Lecture given January 30, 2008; Slightly revised and re-posted: February 11, 2008:
(This is the website summary of the first in a six-lecture series on “Interfaith Spirituality” presented by Adam Blatner to the Senior University Georgetown
lifelong learning program for their Winter-Spring 2008 program. The
actual lectures were given extemporaneously, though I had written
something like this out and used overhead transparencies to illustrate
or re-state a number of the points being made.)
Lecture 1: General definitions and overview (see below).
Lecture 2. Cultural Trends or Historical Roots that have led to the more recent (last 40 years) cultural trend of interfaith spirituality.
Lecture 3: Lynette Reed, D.Min., speaks on aspects of spirituality and religion.
This lecture series will offer an overview of interfaith spirituality,
a general cultural trend that began around the mid-1960s and continues
today, a trend that has as its basic theme a movement to reach across
the dividing boundaries of the various religions and achieve not just a
measure of tolerance, but a deeper appreciation of the common elements
and themes in many spiritual traditions. This trend or effort is a
response not only to the conflicts among many religions that have
become violent, international in scope, and very dangerous to the
progress of humanity, but also to a growing awareness of the deeper
dynamics of spirituality that make such conflicts tragically
Lecture 1: DEFINITIONS AND OVERVIEW
We begin by considering the meanings of the terms faith and spirituality.
I use the word faith to mean the exercise of a set of attitudes
and mental activities through which one finds purpose and meaning.
People can have faith in life, in goodness, in hope, and turn to the
light even when tempted by defeat or despair. It embodies noble
thoughts, optimism, affirmation. Faith-ing is something you do, not something you have. If you don’t do it, it ain’t happening. So it’s something you practice.
Faith often—but not necessarily—involves religious belief. Somebody up
there cares. Providence. Jesus. Guardian Angel. The Lord will provide.
Some people just will to believe there will be better times, even
without recourse to any clear image of what might be helping. It’s
clear, then, that people of all different religions can have faith, and
people with no particular religion can have faith.
As I think about it belief is the superimposition of will
onto thoughts, affirming them as true. There is a wealth of literature,
many stories, also, of people who have believed, but their faith has
left them, failed them. Mother Teresa reports a long period of
suffering in this way.
More recently, the word has been stretched or co-opted by certain
religious leaders to mean one who believes in their own or at least a
related religious dogma or group of ideas. This confuses faith with
belief. One can have faith without belief (i.e. without having to think
that certain ideas are literally true), and, in contrast, one can
believe many things without actually generating much faith.
But I want to note again that we should stretch our minds to include
those who live with an attitude of hope and a willingness to love, to
give generously, to help make this world a better place, even if they
profess no officially approved belief system. These folks, too, are
people of faith. The term should not be co-opted by the officially
Remember, the world is full of people who pay lip service to their
belief system and may even fool themselves into believing they are
sincere, but whose lives show little evidence of the ethical lessons of
their religion, and whose seem to not use their faith to sustain them
in troubled times.
Finally, inter-faith refers to a more inclusive category of folks with
different faith bases. Different religions and also those with no
Spirituality is most practically defined as the activity of developing
a relationship to—or deepening a sense of connectedness with—the
Greater Wholeness of Being.
That Greater Wholeness might be conceived of impersonally, as nirvana,
or a vast field of mind or underlying dynamism; or more personally, as
the more traditional ideas about God. Other religions have other names
and mix these degrees of impersonal and personal qualities—in Hinduism,
Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and so forth. Indeed, within the
conceptions of the Greater Wholeness of various religions there tends
to be a range from the more personal, vivid images of the folk religion
to the more abstract, non-imaged essences of the more philosophical
theologians. Other terms used for this Greater Wholeness include
“Source,” “Divine Providence,” Paul Tillich’s term, “The Ground of
Being,” and so forth. What are some other terms that you’ve found to be
more interesting, inspiring, and so forth?
