of a lone individual performing an act of devotion to a special saint.

Devotion may also be highly informal and unstructured. The best examples of this are the lives of famous saints who were great devotees. Francis of Assisi (11821226) in Christianity and Caitanya in Hinduism were both characterized by spontaneous outbursts of passionate devotion in nearly any setting.

Devotional communities (groups formed primarily as a result of, or in order to cultivate, devotion) also vary from the highly structured to the very unstructured. Monastic orders in Christianity and the ūfī orders in Islam, in which devotion serves a central role, are examples of highly structured devotional communities. The South Indian devotee-saints of Śiva (the Nāyaārs) and Viu (the Āvārs), in comparison, were part of unstructured traditions in which individual poet-devotee-saints wandered the countryside or resided at temples and sang devotional hymns to their lord. The devotional community may extend no further than an individual saint and his or her admirers, students, followers, or devotees. Such was the case in the early days of Saint Francis's religious life and for such Hindu saints as Lalleśvarī or Kashmir (fourteenth century) and Mīrā Bāī of Rajasthan (14981546).

The practice of devotional rituals may also have several goals. While most religions portray the ideal goal as submission to the deity's love without any expectation of reward or fear of punishment, millions of devotees pray or perform votive rituals for the fulfillment of specific desires. Thus prayers may be offered or devotional exercises performed for the cure of a family member, achievement of a particular career goal, the birth of a child, the marriage of a son, or even the selling of a house. These prayers and votive rituals form the bulk of most devotional petitions in many religions.

Characteristics of Devotion

Although the contexts, objects, and moods of devotion vary, there are several characteristics that typify most religious devotion. These involve the emotions, the will, and the mind.

  1. The object, person, or deity to whom devotion is directed is regarded with awe and reverence. There is a recognition, often more emotional than mental, that the object is imbued with sacred power. This awe or reverence may assume a passionate intensity, exclusivity, or ardor that overwhelms the devotee.
  2. There is faithconviction, trust, or confidenceon the part of the devotee that the object of devotion is real, that it underlies, overarches, or in some way epitomizes reality. This aspect of devotion is usually associated with the will; it involves commitment, loyalty, and often submission to the object of devotion.
  3. Single-mindedness, at least for the time that a particular person, object, or deity is venerated, often involves mental concentration on its object. Spiritual techniques that aim at focusing and concentrating the mind are often part of religious devotion.

Characteristics of theistic devotion

When religious devotion is theistic in nature it is further typified by the following characteristics.

  1. Theistic devotion involves a personal relationship in which the deity is imagined and approached as a person and is expected to respond to his devotees accordingly. In Islam, for example, the term manājāt, meaning "intimate converse," is supposed to characterize a person's devotion to God. The attitude the devotee adopts in this personal relationship varies and is often dependent upon how the deity is perceived.
  2. One of the most common metaphors used in theistic devotion is that of a love relationship. The love of the devotee may be like that of a servant for the master, child for a parent, parent for a child, friend for a friend, or lover for the beloved. In theistic devotion the mood of love, especially when the relationship is familial, erotic, or romantic, introduces great intimacy, passion, and tenderness into the devotional experience. When devotion is expressed in terms of a love relationship, the deity is usually cast in a very approachable role and is described as reciprocating the devotee's love with a passionate love of his or her own. Many goddesses, for example, are portrayed as mothers who are attentive to and fiercely protective of their devotees/children, while the Lord's Prayer in Christianity describes God as the devotees' father. Throughout theistic devotion, deities assume the roles of loving parent, intimate friend, playful child, or impassioned lover in response to the devotee's own devotional role. In some roles of intimacy, the devotee may even tease or scold the deity; such is the case with Andal (c. eighth century) and Nammāvār (c. ninth century), who composed Tamil devotional hymns, hailing Ka as harsh and cruel and as the person who knows no righteousness.
  3. Theistic devotion is also characterized by expressions or feelings of praise and submission. Both attitudes presuppose that the deity is morally superior to, wiser, and more powerful than the devotee, and usually that the devotee has been created by the deity or is wholly dependent on the deity for his or her continued existence and well-being. In praise, the deity's qualities of goodness, greatness, and generosity are often mentioned. The deity is praised for bestowing various blessings, particularly the blessing of life, on the devotee, the country or nation, or the world as a whole. Theistic devotion typically expresses itself by praising the deity as the source of all good things and as the embodiment of all good qualities. In Islam, for example, the term amd, meaning "thankful praise," often characterizes devotion. The relationship that is frequently spoken of when praise and submission dominate is that of a master and servant.

