Interfaith Spirituality: Lecture 2: CULTURAL TRENDS
(This was the 2nd in a 6- lecture series of talks for Senior University Georgetown.)
Lecture given, February 4, 2008, revised & reposted Feb 11, 2008. (You can read the first lecture on another webpage.)
Lecture 3: Lynette Reed, D.Min., speaks on aspects of spirituality and religion. Lecture 4: Linda Mitchell. Lecture 5: Common Denominators.
Making This Subject More Personally RelevantWhile the main topic of today's talk considers the various historical developments that that have fed into the cultural trend that is interfaith spirituality, first consider that really getting the "feel" of this topic involves also your own personal spiritual journey, and the journeys of those you know and love. These classes are conducted mainly by me, in the role of teacher, standing and speaking before a class who are seated in rows---i.e., "didactic" pedagogy. However, learning in small groups, interacting, participating, and doing structured experiences may work better for the appreciation of certain kinds of subject-matter. Many kinds of learning happens best through "doing," becoming personally involved with the material.
The goal of part of this lecture series is just offering you information, helping you to be oriented. There’s no demand for your having demonstrated that you’ve learned the material by holding examinations. But the real juice of what we’re presenting in fact involves something else: I’d like you to help make this subject more relevant, more meaningful to yourself, by becoming a little more involved. For example, consider doing some “homework,” warming up to the issues by beginning to think about your own spiritual journey. Imagine that you will begin to compose a spiritual autobiography. (Indeed, some day you might include a more refined version in your memoirs!)
In addition, I hope you'll discuss these issues. It's not necessary that you agree with me---my point isn't to sell any particular viewpoint, but rather just to give you some orientation to the breadth of the cultural field and some of the issues involved. The process of your engaging in authentic dialogue, though, can give you a taste of a type of truth that isn't generally recognized in formal discourse. When two or a few people share their stories together, really open up, and really listen with empathy, there is a feeling of truth generated---not the illusion that comes with "answers" that can be put into words, but the feeling of connectedness that transcends individual differences. So, around the fourth or fifth week, consider pairing up with someone else in the class---someone whom you think you could trust and in turn find interesting---and having lunch or meeting for an hour or so. At that time, first one will share his or her story, and the other will listen and ask evocative questions, draw out the first speaker. Then after twenty to forty minutes, you take turns. Part of the game is to discover how your spiritual journey makes for a meaningful story. Some further clues on how to do this is on a paper on my website on how people can find the meaning in life.
What we’re recognizing is that, first, getting involved personally makes so many of these themes relevant. Bringing into consciousness your own growing awareness of your story will add to the texture of the tone of the class, bring up questions. The lecture modality is only one way to learn. It’s even better to learn by doing, but identifying themes that are relevant to you. So more of that in the 5th session.
Cultural Trends in InterspiritualityIn the last session, we noted some definitions and offered an overview of the scene, what’s been happening. In this session I note that interfaith spirituality or interspirituality should be recognized as a cultural trend, in the same way that we think of feminism or postmodernism, existentialism or fundamentalism. There are many such trends, and a trend is a complex of many component movements.
For example, to the right is a Venn diagram, one of those circles with overlapping circles. You can see in such a diagram that, for example, some Jewish or Christian activities overlap with a more general field called “grassroots spirituality” by the fellow who wrote the book in which this figure was included, Robert Forman. This also overlaps with what we think of as inter-spirituality. Other activities stay outside that big circle. This diagram also in a way reviews what we talked about last time, showing the many facets of interspirituality.
The talk today will be about not the forms on this diagram so much as the other more encompassing cultural trends that have been leading up the situation illustrated by this diagram—its historical precursors, so to speak. History is like a complex tapestry, braiding many threads and bundles of threads together. Patterns may be discerned, but on close inspection, each thread has its own story, and rarely fits neatly into any single category. That’s because these threads are made up of actual people living actual lives. As you know in your own life, you play many role, and those roles are often to some degree the product not only of their past influences, but also the way they mix with the other roles you play. If you are musical and also spiritual, perhaps your spirituality will be a bit more oriented to spiritual music than someone who isn’t musical. So everything is a blend.
I note this to suggest that even though I speak in some generalities, there are always exceptions. A person may be devout in certain respects—I’m thinking of the monk, Thomas Merton, for example—and yet challenge his own higher Church doctrine by exploring interspirituality in other ways. So categories aren’t neat.
