How to Inflect Spiritual Formation for Academic Life: A Bibliography

Individual vocations require specific kinds of formation.1 Dentists undergo one kind of formation for their craft, lawyers another, biblical scholars still another.

Although the fact is sometimes obscured by standard preparatory curricula, this formation is a kind of spiritual formation. It’s all the more so if you’re undertaking it to obey a calling you believe God has on your life.

Some elements of this spiritual formation are distinctive. Others are shared across vocations, even when they aren’t explicitly addressed in preparatory curricula. One example might be the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22–23. For instance, both the Christian dentist and the Christian biblical scholar are called to kindness and self-discipline.

On the other hand, these vocations often require even their common elements of formation to be “inflected” in different ways.2 How, for example, the virtues of kindness and self-discipline get inflected, or contextualized, will differ somewhat for dentists and for biblical scholars.

Resources for Inflection

In that context, I’ve taken encouragement from some recent discussion in the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology to develop a start to a core, annotated bibliography for how spiritual formation can be inflected, or contextualized, for academic life.

In several cases, I would differ with some of the ideas in these volumes. Some readers may also find there to be occasional instances of objectionable language in some of these volumes (e.g., Pressfield’s).

So, as goes the general principle, so here too—a work being included doesn’t indicate wholesale endorsement of it. Where differences are particularly pertinent to the topic, I’ve tried to comment on them in the accompanying annotations. Such things notwithstanding, I’m hopeful that others may find as much profit in these texts as I and others have.

If you have suggestions for additions, please feel free to add those in a comment on this post. Though, please do note that I’ll be selective in making any additions to the bibliography per se in order to keep the main list as close as possible to what seems likely to be most helpful.


Allen, David. Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 2015. Cite
Burkeman, Oliver. Four thousand weeks: time management for mortals. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021. Cite
Collins, Jim, and Morten T. Hansen. Great by choice: uncertainty, chaos, and luck—why some thrive despite them all. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Cite
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. 25th anniversary ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Cite
Godin, Seth. The practice: shipping creative work. New York: Portfolio, 2020. Cite
Godin, Seth. Purple cow: transform your business by being remarkable. New York: Portfolio, 2003. Cite
Grant, Adam. Give and take: why helping others drives our success. New York: Penguin Books, 2013. Cite
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011. Cite
McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less. New York: Crown Business, 2014. Cite
Newport, Cal. Deep work: rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York: Grand Central, 2016. Cite
Newport, Cal. A world without email: find focus and transform the way you work forever. New York: Portfolio Penguin, 2021. Cite
Pressfield, Steven. Turning pro: tap your inner power and create your life’s work. New York: Black Irish, 2012. Cite
Pressfield, Steven. Do the work: overcome resistance and get out of your own way. New York: Black Irish, 2015. Cite
Sertillanges, A. G. The intellectual life: its spirit, conditions, methods. Translated by Mary Ryan. New ed. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1998. Cite

  1. Header image provided by Eugenio Mazzone

  2. For this language of “inflection” of spiritual formation, I’m grateful to Craig Bartholomew. 

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3 responses to “How to Inflect Spiritual Formation for Academic Life: A Bibliography”

  1. Matthew Miller Avatar
    Matthew Miller

    old: First, how might books not of an overt spiritual nature cultivate spiritual maturation as a Christian scholar and second, given the robust pursuit of faith and reason in medieval philosophy, might there be books from that time that may also be helpful to such ends? These books may give a helpfully distinctive perspective from contemporary works focused on productivity or personal effectiveness. Just a thought. In terms of books, my suggestions are Cal Newport “Digital Minimalism” for being focused and productive. Also I think of George M. Marsden’s “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship”, William Law’s “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”, and Thomas a’Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ”. I haven’t ascended the ranks of scholarship by any means, but I find these works humble and inform serious thought about focus, intention, and challenges of devoted living while trying to do rigorous thinking. Thanks again for your insights and kindness!

    1. Matthew Miller Avatar
      Matthew Miller

      I am not really sure what happened to the first half of my response…oh well. I am deeply appreciative for this working list and am interested in how it develops. Thanks again Dr. Stark!

      1. J. David Stark Avatar

        Thanks, Matthew. And these are great questions. First, I’d fully agree that there are helpful things that I’ve left out of this list at this point. Some are absent (e.g., Law, à Kempis) because they’re so broadly helpful and applicable across various vocations. And what I’m trying to give here are resources that might be particularly helpful in inflecting formation as needed for academic life. Some aren’t here because I felt like their essential contributions were already made (and made better) by other books. Digital Minimalism is a case in point. It’s a helpful book but I think somewhat redundant (though that’s not in itself bad) when paired up with Deep Work and Wold without Email. I’m definitely open to pulling in older texts, as well as those from a more overtly Christian perspective. But I’m also trying to keep the list as tight as possible. To that end, one of the Pressfield volumes is likely on the chopping block at some point. In addition to what you’ve mentioned, there is also Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next, which is a good and helpful book. But I’ve not found it or much else from identifiably Christian authors to be as helpful as some of the other titles here (Hyatt is a notable exception). That’s certainly not a dig at the relevance of Christian faith to this question—the question of formation. Rather, it’s a dig on how well Christians have generally done thus far at leading the van in thinking about the specific inflection of formation that’s appropriate for academic life (and of course, to varying degrees, related vocations as well). In short, to hackney Augustine’s metaphor about “plundering the Egyptians,” at least personally, I’ve thus far found better resources in texts like those listed above than in those from explicitly Christian sources. But then, trying to make up for some of that lack is one of the reasons I write here what I do. And I’ve recently come across what looks also like some really good, encouraging work being done by Reagan Rose. Hope this is helpful for context, but I do totally agree that the list above is hardly final. 🙂

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