An interesting thing about this word “spirituality” is that it was
hardly used when I grew up. Or maybe the word was just assumed to be
the same as religion. You inherited your religion, and it was often
connected with your ethnic group. If you were of Scandinavian
extraction and grew up in the north mid-west you might take your
Lutheran church as a given—just something you did; or if you were
Italian, Irish, or of Latin American heritage, it might be Roman
Catholic—but even then, if you came from a relatively homogeneous
neighborhood, the taste or feel of the religion might reflect your
ethnicity more than any theology. You did it—or you turned away from
it, or you did it superficially—which lots of folks did—paid it lip
service, attended some major holidays.
Spirituality was sort of blurred in there with religion. In some
circles, both became rather, well, old-fashioned, for the parents. In
some college- and other cultures, more agnostic and atheistic or at
least non-observant lifestyles seemed more “cool.” Skepticism and
science went together—I’m talking about the sense of the culture in the
mid-20th century—and it was not okay to talk much about the religious
degree of observance of national political candidates.
I think that the idea of religion is best understood as the social organization of the spiritual impulse.
However, since social organizations don't always serve their original
mission, it is possible to be religious without being spiritual!
Alternatively, one can be spiritual without being religious. (Of
course, one could be both spiritual and religious, or neither spiritual
nor religious. This last point needs to be emphasized and considered!
Spirituality shifts away from its confusion in my youth with religion
when it was something you were, or had, to being an activity, a
conscious effort, something you do to deepen your faith. Now, here’s an
interesting twist: While many people use the framework of their
religion as the matrix for pursuing their deepening of their
spirituality, there are others who claim to be spiritual and they don’t
claim to be particularly affiliated with any religion!
Some say they are sort of Catholic, or Christian, or Jewish, but their
spirituality also has been influenced by, say, Buddhism. Some say
they’ve left the religion of their birth and are seekers, or have
explored this or that “spiritual path”— and may be in-between right
The point is that many people—though still by no means a majority—might
be recognized as being spiritual without being religious.
There are of course many who are religious without being spiritual, in
that they haven’t recognized much need to deepen their faith, their
relationship, or to develop their connectedness. They just are, they
have it, they do it. They may do it a little deeper, by attending Bible
class, but it’s not sensed especially as a personal journey.
We should not overlook the category of those who have dropped the whole
domain, and are neither religious or spiritual. For most of these, the
distinction is minimal and irrelevant—the whole enterprise is imagined
as mere superstition or worse.
We’ll be giving more emphasis on those in or beyond any particular
religion who are working the process in their own life. To be spiritual
implies that it is consciously sensed as one of the channels of one’s
own personal striving and maturation. It does not require any sense
that one has “achieved” any special state, status, or enlightenment.
Most folks I know who feel identified with the idea of spirituality are
fairly humble about it, recognizing the field of study and the large
field of existence to be vast and full of mystery.
Mysticism might be thought of as a more personal extension of
spirituality, a desire to not only feel connected, but to experience
some degree of union with the Transcendent Reality
Surveying the Field
The various major religious traditions are being discussed in another
class this session (February, 2008) by Rev. Farley Snell, working from
a classic text on comparative religions by Huston Smith. However, many
current developments within and beyond religion—the focus of this
lecture series—notes some of the trends that may not be addressed in a
general survey of religion.
For example, in the great complex of religions called Christianity,
there are in fact thousands of denominations, sects, and what might
pass as cults. (Interesting, though, how these terms are in part
sociological, and that depending on the number of followers, a cult may
advance to the status of sect and from there to denomination or
religion!) Just because there’s a name for a wide category of
activities with a few discernable common denominators—i.e.,
“religion”—, we should not allow our minds to be deluded into thinking
that the different denominations or sects are just variations of the
same thing. The differences can be profound. Thus, Jehova’s Witnesses,
Seventh-Day Adventists, Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Pentecostals,
Methodists, and so forth only give a hint to the wide spectrum of
trends within a religion. Note that some of these are less than two
hundred years old, and new approaches are emerging every year.