The devotee of a deity often expresses total dependence upon the god by feelings, attitudes, gestures, or acts of submission. In Arabic the word muslim means "one who surrenders (to God)," suggesting the centrality of this attitude in Islamic tradition. The Muslim term ʿibādah (worship) is often used to characterize devotional observances to God, clearly indicating that the divine-human relationship is like that of a master to a slave (ʿabd). In Śrī Vaiavism, a Hindu devotional movement, the theme of complete self-surrender (prapatti) is central; such submission is held to epitomize bhakti, or devotion to God.

The style of submission may depend upon the type of relationship envisioned by the devotee. The submission of a child to its mother, for example, might be quite different from the submission of a slave to his owner. In many traditions the devotee is affirmed to be greatly inferior to the deity; men and women are often described as morally weak, sinful, corrupt, and insignificant, and the deity as overwhelmingly superior. In this relationship the proper attitude of the devotee is abasement and submission.

Devotion in the context of nontheistic traditions

Devotion, most prominent in theistic traditions, is sometimes considered a form of justification for letting loose the flow of divine grace. One may ask if it has any place in philosophical schools such as Zen Buddhism and Advaita Vedānta, where individual meditation in a nontheistic context is seen as the way to reach the final goal. Zen, Advaita Vedānta, and some yogic traditions have ontologies which consider the distinction between the deity and devotee meaningless or challenge concepts of reality as we know them. In many of these schools there is no ultimate gracious deity whose grace will give salvation or liberation. Thus, in the nontheistic traditions, philosophically speaking, devotion has no ultimate value as a path to liberation, nirvāa, or the final goal. Yet, many adherents of these traditions have, in fact, composed devotional hymns addressed to teachers and deities.

Devotion and Religious Practices

Devotion is often associated with or expressed in the context of several common types of religious practices.


Devotion often takes the form of prayer. In prayer a deity is entreated, supplicated, adored, or praised in a mood of devotional service or attentiveness. In some cases, the devotee cultivates a mood of devotion before praying, in order to ensure sincerity and concentration. In medieval Judaism, for example, some authorities recommended the practice of kavvanah, the directing of attention to God, before prayer so that prayer might be undertaken with the proper mental inclination.

Moving and dramatic expressions of devotion are found in poems and hymns that articulate the prayers of devotees to the divine in many indigenous religions and in every theistic religious tradition among the world's historical religions. Hymns, such as those central to Protestant Christianity, are devotional prayers set to music. Collective prayer, common in many religions, is another example of formalized devotion.


As a formal expression of homage, service, reverence, praise, or petition to a deity, worship is closely related to, or expressive of, devotion. Much worship represents a formal, periodic, structured expression of devotion. The prescribed daily and Friday prayers in Islam, called alāt, for example, are essentially devotional in nature. In Hindu pūjā (worship), which occurs in both temple and domestic settings and which may be performed by an individual or by large groups, the basic pattern of ritual actions denotes personal attendance upon and service of the deity by the worshipers. The deity is symbolically bathed, fanned, fed, and entertained by the priest or directly by the devotee. It is common in worship to make an offering to the deity, which again is often done in the spirit of devotion. Some forms of worship are primarily occasions for devotees to express together their devotion to their god. This is the case, for example, with Hindu kīrtana and bhajan, gatherings of devotees at which songs are sung in praise of a deity. The setting is usually informal and the mood warm and emotional. It is not uncommon for devotees to dance and leap for joy while they sing their hymns of praise. In Protestant revival meetings, too, open expression of emotional devotion to God is encouraged and expected of those present.

Performing and fine arts

Devotion in many religions is expressed through music and dance. Many church and synagogue services deploy music, chants, and ritual action to express devotional intensity in an aesthetic framework. Making joyful noise or using the body to depict one's longing for the divine have been hallmarks of almost all religious traditions. Deities and devotees in many traditions dance the cosmos, dance their relationship to each other, and dance to the powers of the universe. Devotees in the Hindu tradition emulate the dance of the deities Śiva, Pārvatī, or Ka. Many dances portray a soul's longing for the supreme being; the devotional songs of Hindu schools are standard accompaniment for dancers. Devotion to the deity is expressed through a number of bhavas or attitudes, including the attitudes connected with service, maternal love, and romantic love. Singing emotional lyrics with devotion is said to be a path through which one can reach salvation. In the Hebrew scriptures, Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and danced with all the other women; Psalm 149 exhorts one to praise the Lord's name in dance. There is a palpable expression of devotion in the dances of some ūfī traditions and in the circular dances seen among the Ismāʿīlīs.