Some Relevant Cultural TrendsThe idea of cultural trends is a way to look at history. There are precursors to movements, people who were a generation or a century before their time. The cultural trends I’m going to talk about include the
- breakdown of hierarchy and uncritical obedience; and the growth of independent thinking and a demand for democracy
- shift from the need for unity to the appreciation and utilization of individuality
- decrease of intolerance as a virtue and the emergence of tolerance, and beyond tolerance, ecumenicism and interspirituality
- emergence of psychology into the mainstream of culture—“psycholog-ization”
- recognition of evolution as applying not just to biology, but to many aspects of history, including culture and human consciousness itself
- shift of thinking of truth as objective and absolute, and the recognition of increasing categories of life in which truth is more subjective, relative, and multi-perspectival
- shift from specialization and compartmentalization to interdisciplinary and synthesis
- meeting and mixing of different cultures
That’s enough for the moment. Let’s review them in more detail.
From Hierarchy to DemocracyFor over a thousand or more years people were taught to believe uncritically in what the authorities told them was true. To some degree, this is a necessary part of education, and children and relatively uneducated people depend on experts. But the trouble with experts is similar to what I said about the problems with social organizations and religion as a social institution. All the pitfalls of being human leak in. One of those pitfalls is that whoever is in power tends to rationalize his or her status and bend the information so as to support the status quo. So if you’re a king, you tend to have the scribes tell stories about how heroic you were, and you leave out the tacky parts, like how you just happened to become a king.
This whole system also functions better when there is no middle class and there is relatively little education. The first change began over five hundred years ago, with the general period in Europe called "the Renaissance" (which means "re-birth," and refers to the emergence from the "dark ages." Several things had begun to change: Following the gradual recovery from the Black Plague in the mid-14th century, there emerged a middle class, people who were just prosperous enough so they had time to emerge from a subsistence existence. They had time to think and from thinking, they began to question! The invention of printing and the spread of this technology in the late 15th century accelerated this trend.
The first challenge to hierarchy was the Reformation, begun with Luther's challenge to the corruption of the Catholic Church around that time. He protested, and the major and then minor religious groups that emerged from that break were called "Protestants." Beyond the power of the church, more people were doing less-than-officially-sanctioned questioning, and the early stirrings of science were discernable. Another major development was the translations of the Bible from the Latin into the common language, the "vernacular" of the various European countries. This was subversive because then the words could be thought about independently and not require interpretation by authorities. This is the equivalent of computers developing user-friendly systems that didn’t require computer scientists to run one. Hierarchy, in other words, was gradually shifting towards a kind of intellectual democracy. This shifted the nature of how truth was to be ascertained. It was a bit shocking to wonder whether truth could be obtained not by studying the scriptures, but rather by finding out for yourself! (Interestingly, two thousand years earlier, Siddartha Guatama, known as the Buddha, suggested just this: Don’t accept what I say on authority, try out what I suggest and find out for yourselves!)
Of course this independent thinking idea has been resisted by the powers that be, then and even now! Still, on the whole, we are in transition from hierarchy to democracy, and that applies to a shift in the way folks think about spirituality, also.
From Unity to IndividualityI spoke last fall about how we are individuals, because of the complexity of our make-up. Because we have now identified scores if not hundreds of ways we’re different biologically, temperamentally, in the different types of ability and intelligence. We used to think there was just one way to be intelligent, and now we can recognize that there are at least seven, and probably many more distinct types, and more sub-types, so you can be very bright in one thing, like music, and slow in math. We are different in our tastes and the kinds of imagery that connect with us rather deeply.
Spirituality is a way of developing a relationship, and this depends on scores of personal elements. Johnny loved the music in his church, and loved the nice Sunday school teachers. The Word and the hymns and the image of Jesus as friend got into his soul rather deeply. No way will he be able to drop that—he may shift some of his thinking about abstract concepts, but the feeling-way he relates will keep the connection. It’s like being in love.
Jane hated her church experiences. There could be many reasons why a connection doesn’t work. She was made to sing and humiliated because she was scolded for never being able to sing on tune; she was given more hell and damnation than her system could hande. I wonder that anyone who gets a big dose of this toxic preaching can stay loyal—I wonder if it isn’t a bit of the Stockholm syndrome—you know, where people who are kidnaped come to love and defend their kidnapers.