Anyway, within Christianity there are sort-of “movements”—ususally not
particularly organized or centralized. Some of these, with precursors
of course going back sometimes centuries, include: Liberation
Theology; Feminist Theology; Ecological Spirituality;
Scholarship that challenges the traditional history or literal
interpretation of the stories of the Bible; Evolutionary Theology
(reconciling evolution and science), such as the writings of
Teilhard de Chardin; a resurgence of widespread interest in
along with a more popular reading of the writings of such figures
within Christianity as Jacob Boehme, Hildegarde of Bingen, Meister
Eckhart, Thomas Merton, etc.
Another trend is called Creation Spirituality, emphasizing a more
love-based rather than fear-based approach. The work of Matthew Fox is
especially relevant to this. He alludes to the aforementioned trends,
which started with the intellectual ferment within seminaries,
convents, religious liberal arts colleges. Liberation theology, for
example, was a response not only to the civil rights struggle, but has
continued to bring the kind of moral conscience to political issues
that stirs people up. Matthew Fox is a Dominican monk who was silenced
by the Catholic Church, left, and became, I think, an Episcopalian. I
heard him speak at a Transpersonal Psychology conference in 1993 and
was especially struck by one comment: He suggested that we should carry
two attitudes, one in each pocket. On one side, the mystical, for
comfort, solace, grounding; on the other side, the prophetic—the voice
of conscience, to disturb our complacency, stir us to social action,
religious reform, whatever is needed. Tom Wilkens, one of our
neighbors, gave a lecture series on Liberation Theology several years
ago—noting that a good deal of it has been caught up in the politics of
South and Central America.
A number of denominations have become more inclusive, addressing the
spirit of developing communion and underplaying any requirement for
belief in or adherence to dogma or many rules. These groups reflect the
influence of the emergence of psychology, a heightened awareness of the
power of mind to affect the feelings, body, and spiritual experience.
Groups such as “New Thought,” Unity, and Religious Science are examples.
One of my own favorite trends is the branch of spirituality called "Process Philosophy,"
utilizing especially the philosophical writings of Alfred North
Whitehead (1861-1947) and Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000). These
abstract refinements of the concept of God have been influential in
many other theological developments, within Christianity, but also
applicable to Buddhism and non-theistic spirituality.
Two other trends I forgot to list on the overheads include, first, one
that began about a century ago—Pentecostalism, and associated trends,
Charismatics, inviting in the holy spirit. This has begun to spread
from a rather minor group to a more widespread trend.
The second further trend in the last fifteen years is the
trans-denominational church, not affiliated with a particular
denomination. The main minister or ministers don’t have to answer to
superiors in a regional or central office. These churches often appeal
to families and becoming mega-churches. I don’t doubt that there have
been yet other trends I’ve overlooked.
The Jewish religion is again as diversified as the Christian religion.
A thorough treatment of the history and details of the variations of
Jewish practice could fill thousands if not millions of pages. Much of
Judaism in the 18th century might be called “orthodox,” and there are
still a fair number who sustain that approach. Some sub-groups of
“ultra-orthodox” have become prominent because of their activities in
Israel and New York, where they represent a resurgence of a desire for
a much greater immersion in the culture.
Most of the Jews in America are descended from families who immigrated
from Eastern Europe between around 1875 and 1930. A small number came
over from Germany in the early 19th century; and some also are
descended from Jews of Spanish origins who then moved to Holland and
from there to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most
consider themselves “conservative”—a term that had nothing to do with
current political labels and simply represented a compromise between
orthodox and reform.
Reform Judaism emerged in the mid-19th century mainly among
upper-middle class Jews of the aforementioned Spanish-Holland-America
axis—a bit more common in the Southern States—and also from the
German-Jewish communities who came over before 1880. It was more
oriented to assimilation and a selection of what they felt was
essential in the tradition.
In the last 40 years, though, there have been a number of trends. One
was a resurgence of interest in Hasidism, a sect that emerged in the
18th century in Eastern Europe and following the Second World War saw a
group of ultra-orthodox immigrants coming to New York and other major
urban centers. They’ve actively proselytized among the younger, more
assimilated Jews: Their point is plausible: If you’re going to be
Jewish at all, why not do it right? Why not do it whole-heartedly?