Divine beings are often painted, carved, or fashioned out of various materials to be used as objects of devotion. These objects are frequently invested with life and the divine is said to reside in them after ritual consecrations. Many of these icons are carved with devotion for worship by other devotees.


is a popular undertaking in many religions, and for many pilgrims the journey is an act of devotion. Setting off on a long trip to a sacred place is a sort of physical prayer. Through the pilgrimage the pilgrim may be making a special appeal to a deity or expressing gratitude for a blessing received from the deity. In Islam a pilgrimage to Mecca is enjoined as one of the fundamental acts of submission incumbent upon all Muslims.

The pilgrim may be making the pilgrimage simply to steep himself or herself in an atmosphere of piety and devotion that is far more intense than in ordinary circumstances. The feeling of community that arises among pilgrims is often strong, and the entire journey, which can last for weeks or even years, may turn into a devotional extravaganza with hymns being sung all day long, devotees swooning in fits of ecstasy or possession, and miraculous cures or incidents being reported. The annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur in Maharashtra is an act of mass devotion sustained for weeks, not unusual in Hinduism.

Devotion is also closely connected with patronage. The large cathedrals of medieval Europe, the Hindu temple complexes of South and Southeast Asia, Buddhist stupas and temples, and Shintō shrines were frequently built by royalty, nobility, or wealthy patrons as a testimony to their devotion and piety.


Although many kinds of meditation may not involve devotion, devotion often uses meditative techniques. Meditation usually involves disciplining the mind so that it can focus on something without being distracted by frivolous thoughts or bodily needs and discomforts. For many practitioners the goal is to achieve or maintain attentiveness to a deity. Meditation is used to perfect, deepen, sharpen, or enhance devotion. In such cases meditation and devotion may become synonymous. In Japanese Pure Land Buddhism the term anjin (which is sometimes translated as "faith") refers to a meditative calm in which the heart and mind are quieted through concentration on Amida Buddha and his paradise. A particularly common meditative technique used to engender, express, or enhance devotion is the constant repetition of the deity's name or a short prayer to the deity. ūfīs invoke the names of God over and over as part of their dhikr (a term meaning recollection that refers to devotional techniques); Eastern Orthodox Christian monks chant the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner") as often as possible; devotees of Ka chant his names repeatedly. In Pure Land Buddhism, devotees chant a short prayer ("Hail to Amida Buddha") over and over to sharpen and concentrate their faith in Amida.

Asceticism and monasticism

Asceticism and monasticism are often undertaken in the context of devotion, especially in the theistic and Pure Land Buddhist traditions. The Desert Fathers sought solitude in the desert in order to develop their attentiveness to God without distractions or hindrances from society or other people. Their asceticism was clearly associated with, and intended to cultivate, devotion. An ascetic strain is also strong in Sufism, a highly devotional expression of Islam, and many of the most important Hindu devotional leaders and saints have been world renouncers. In many cases, it is clear that asceticism, or renunciation of the world, has been found not only compatible with devotion but a positive encouragement of it.

The case is similar with monasticism. An isolated, cloistered, highly regimented religious community was for centuries esteemed in Christianity as the best place to devote oneself to God. Life in the monastic community was dominated by regular worship and prayer several times a day and imposed a devotional discipline on the individual. To a great extent, monasticism in Christianity was a systematic attempt to perfect a human being's devotional predilections. As in Christian asceticism, the goal was to become attentive to God at all times, except that in the monastic context this goal was sought with the help of a like-minded community and under the guidelines of a carefully regulated spiritual discipline or rule. In many respects, several ūfī brotherhoods and Pure Land Buddhist monastic communities were also organized attempts to create the ideal environment for cultivating the devotional sentiment.

Apart from acts of renunciation in which a devotee may make a clean break with the world he or she lives in, there are many acts of asceticism that are woven into the daily life of the faithful. Thus, Muslims may fast during the month of Ramaān, from sunrise to sundown. Hindu women fast on particular days of the week, lunar month, or year for the welfare of their families. In many situations, acts of devotional asceticism addressed to specific deities may be performed for immediate worldly benefits, rather than for salvation or liberation.