For this reason, I use the term “symbol system.” People create their own symbol systems and mental maps psychologically, and when the hormones are right, sexually, politically, what seems beautiful or ugly, which tastes are cool and edgy and which disgusting. All cultural. Spirituality is no less personal, no less caught up with depth psychology. Sacred books and smells, certain words and music, can be a turn on at a deep level or a turn off.
I remember talking with a friend about philosophy about twenty-five years ago—he was a dean of a major denomination’s seminary. We clicked and our ideas bounced off each other and the ceiling, playfully juggling philosophy and playfulness, spirituality and psychology, art and anthropology. It was clear he didn’t hold tightly to dogma, and indeed, I asked him what he was doing being a Christian of high rank. His reply drove me to my dictionary: He said, “It’s my chthonic roots.” Chthonic? Dark, primitive, mysterious. Why as I said Johnny got bonded to Jesus and his faith, because it was delicious, it partook of the mother as well as the father. My friend had a deep love relationship with Christ, however much he may have differed with some of his colleagues about how that relationship should be articulated in language, or organized in some dogma.
Increasingly, people are doing just this as they read more, discuss more, experience more challenges to this or that element of their faith. Many if not most of the good Christians or Jews that I’ve talked with do not hold strictly to every rule or interpretation or belief that is officially designated as part of the religion. This is true also of those who are affiliated with non-Western religions.
Increasingly, also, there are religions cropping up that not only allow for this individualization of spirituality, but requiring it. I know one junior swami who told a friend, “Your make-up is different. Most of what we teach is aimed at people who have too little spiritual energy. You have too much, so you have to work it out. Consider the possibility that much of what we say, you may have to do the opposite.”
Interfaith spirituality isn’t then just a matter of different religions working things out, but a recognition of the need for people to individualize their own spirituality. I mentioned the different-strokes-for-different-folks subtypes of yoga in the last session, and this goes with that idea and carries it further.
From Intolerance to Ecumenicism and BeyondI grew up in an era, the 1940s, that was just coming out of an age when there probably was more intolerance than tolerance—anti-feelings between Catholics and Protestants, between both of them and the Jews, contempt and suspicion for people of other cultures, races, and so forth.
Before that, the world for the most part was still fairly identified with the virtues of our side being right, superior. Naziism was a caricature of this, as was Japanese militarism, and though the United States was less militarily active, the was a great deal of jingoism, xenophobia, and shameless prejudice in the so-called “melting pot” of the United States. It was more important that groups be united, millennia ago as tribes, but in the last 500 years, as nations; however, the idea that the whole world should seek unity was off the charts.
The Second World War became a time to promote unity and fight this internecine tension.
So the war movies with Hollywood stars as G.I.s frequently featured an Irish guy, an Italian guy, a Jewish guy, a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant), and the message was that being religiously bigoted was no longer okay—we had to pull together.
(Hollywood wasn’t about to take on racial prejudice yet. Truman began that after the war.) Still, the message post-war was that prejudice was out and tolerance was in. Hollywood continued to press for tolerance with movies like Gentlemen’s Agreement, with Gregory Peck, noting how the best clubs and hotels would refuse to cater to Jews. Yet through the 1950s, inter-religious prejudice was still more the norm, and parents of kids of different religions—much less denominations—objected strongly to intermarriage. All the word “tolerance” meant was a civil reluctance to exhibit overt intolerance.
During the 1950s a shift began—not just in the realm of civil rights, but in the mainstream, questioning racial prejudice. Still, few movies featured hispanics or negroes, with other words, like “blacks” coming a decade later, and “African-Americans” in the 1970s. Meanwhile, until after the 1970s, Hispanics and Asians continued to be ignored.
The idea of ecumenicism is most associated with the early 1960s term of Pope John XXIII (the 23rd), who promoted this idea in his Second Vatican Council. For most educated people this suggested a deeper level of respect and the beginning of dialogue. The minister, priest, and rabbi who walk into a bar become a more common trope for a joke in the later 1950s and early 1960s. They are imagined in the popular discourse as friends, and the hint that “other” approaches to God might be okay is starting to float around.
Things get stretched in the 1960s: First, there was a change in the immigration act (i.e., the Immigration and Nationality Act amendments of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act, INS Act of 1965, Pub.L. 89-236) abolished the national-origin quotas that had been in place in the United States since the Immigration Act of 1924. It was proposed by Emanuel Celler and heavily supported by Senator Ted Kennedy.). As more Asians were allowed to immigrate, so the flow of people of color, from India, Pakistan, other Middle-Eastern countries, Tibet, China, Japan, and other far Eastern countries began, and with them, an increasing number of spiritual teachers, gurus, swamis, and the like.