Other groups have gone beyond mere reform Judaism and have tried to
re-discover in many different ways the essential idea of spirituality,
even mysticism, and have mixed in many other trends—feminism, social
action, new forms of liturgy, new rituals, and so forth. There’s been
some overlap with other new age trends. Reconstructionist Judaism is
one example. Michael Lerner wrote a book recently called “The Left Hand
I grew up in a Jewish household and attended some after-school
programs, was Bar Mitzvah’d, but never really “got” the spirit of it. I
became interested, instead, in a more general, cross-cultural
exploration of faith. I heard just a little about Jewish mysticism in
college, but really discovered it in my late 20s. The point here is
that mysticism wasn’t much talked about in mainstream Judaism. This has
changed significantly, so that Kabbalah, the name for the Jewish
mystical tradition, has become a major component or focus of interest
in many circles—not only for Jews, but, both now and (I have
discovered) even in the Renaissance among some esoteric Christian
thinkers, as well as in the European occult movements of the late 19th
There has been a flurry of attention given to Kabbalah because some
celebrities have shown an interest, but, alas, this has been in a
cult-like, commercialized spin-off that most serious thinkers find
painfully superficial and appealing simply to magical new-age
Finally, many Jews have been involved in interfaith efforts for
decades. Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Martin Luther King in
Alabama. Others have sought to promote Jewish-Christian-Muslim
dialogue. And so forth.
Probably we should not avoid the fact that a good deal of writings on
interfaith spirituality, if you look through library catalogs, have
addressed more specifically the problems encountered by interfaith
marriages. The rate of intermarriage between Jews and Non-Jews since
the 1960s has gone over 50% ! Other interfaith marriages have also been
pervasive, and more recently these have included the bridging of
Western and Eastern religions.
Other Religious Traditions
Islam also has a mystical tradition called Sufism, and there have been
a number of Sufi teachers in America. Some of these leaders and groups
have given a special emphasis to articulating the common threads among
the many traditions.
Buddhism is spreading among not only people of Asian descent, but
reaching many who find in its psycho-spiritual approach a degree of
relevance and meaning that they didn’t find in the Western religious
traditions of their families. Zen was popular among the beatniks in the
1950s and continues to have a certain appeal. Tibetan Buddhism has been
made a bit more popular through the travels of the Dalai Lama and a
score of teachers. Mindfulness or Vipassana meditation has been
promoted by Buddhists from Southeast Asia.
Certain ideas from Taoism and Confucianism continue to be woven in,
re-discovered. The point is that there are many who are going back and
re-thinking some deep tradition.
Nor should we forget that there are teachers of Sikh and Sikh-related
spirituality, and Jainism’s nonviolent emphasis has influenced many
thinkers, including Mahatma Gandhi. One need not be an adherent of a
definite sect in order to take in good ideas from other groups. Gandhi,
of course, influenced Martin Luther King, who by no means bought into
the seemingly polytheistic religion of India, but did open to certain
Hinduism—a Western term for the bundle of religions of South Asia, is
called by Indians "Santana Dharma"—roughly translated, the Holy Way.
Since the 1960s, there have been many teachers of Yoga and other
aspects of Indian thought in the West. It turns out that their teachers
told them to come! Presciently, they sensed that people in the West
needed some of their insights!