For many devotees, particularly in theistic traditions, there is a deep longing to be close to, in the presence of, or absorbed into the deity. This is also the goal of mysticism in theistic traditions, and devotion and mysticism are often closely associated. In medieval Jewish mysticism, devequt, which is usually translated as "cleaving to God," is considered the highest religious state that can be attained. This state of cleaving to God is synonymous with an intense devotion in which the devotee is completely preoccupied with and absorbed into the divine. In Sufism the term fanāʾ describes a point in the devotee's or mystic's spiritual quest in which all feeling of individuality and ego fall away and the ūfī is overwhelmed by God. In Christianity, Paul expresses the idea of union with the divine as follows: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). In trying to describe the intimacy of his unmediated experiences of God, John of the Cross (15421591), a Spanish mystic, spoke of a river merging with the ocean and of iron heated until it becomes one with the fire. Mystical union, then, represents the ultimate goal of many devotees in several different traditions, and the mystical path is often understood as being the highest path a devotee can embark upon. In many of these cases, devotion is gendered and a submitting devotee is portrayed as a woman in the ecstatic embrace of her lover.

Social action and charity

In some religious traditions, charitable service to one's fellow human beings is considered the most perfect form of devotion to the divine. Several Christian movements with a strong devotional bias have emphasized works of charity as central to devotional life. With the inauguration of active religious orders for men by Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century, and for women by Mary Ward and Vincent de Paul in the seventeenth century, the focus of religious life, which had earlier been cloistered, shifted from the cultivation of one's spiritual predilections in isolation from society to serving the poor and needy in the world. Several religious brotherhoods and sisterhoods in Protestant Christianity aim at serving the poor, while the Social Gospel movement of the nineteenth century in the United States represents an attempt to provide theological justification for social involvement as central to Christian life.

A dramatic modern example of devotion as inextricably associated with social service is the life of Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her Sisters of Charity, who minister to the "poorest of the poor" as a way of life. Mother Theresa said that she taught the women who joined her order to see Jesus in each person they served; in serving men and women, they serve Jesus.

Other traditions, too, equated service to human beings with service to God. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, who had a strong devotional bent, was once asked why he did not withdraw from the world in his search for God. He replied that if he thought for one moment that God might be found in a Himalayan cave, he would go there at once, but he was convinced that God could only be found among human beings and in their service.

Devotion and Ethics

Some narratives depict devotees as flouting the accepted norms of ethics of the tradition. Thus, a devotee may resort to highway robbery or may sell her body so that the money may be used for charity or a pious cause. In some such narratives, the devotee is depicted as undergoing a test. In some there is a miraculous intervention and the devotee is vindicated, but in others, the story may aim to show that within the world of devotion, the normal code of behavior may be nuanced or even reversed, with a logic of its own that is not seen in everyday life. In some traditions, this philosophy is taken one step further to make the point, in an exaggerated manner, that the devotion of a so-called sinner is more "pure" or acceptable to a devotee than the half-hearted or mindless devotional ritual of one who is considered to be virtuous or morally upright.

The philosophy of devotion

The Hindu and Buddhist traditions, in which there are very strong competing paths alongside the devotional path, put forth two kinds of arguments in defending the excellence of the devotional way. Both traditions assume that the world has entered a final period of moral, religious, and ethical decline (the kaliyuga in Hinduism, and mappō in Japanese Buddhism), in which human beings are no longer spiritually capable of undertaking certain religious paths that were popular among people in earlier ages. Asceticism, meditation, monasticism, and religious ceremonialism, in particular, are held to be too demanding for people of the present age, whose spiritual capacities are weak. In this age, devotion is the best way to reach the spiritual goal, the best because it is the easiest. It can be practiced by anyone, by monk and peasant, rich and poor, priest and layman, man and woman, young and old.

The second argument follows from the first. Why is devotion the easiest path? Because it is the most natural to human beings. In some Hindu devotional movements, bhakti (devotion) is said to represent one's inherent dharma (proper way of acting) as opposed to one's inherited dharma, which is equated with one's caste, occupation, and social roles. All human beings, according to this logic, have an inner longing to love God, and until they do they remain frustrated, incomplete, lonely, and lost. Devotion is understood as a person's cultivation of this natural urge to serve and love the creator, who has instilled in human beings at the deepest level a longing to be reunited with their source.