When the Beatles traveled to India to visit with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that began a flow of young people to this exotic source of new possibilities. Prior to that the youth “grand tour”—or at least year off from college---was mainly to Europe, Paris, London.
Increasing numbers of a younger generation of ministers, priests, and rabbis began to not only encounter these more esoteric religious leaders, but wrote about how their own religious life was to some degree illuminated or enhanced by such encounters. The famous author and monk, Thomas Merton, of Seven Story Mountain fame, traveled to South Asia and reported on deeper encounters with folks who used to be considered benighted heathen, suggesting that some of their insights could well complement and deepen the spiritual efforts of Westerners.
Ecumenicism was drifting into interfaith spirituality. We’ll return to other themes later. Let this suffice as we turn now to some other trends.
Psychology and SpiritualityI mentioned in the last lecture that psychology has been growing and becoming more spiritual. The evolution of psychology and its becoming more commonplace should be recognized as a major cultural trend, and one that supports the others—the democratization of knowledge, the individualization of effort, the intolerance of intolerance.
I mentioned the growing popularity of the Asian religions, and at this point it might be worth noting that many of them might better be viewed as more as psychologies as religions, for their focus is on the state of the mind, the cultivation of attention, and the noting that the source of spirituality comes not from scripture or history, but operates in the here-and-now, through your own consciousness, in the way you think. This is especially true of Buddhism and the more intellectual or mystical approaches of Hinduism—the mind-part of Yoga.
To finish with psychology—a major point to be made is that psychology in general has filtered into the mainstream, because business executives realized that a good deal of waste of energy was happening because of what I call the Dilbert phenomenon—lower consciousness interactions among supervisors, subordinates, co-workers. People losing their tempers, people operating in a passive-aggressive fashion, and so forth. In schools, too, the growing intolerance of intolerance also meant an assumption of responsibility to limit bullying and other forms of emotional abuse, which in turn required a growing interest in psychology. The growth of drug use and younger ages of sexual activity further put pressure on schools to address these psychosocial questions.
And so forth—psychology is quickly becoming a major force in culture. It’s mainly an expression of an increased level of self-reflection, thinking about the way we think, and the cultural trend towards more journal articles, self-help books, television shows, and other ways the mainstream is ramping up its interest in and inclusion of psychological issues will naturally overlap with the cultural trend towards spirituality. Indeed, spirituality might be considered to be the psychological-ization of religion.
EvolutionAt first, a hypothesis attempting to explain the origins of biological diversity, the idea has become a “meme,” an idea that catches on. The word, “evolution,” seems to have evolved so that it applies to many domains, referring to significant historical developments, generally in the direction of greater complexity. (Admittedly, some forms may become extinct in this process.) One hears about the evolution of language, computers, writing systems, medicine, and so forth.
Religions didn’t evolve, or so it seemed when I was growing up. They just were, and their claims seemed to mirror this idea: Their truths were for all people for all time. When I was older and began to study about religions—it was my major in college at Berkeley—it became apparent that religions did indeed evolve, and scholarship since that time has reinforced this view. The great philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, noted this idea in a book he wrote in the 1920s, Religion in the Making. More recently, the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber has noted this idea, also, suggesting that religion is an agent for processing the evolution of spiritual intelligence.
More radically, in the last few decades more people have been talking about the idea that humanity itself may be evolving, not so much anatomically as socially, technically, and, most important, in terms of its own consciousness!
Julian Jaynes in the mid-1970s proposed in a book he wrote—the Origins of Consciousness in the Evolution of the Bicameral Mind— that writing as a technology cultivated the activity of the left hemisphere of the brain, the part that deals more with linear, rational thought. As human cultures became more literate, their capacities to imagine, envision, and be influenced by intuition atrophied somewhat. This book, in my opinion, has a number of flaws, but I think it also may reflect some valid insights.
Interfaith Spirituality speaks to what many consider to be the next step in religion, a step that is needed in a world that is becoming more globalized. Inter-religious conflict is simply un-affordable, depletes energy, adds nothing constructive. War and commercialism, ethno-centricity (that’s thinking that your own culture is the only one that counts, and its values are just fine, thank you very much), all express the complacency and arrogance of the 20th century. We just can’t afford that any more. We face ecological catastrophe and need to get our act together or we’ll end up where we’re heading.