Yoga, which mainly associated with the body-exercise form called “hatha
yoga” is really a much broader approach. The word is related to the
English word, “yoke" and refers to the vehicle or way or method for
spiritual development. One point here that is particularly relevant to
our thinking about interfaith spirituality is that Yoga recognizes that
different folks need different strokes. Just as we recognize that some
kids are more natural “jocks” (i.e., athletes), while others are more
artistic, and so forth, Yoga recognizes that different kinds of people
will find their spirituality emerges best through different kinds of
Those people who find their spirituality expressed through duty and
doing good deeds, social action and local harmony, are living their
religion, doing “karma yoga.” Those who get a lot out of going to
church, participating in the liturgy, perhaps helping with it, singing
in the chorus, putting on the Christmas pageant, and so forth—these are
those who feel connected through the spirituality of devotion, what’s
called “bhakti yoga.” Some meditate and contemplate more, and this is
closer to “raja yoga,” while others really get into study, learning—but
it’s a learning that is mixed with true “heart,” sincerity, and a
desire not just to appear smart or gain status, but to feel more deeply
connected—“jnana yoga.” Comparable roles or ways of “doing”
spirituality may easily be found in Western religions. The point here
is that rather than a given denomination coming to emphasize one or
another approach, what if churches of the future acknowledged that
within any congregation there would be respect given to people who
connect, worship, study, or take it into society? Other facets also
merit respect, and this general idea is a bridge to the increasing
recognition of differences in individuality. (Last Fall my lecture
series was about how we are individuals, and this point simply extends
that insight to include our thinking about spirituality.)
For too long the various indigenous traditions were considered
“primitive” by those with a more colonialist mentality, a presumption
of the moral and spiritual superiority of those who possessed the more
devastating and powerful weapons. I find it amusing, sad, and ironic
that I grew up in a culture that was only beginning to emerge from this
terribly immoral attitude. In the 1960s, along with the civil rights
movements, the civil rights of other indigenous people were also being
highlighted. Native American Indians were seeking more recognition for
the many types of oppression they were still suffering.
Part of the interest in this sub-culture was stimulated by interest in
the peyote ceremonies, along with an interest in many intellectual
sub-cultures in psychedelic phenomena. This led to an attitude of
looking more closely at many other cultures and traditions and
discovering there a number of ideas, methods, and spiritual insights
that had been obscured in the Western religions.
An interest in shamanism, for example, became far more widespread in
the 1960s and 70s—and since. Many books, programs, and articles
addressed the psychology, anthropology, and metaphysical philosophical
implications of this tradition of going into a kind of hypnotic trance
in order to access your guides. Related traditions could be found in
Siberia, South America, Australia, and other cultures.
This going back to traditional sources extended also into Western
history. There was a resurgence of interest in the European esoteric
and occult tradition. Back in the Renaissance, as I mentioned, there
were people who were looking at the deeper currents of the world that
might not be adequately addressed by—or have been obscured by—the
official church doctrine. Without having time to describe it, there was
a “hermetic” tradition among some intellectuals, the word being related
to the ancient Greek God, Hermes, related to the Roman God, Mercury,
and associated with wisdom.
There were many pioneers in the following centuries, from Emmanuel
Swedenborg in the 18th century to the emergence of Rosicrucian and
Masonic groups—alluded to by Dan Brown in his best-selling Da Vinci
Code book and related writings. There was a fashion in some circles in
magick (spelled with a k to differentiate it from stage magic), of
using ritual and self-induced trance to experience unusual states and,
it was claimed, to effect certain results. Any of you who read or heard
about the recent semi-new-age fad, “the Secret,” might recognize these
preludes to prosperity thinking and imagining and envisioning as
techniques to getting.
There were many serious thinkers who wove in spiritual ideas, such as
Rudolf Steiner’s thinking about what he called "Anthroposophy" in
the19th century, and the spin-off from this work in the private
educational system called the Waldorf Schools. How many of you have
heard of these?
Finally, after years of terrible persecution and a holocaust that in
numbers may have been far greater than the Nazi campaign against the
Jews—I’m referring to centuries of witch hunts and burnings of the
women who were the folk-healers, the carriers of the nature religion in
Europe, there has been, again, more in the last 40 years, a resurgence
of interest in the nature religion, Wicca—previously stigmatized
unfairly as being associated with Satan, and evil witches— although in
fact the great majority are very peace-loving and nice. Only recently
has Wicca been included as it being okay to have a special sign at
In America, there was also a mixture of esoteric thinking and occult
revival. Part of this was the fashion in “spirtual-ism,”—not the same
as spirituality, but rather the activity of mediums in connecting with
and channeling the spirits of the dear departed. Still somewhat
fashionable and a little less disreputable or kookie, spiritualism was
quite popular in many circles around 1860, originating in upstate New
Other trends included such movements as Theosophy, with leaders such as
Alice Bailey, Anne Besant, and HPB, the initials given to Helena
Around the late 19th century, a group of rigorous intellectuals founded
the Society for Psychical Research to find out what all this was about.