The idea of devotion representing a person's natural inclination is also expressed in many ūfī images that speak of one who is not devoted to God as being like a fish out of water, a camel far from a watering hole, a bird separated from its mate. To seek God by means of the mystic way is to return home, to seek the familiar and comfortable, to indulge one's natural longings. A similar idea is expressed in Augustine of Hippo's (354430) famous saying to the effect that human beings are restless until they find their rest in God.

In the vision of Francis of Assisi, all creation was brought into being in order to praise the creator; every species in existence praises God in its own special way. Even inorganic nature celebrates the creator in some way. For Francis, devotion to God represents the inherent and underlying law of the creation and is apparent everywhere. Some ūfīs write that the entire creation is said to be pervaded by the presence of God, that his divine presence intoxicates all creatures and sets them singing and dancing in ecstatic praise.

In the Bhagavadgītā, when Ka teaches Arjuna how to discipline his actions so that he will not reap the fruits of karman, he tells him to dedicate all of his actions to God, to become God's instrument in all that he does (9.27). One who is truly devoted to a deity makes every action, no matter how apparently insignificant, routine, or frivolous, an act of devotion to the divine. Similarly, Hasidic Judaism teaches that the state of devequt, or cleaving to God, should be a person's constant state of mind. In everyday life, even while performing the most mundane acts, a person should cleave to the Lord.

See Also

Worship and Devotional Life.


There is a lack of books on devotion as a religious phenomenon. Friedrich Heiler's Prayer: A Study in the History and Psychology of Religion, translated by Samuel McComb (London, 1938), seeks to describe a widespread devotional phenomenon in religion, but it focuses primarily on Western religious traditions. There are more and better sources for individual traditions. Abraham Zebi Idelsohn's Jewish Liturgy and Its Development (New York, 1967) has sections on devotion in the Jewish tradition. Owen Chadwick's Western Asceticism (London, 1958) contains translations of important ascetic texts in the Christian tradition and deals with the exemplary role of the ascetic in Christian piety. David Knowles's Christian Monasticism (New York, 1969) is a standard work on the monastic ideal in Christian life. Annemarie Schimmel's Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975) treats the ūfī traditions in Islam, which are highly devotional in nature. Constance Padwick's Muslim Devotions: A Study of Prayer-Manuals in Common Use (London, 1961) surveys popular devotional manuals in Islam. A. K. Ramanujan has translated several devotional hymns of a South Indian Hindu devotee and presented an overview of Hindu devotion in a volume entitled Hymns for Drowning: Poems for Visnu by Nammalyar (Princeton, 1981). Edward C. Dimock and Denise Levertov have translated several Bengali Hindu devotional hymns in a book entitled In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali (New York, 1967). Alfred Bloom's Shinran's Gospel of Pure Grace (Tucson, Ariz., 1965) and Gendo Nakai's Shinran and His Religion of Pure Faith (Kyoto, 1946) deal with devotional Buddhism in Japan.

David Kinsley (1987)

Vasudha Narayanan (2005)


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A word from the Latin signifying total dedication. In pagan usage that man was devout who vowed to suffer death in the defense of his country. Christian writers consequently found in the word "devotion" an ideal expression of what man's proper disposition toward God should be. St. Thomas Aquinas, without departing from the traditional teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, made precise and clear what had been obscurely understood in earlier periods (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 81.9; 82).

According to him, devotion is an act of the habit or virtue of religion, that virtue by which man is inclined to pay to God the worship to which He is entitled by right. The virtue of religion subjects man to God, the source of man's perfection. By religion man is inclined to render to God the reasonable service of creature to Creator including everything the creature is or has. Man is composed of a body and a soul, and the soul acts through the faculties of will and intellect. These are offered to God in service by devotion and prayer. By adoration the body is offered to God. By sacrifice, oblation, first-fruits, and tithes, external things belonging to man are offered to God. By vows, things are promised to God in worship. In the reception of the seven Sacraments and in the use of God's name (by the taking of oaths, by adjuration, and by praising God) man uses things belonging to God to worship God. These 11 acts, namely, devotion, prayer, adoration, sacrifice, oblation, first-fruits, tithes, vows, the Sacraments, oaths, adjuration, and praise, constitute the perfect worship of God so far as the creature is capable of giving to God His due. Each offers to God a different thingsomething that man is, or something that man in some way dominates or uses.