Another approach to evolution is the idea that the cosmos, the universe, is itself God evolving, and we are part of the universe that is evolving so that God can become aware of itself in an interesting way. This is a “new story,” a reinterpretation of what seemed like a de-spiritualized theory of biological evolution. However, from Teilhard de Chardin to Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, and Michael Dowd—I recently attended a seminar given by this last fellow—there have been many who are resolving the seeming conflict between science and religion in some very interesting ways. If you’d like to know more about this, ask me.
Relationship to TruthWhen I grew up, truth was attainable and out there. It made sense to argue with my pals in the dorm at UC Berkeley about religion. All the things we weren’t supposed to do—in polite society--- we rebellious college students explored, such as talking openly about politics, religion, and sex. Looking back, it may have been a little superficial, callow, but we were young—or some might say, “immature.” Now that I’ve been around more I have come to realize that there was at that point a spirit of freedom to think whatever that didn’t not happen for a large sector of teens and young adults in many parts of the country. However, this has advanced—the infection of questioning authority has spread—and that’s one of the culture changes.
Another has been the growing complexity of truth. When truth was simple, either-or, it was of a level that might be more like the adding machine. Somewhat complex, but not overwhelmingly so. With the emergence of electronic computers, though, there was a qualitative shift: At very high levels of complexity, simple rules and algorithms don’t work the way they do in machines. The same for truth: Now that we know about psychology and language and culture and other factors, well, truth stops being out there and increasingly is recognized as being in-here, in my mind and yours.
Some of this falls under the cultural trends in the arena of philosophy, in the sub-field called "epistemology." That's the part of philosophy that asks, "How do we know what we know?" The new cultural trend is called "post-modernism," and it suggetst that non-trivial truths are more subjective and relative than previously thought before the 1960s (i.e., the modern---before the post-modern---era).
So it’s not going to work, my trying to argue why my religion or belief system is more rational than yours. It never did, really, but a lot of people tried to apply rational discourse to spirituality with very mixed results. It helps to clarify your own beliefs, but the truth is that what feels like the truth is mixed up with deep attitudes, preferences, images, and other less-than-rational elements. I’m not talking about belief as not-entirely-logical, but rather about any attempt to ascertain, pin down, compare, absolute, objective, out there, applying for all time to everyone type truth. And the more we wrestled with this goal, the more obviously elusive it became. This is part of what postmodernist philosophy is about.
Applied to religion and community, what if truth becomes not the what we believe, but the how we share our symbol systems. If we can share with genuine caring our not-knowing, our own what-works-for-us images, prayers, ideas; and mix that sharing with an open willingness to listen to others’ sharings; if, instead of trying to compare the two sets of statements with some objective criteria to find out what is out-there objectively true, we enjoy the communion, feeling heard, perhaps being stimulated by the other person’s image or ideas, allowing our own ideas to be held very gently, loosely—then we have a different kind of truth—the truth of love, really. It’s not sentimental or sexual, but that line of John Denver in his 1971 song, Poems, Prayers and Promises...
“And talk of poems and prayers and promises, and things that we believe in,
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care;
How long it's been since yesterday, what about tomorrow,
And what about our dreams and all the memories we share.”
This is not going to satisfy those still caught in the modern paradigm, the belief that truth is at least in theory attainable, objective truth. But that’s part of the point—this paradigm has shifted! Truth is recognized as involving several types.
Much of knowledge expands by developing a recognition of many additional subtypes when previously there were only a few elements—this applies in chemistry and biology and everything. Remember when there were just atoms, and a few sub-atomic particles? Now there are a score of them! So can there be different sub-types of truth?
I recently heard from Michael Dowd, a teacher about evolutionary spirituality that it might help to recognize two kinds of language—what he calls “day language” and “night language.” The former is more factual, while the latter is more mythic. You get into trouble by confusing the two. Did such and such literally happen the way the words say it did, or should it be taken as parable, allegory, are there deeper meanings, might it be understood in different ways.
Alas, once it becomes clear that most non-trivial things do mean different things to different people, it also becomes clear that the various ways of interpreting them can multiply manifold. All this is to speak to the postmodernist shift of emphasis on how we relate to truth.
How we relate to truth means that you don’t try to greedy-grasp it. Truth is a process of working authentically, communicating effectively. Well, this topic can go on and on—but the point is that many of the changes happening in the realms of spirituality and religion hinge on this cultural shift.
