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Ageing and Personhood in Twenty-First Century Europe: A Challenge to Religion

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The nature and experience of human ageing is changing as people come to live longer lives both as active 'young-old' and dependent 'old-old'. Europe is in the forefront of population ageing and stands in great need of a creative response at many levels, including from religious bodies. There needs to be recognition that older Europeans benefit less than in the past from the elder's traditional religious role of witnessing and transmitting faith. Indeed in some European countries older people can be greatly troubled in their own faith yet pastorally unsupported as Christian churches focus on evangelizing the reluctant young. Pastoral theology needs to be developed to encourage creative responses to the older person's isolation, which can be cultural and spiritual as well as physical. Possibly the greatest challenge is to respond effectively to the rising numbers entering the fourth age in a state of dementia. In this respect western Christianity has much to learn from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which lays less emphasis on rationality as the criterion for human and moral status, and more on the person in relationship. Even if we forget who we are, we can and should be remembered by others, and in the last analysis are remembered by God.

Affiliations: 1: University of Southampton, UK

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