They did a lot of work and found out that, well, there’s something.
We’ll touch on this more when we talk about parapsychology.
The desire to balance dry scientism and hard-edged secularism with
something more juicy, mythic, and spiritual, has led within the last
few decades to a resurgence of interest in fantasy and imagination.
Consider the numbers of books, dolls, videos and stories that weave in
ideas or images of angels, fairies, sprites, wizards, dragons, and so
forth. The popularity of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogies
and movies, The Hobbit, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books, and even the
mythic themes in the five Star Wars movies and the Star Trek movies and
television reruns—these are all only the tip of the iceberg. All this
is laying the foundation for a mentality that is less literal, more
mythic, poetic, and it is just this kind of mentality that can handle
A major part of the wide field of cultural trends generating a
foundation for interfaith spirituality has been the emergence of
psychology from its social roles as an academic-scientific specialty or
a treatment for mental illness to something that is becoming integrated
as a natural and important element in mainstream culture.
In spite of there being a period of time in the early and mid-20th
century in which, for various reasons, psychology (and science) seemed
to be aligned against spirituality—and it was, especially because as
I’ve said, most of spirituality was covered over by layers of
dogmatism, superstition, fear-based rules, and other problematic
habits—but there has also been a counter-trend. Thoughtful people have
noticed that spirituality is an important part of healthy psychology,
One of the major pioneers of psychology was William James, who also
around 1904 wrote a book titled the Varieties of Religious Experience.
Others since have noted the importance of bringing together these two
In the mid-1950s, Existential and Humanistic Psychology emerged as a
field that addressed the higher capacities in human nature. Rollo May
wrote a book titled The Cry for Myth around 1960, and noted that dry
science cannot really fill the heart’s longing for a sense of personal
meaning and purpose.
The meaning of the word “myth” shifted from something that wasn’t true
to something that could not be understood as literally, factually true,
but as an image, a story, it evoked deep feelings that expressed
psychological and cultural ideas that had a different kind of truth.
There is little or no factual truth to the idea that love makes the
world go ‘round, but it strikes a chord of recognition that could be
made into a song. May’s point is that humanity needs myth.
Carl Jung, one of the early depth psychologists, had a myth-oriented
approach that had become somewhat disreputable, out of the mainstream,
in the 1950s. With the emergence of psychedelics as well as
cross-cultural studies in the 1960s, well, nothing other than Jung’s
psychology really spoke to the types of imagery and symbols that were
flowing into the culture’s collective consciousness. So as Freud has
slipped significantly from its higher status, Jung has correspondingly
risen. Jung was the psychiatrist who really recognized the
psychological truth of religion.
(Anecdote: A reporter asked Jung what, after all his studies, he had
learned about God. Jung responded, “I don’t know anything about God.
All I know about is what humans tend to think about God.”)
Other psychiatrists and therapists also addressed the issues that
relate to interfaith spirituality. Worthy of mention is Viktor Frankl,
who wrote The Search for Meaning among other books.
In 1969, branching out of humanistic psychology, Transpersonal
Psychology became a recognized sub-field—dealing as it did with the
ways spirituality and psychology overlapped with each other. It was
only beginning to be time when the word “spirituality” could be talked
about—for most secular people it called up associations to the
traditional stereotypes of religion.
There is a phenomenon called “cultural lag,” referring to the way it
can take ten, twenty, sometimes fifty years for a stereotype to change.