Devotion is the first act of the virtue of religion and is defined as: promptness or readiness of will in the service of God. Concretely, this means the perfect offering of the will itself to God, for readiness of the will in the service of God is the will offered to God in worship. Just as by adoration the body of man is offered to God, so by devotion the will of man is offered to God. Devotion, besides being the first, is also the principal act of the virtue of religion. Religion is a virtue of the will, so its first and principal act is the offering of the will itself. Since devotion is the first and principal act of the virtue of religion, it must appear in every other act of religion. Devotion is in this respect like the first and principal act of the virtue of charity, which is love. Almsgiving, a secondary act of charity, must flow from love or it is not an act of charity at all. So also every other act of religion must flow from devotion, or it fails to be an act of religion. It is in this sense that prayer, sacrifice, adoration, and all the rest must be devout to be truly acts of religion.

Feeling or emotion is not to be mistaken for devotion. While devotion is an act of the will, feelings or emotions are activities of the sense appetite. Ordinarily these are aroused by concrete, material objects. Devotion moves toward an object of which the senses know nothing. Consequently, the feelings that are based upon sense knowledge have of themselves no place in the act of devotion. Yet it is obvious that feelings or emotions do play an important part in man's worship of God. The explanation of this is found in the substantial unity of the human being. Although man has many diverse principles of activity corresponding with the diverse elements of his nature, matter and spirit, yet he is one thing substantially. If the will is set in motion toward an object proper to it, a corresponding movement of feeling or emotion is to be expected, for man is substantially one principle of operation. Likewise, if feeling or emotions are aroused by an object proper to the senses, a corresponding movement of the will, making due allowance for the will's freedom, is to be expected. Especially, therefore, when the act of devotion is intense, it is to be expected that such feelings as love, desire, pleasure, and hope will be aroused. Feelings, then, may and normally do accompany devotion but the truth and reality of devotion, the reality of the prompt and generous offering of the will itself, is not to be tested or measured by feelings. The only test and measure of the reality of devotion is its expression in other acts of religion, especially prayer, sacrifice, the continuation of Christ's supreme sacrifice of the Mass, the use of the Sacraments, praise of God, and the vowsparticularly, the vows of religion.

Since St. Thomas speaks of the infused virtue of religion, he assigns as the principal cause of devotion the activity of God in man. Only God can be the cause of a virtue that is an essentially supernatural principle of human activity. There is, however, another cause of devotion to be found in man's own activity. This is meditation or contemplation. Devotion is aroused by meditation; first, on the goodness and loving-kindness of God, the Father and Creator of man; second, by a realization of man's own shortcomings, his sinfulness, his need to lean upon God as the source of whatever perfection is possible to him. As is evident, devotion has an important place in the plan of Christian perfection. St. Thomas does not hesitate to say that the virtue of religion, of which devotion is the first and principal act, is identical with sanctity. By this he does not mean to deny that Christian perfection consists formally and essentially in the act of charity. In this context he means by sanctity two things: detachment from what would impede union with God, and firmness and stability in being attached to God. Both of these are accomplished by the virtue of religion and the act of devotion. Religion, as the highest of the moral virtues, directs all the actions of the other moral virtues to the worship of God. Thus, acts of justice, or temperance, or modesty, for example, become in addition, by reason of the influence of religion and devotion upon them, acts of worship of God. By detachment from what would impede his union with God, by attachment to God as creature to his Creator, man is prepared in some measure for the union of friendship with God that the theological virtue of charity accomplishes.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 8285. bonaventure, De sex alis Seraphim, ch. 7 in Opera omnia, 10 v. (Quaracchi-Florence 18821902) 8:147151. f. suarez, De oratione, devotione, et horis canonicis, 2:68 in Opera omnia, 28v. (Vives, Paris 185678) v.14. francis de sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, tr. m. day (Westminster, Md. 1959). j. n. grou, Marks of True Devotion (Springfield, Ill. 1963). j. w. curran, "Thomistic Concept of Devotion," Thomist 2 (1940) 410443, 546580.

[j. w. curran]


views updated May 11 2018

de·vo·tion / diˈvōshən/ • n. love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause: Eleanor's devotion to her husband his courage and devotion to duty never wavered. ∎  religious worship or observance: the order's aim was to live a life of devotion. ∎  (devotions) prayers or religious observances.