Design and Spirituality: material culture for a wisdom economy


Published in Design Issues journal

Summer 2013, Vol. 29, No. 3: 89–107.

Design and Spirituality: material culture for a wisdom economy

Author: Professor Stuart Walker

The spiritual aspect of our humanity has the potential, firstly, to orient our practical, worldly endeavors in ways that can have important social ramifications and, secondly, to have a moderating influence on acquisitiveness and consumerism, which can have important environmental ramifications. Both of these are primary elements of contemporary utilitarian interpretations of sustainability, i.e., the triple bottom line of economic, ethical and environmental accountability. But more important than this, the inclusion of spirituality and the personal ethic it can engender in our understandings of sustainability adds a critical dimension of personal meaning, which can have a far more substantial and foundational effect; one that goes to the heart of human purpose and fulfilment, and the plight of people and planet. This most profound, meaning-seeking aspect of our humanity is, we are told, the source of inner peace and true happiness and for this reason it has traditionally been regarded as “the one thing that is needful” and the “best” part of us. The implications of these notions of personal meaning for design are explored here, both for creating more sustainable ways forward and for our considerations and conceptions of material culture.