Mothers-in-law, Ethnic Jokes, the way smoking is “cool,”
psychotherapists—and how they rarely look or act like the cliche of
psychoanalysts—, what it means to be a senior citizen, what age is—
folks don’t catch on readily to how things are changing, and the media
and cartoonists and others pander to these old stereotypes.
Even in the professions, then, the term “spirituality” only began to
catch on more widely in the 1980s, when increasing workshops and papers
and journals with that word began to be used more frequently.
In seminaries and hospitals, Chaplaincy Programs and Pastoral
Counseling became more popular, and more inter-denominational. Who
could afford to staff chaplains for separate religions? That only
happened a little bit in the Second World War movies—a Catholic
chaplain for the Catholics, Protestant for the Protestants, etc.
Nowadays, chaplains have to be able to minister to the Muslims, the
Wicca, the Buddhists, the Jews, and a lot to the not-anything in
particular but I need to talk to the chaplain. Staffing also makes it
such that there aren’t that many psychotherapists, or there’s too much
stigma and a mark on your record if you do seek mental health care. So
you go to the chaplain.
Branching off from chaplaincy or pastoral counseling, there is a
quasi-therapeutic approach called Spiritual Direction—started by the
Jesuits centuries ago, but becoming more widespread. It’s sort of like
executive or manager or life coaching, but with a spiritual twist.
So psychologists are becoming more spiritual—as a collective—there are
still many hold-outs; and churches and religions are becoming more
psychological, hosting Marriage Encounters, etc.
I’m all for this. I see spirituality as generating a larger framework
or meaning map within which people can do better work in psychotherapy,
and in turn, I see learning about psychology or therapy as a way of
really implementing or adapting in real life the deeper spiritual
lessons. So there’s a symbiosis.
While psychology has entered the culture, another marginal field is
still struggling to gain respectability: ESP—extra-sensory perception.
There are many sub-components of what a colleague recently termed
“extra-ordinary knowing”: telepathy, or mind to mind communication;
clairvoyance, or seeing, feeling, hearing, or intuiting things that are
going on elsewhere and there’s no ordinary sense explanation;
precognition, or intuiting what will happen in the future;
psycho-kinesis, or mind over matter; healing through touch, intention,
prayer, or other non-physical means; astral projection or
out-of-the-body experience (sometimes called OOBE); “seeing” auras or
body energy fields, and combining this with clairvoyance for diagnosis,
or healing; recollection of “past lives” and other uncanny “memories”
such as pre-natal experiences, alien abductions, etc.; lucid dreaming
(or being sort of awake and able to choose where and how to travel in
the dream worlds; and so forth.
I mentioned mediums and there has also been a related activity,
channeling "spiritual entities" as sources of wisdom. So there have
been many books on all these, and also many skeptics who say that none
of this is true.
Emerging shortly after the founding of the Association of Transpersonal
Psychology was the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The word “Noetic”
refers to the Greek "noous", meaning, well, “to know,” but referring
more broadly to consciousness in all its forms. Intelligent and
open-minded seekers sought to understand the nature of mind—not
confined to the laboratory studies that have come out more in the last
fifteen years—the emerging field of neuroscience----that, too, but this
went to the edge of what we know, including such questionable arenas as
spirituality, parapsychology, and the like.
Not only did “IONS”—an acronym for the Institute of Noetic Science—get
cooking, but in the last thirty years we’ve seen the founding of a
goodly numbers of associated journals, including, well, IONS’s journal,
recently renamed “Shift”; the Journal for Consciousness Studies;
ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation (for which I’ve
served as one of the editors for 5 years); the Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology; Tricycle (A Journal of Buddhist Studies); and appealing to
a somewhat broader and more populist market, magazines such as Science
and Spirit, Spirituality and Health, What is Enlightenment? Yoga
Journal, New Age Journal, Utne Magazine, and so forth.
Noetics and Consciousness Studies involves an interdisciplinary effort
that weaves together research in a wide range of fields, including:
depth psychology alternative
Finishing up, the point of this survey is to notice that many different
cultural developments have all been warming up to create an
infrastructure for interfaith spirituality.
In addition, there have been religions, such as Bahai, that make a
point of integrating religion. There have been trends towards
ecumenicism since the mid-1960s, following up on the Second Vatican
Council. There has been an expansion of interest and the offering of
courses on comparative religion and related interdisciplinary
approaches, as mentioned above.
To summarize, Interfaith Spirituality has been around as an idea for a
fair amount of time. In 1893 at the Chicago International Exposition,
they also held a Parliament of the World’s religions and people from
all over—including a Zen Buddhist from Japan and an exponent of
Vedanta, the intellectual extension of Hinduism, from India. These
exotic fellows were hits, and they were invited to lecture around the
country. They set the stage for a continued importation of spiritual
teachers—really, just a trickle until the mid-1960s—but all this
retained a rather eccentric flavor—away from the mainline.
Remember, though, that fashions change. Country was tacky until it
became cool—there was a country-western song about this. Science
fiction, too, has gone mainline, as well as science and computer
geek-hood. So spiritually-minded folks are coming out of the shadows,
out of the woodwork, and this is good. Our circle of caring is
There was another Parliament of Religion held in 1993, then, by
visionaries who see in the endeavor of interfaith spirituality one of
the possible bridges to peacemaking and ecological stability—a
constructive response to the main challenges of our time. There was
enough of a response that they did it again not a century later, but a
decade later, in Barcelona, in 2004 (well, 11 years). And six weeks ago
not too far from here I attended a small conference that included many
of the people who were featured in a recent book, the Amazing Faith of
Texas. This conference was part of that wider movement that’s happening
internationally—and now you’re part of it.
Next week we’ll talk more about some of the component cultural trends that have led up to the trend of Interfaith Spirituality.
Anderson, Walter Truett. (2003). The next enlightenment: integrating East and West in a new vision of human evolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Ardagh, Arjuna. (2005). The translucent revolution: how people just like you are waking up and changing the world. Novato: New World Library
Burke, Spence & Taylor, B. (2006). A heretic’s guide to eternity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Carrette, Jeremy & King, Richard. (2005). Selling spirituality: the silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.
Chittister, Joan. (2007). Welcome to the wisdom of the world, and its meaning for you. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Ebert, John David. (1999). Twilight of the clockwork God: Conversations on science and spirituality at the end of an age. Tulsa, OK: Council Oak Books.
Forman, R. K. C. (2005). Grassroots spirituality: What it is; why it is here; where it is going. Charlottesville, VA: Imprint Academic. (Www.imprint-academic.com )
Forman, Robert K. C. (1999). Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Frager, Robert (Ed.). (2007). Sharing sacred stories: current approaches to spiritual direction and guidance. New York: Crossroad Publishing.
Griffin, David R. (Ed.). (1988). Spirituality and society: postmodern visions. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hunt, Harry T. (2003). Lives in spirit: precursor and dilemmas of a secular Western mysticism. Albany: State University of New York Press
Laszlo, Ervin. (1996). The whispering pond: a personal guide to the emerging vision of science. Rockport, MA: Element Books.
Lippy, Charles H. (2000). Pluralism comes of age: American religious culture in the Twentieth Century. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe U.Tenn. BL2525 L567 2000 Main
Panikkar, Raymond. (1978). The Intrareligious Dialogue. New York: Paulist Press.
Rifkin, Ira. (2002). Spiritual innovators: Seventy-five extraordinary people who changed the world in the past century. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths.
Sheldrake, Philip. (2007). A brief history of spirituality. London: Blackwell.
Sinetar, Marsha (2000). Spiritual intelligence: what we can learn from the early awakening child. Maryknoll NY: Orbis.
Teasdale, Wayne. (1999). The mystic heart: discovering a universal spirituality in the world’s religions. Novato, CA: New World Library
Tippett, Krista. (2007). Speaking of Faith. New York: Viking / Penguin.
Walsh, Roger. (1999). Essential spirituality. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Wilber, Ken. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston: Integral Books.