Interdisciplinary TrendsAnother stream or trend that may be discerned is the shift away from specialization and compartmentalization and toward interdisciplinary endeavor and thinking. In the early 18th century, the body of scientific knowledge was still growing, but in a sense small enough so that some of the educated were called “natural philosophers.” They thought about nature in all its variety, as well as theology and philosophy. As knowledge grew, specialists emerged, learning more and more about less and less until it seemed they came to know everything about nothing! The peak of this was in the mid-20th century, but the process of enantiodromia was in play: That’s a big word used by Carl Jung to note the way things tend to turn into their opposites. Beards come into fashion, go out of fashion, come back—the pendulum swings about many aspects of culture. Anyway, at another level of information explosion and complexity, it became increasingly evident and important to explore the way one specialty or compartment overlapped with another, and specialization began to break down.
In medicine, a renewed effort was made to cultivate family practice—what had two generations earlier been called general practice. More federal money went into supporting residency programs that trained generalists, family practitioners who could do pediatrics, geriatrics, internal medicine, basic obstetrics, simple surgery. Shifting to religion, in a more diverse culture, military chaplains stopped specializing in this or that religion and became generalists. When I was young there would be a Catholic chaplain and a Jewish chaplain and other denominations—or so it seemed. In reality, they were spread thin enough so they had to serve people of many backgrounds, and that need continues even more so today.
In academia, interdisciplinary fields such as communications studies wove together elements of English, linguistics, media studies, and so forth. In religion, we’ve had increasing recognition that folks in anthropology might offer as much insight as professors of philosophy; archeology, linguistics, regional history, cultural history, politics—all were relevant, as well as some new fields that compared them—comparative mythology, comparative religion.
Mythology has evolved as a field: Once addressing the quaint beliefs of others, with the help of Carl Jung, we began to recognize that Western cultures, underneath the pretense or myth of rationality, was laced with many, many mythic structures. The word itself evolved from implying a funny story from foreigners—“they” had myths, we have beliefs, true beliefs—to a recognition that our true beliefs also share the same mythic elements.
In the field of religion, there has always been — well, at least for the last couple of millennia— those who took the myths more literally and those who could perceive the stories as allegories, stories with more subtle themes that required interpretation. The science or art of interpretation is called “hermeneutics,” and the point is that it can be done with greater or lesser competence. How a child might draw the moral of a story may be far more simplistic than the moral as drawn by a professor. Occasionally, the child’s interpretation may seem more compelling and insightful, too. Sometimes simple is better.
Anyway, the point here is that interfaith spirituality is an epitome of inter-disciplinary thinking, weaving together the ongoing thinking and research in many fields.
Inter-Cultural SynthesisI mentioned the idea of moving beyond ecumenicism. I touched on this in the previous lecture, noting the research into the less-well-known roots within mainstream religion (e.g., the writings of the mystics), the resurgence of interest in other religious traditions, the study of comparative religions, and so forth. I noted how there had been a flow of spiritual teachings from Asia that had become more intense in the 1960s, and helped along by the popular rock music group, the Beatles, when they visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
In fact, there had been a rich tradition of people who thought about spirituality outside the officially sanctioned boundaries. I remember learning about a group called the Transcendentalists in studying high school American Literature---folks like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. What wasn't talked about was that these guys were alluding to strange ideas they had picked up from other intellectuals who had been impressed with the philosophies of India and other Asian countries. These guys were talking about spirituality before they had a name for it, a relationship to a transcendent dimension of life, even though it did not fit neatly into the dominant Christian dogma of the time.
The point is that part of the current trend towards inter-spirituality derives from a more gradual mixing of religions and other spiritual traditions (including the para-spiritual or "occult" traditions of Europe and America, the religious ideas and practices of indigenous peoples, and so forth). Now it’s important to consider that an adequate spirituality needs to come to terms with the best insights of many religions—perhaps all of them. And more books are around that draw from Buddhism as much as from Christianity. So this, too, is a cultural trend.
SummaryIn conclusion, the contemporary cultural trend of interfaith spirituality is an extension of the convergence of a number of other cultural trends, including the breakdown of hierarchy, the growth of tolerance, transforming into ecumenicism and interspirituality; the maturation and mainstreaming of psychology; the integration of other religions; the emergence of evolution as a psycho-cultural as well as biological idea, and so forth. I would welcome your input and suggestions for further references, ideas, and so forth. Email to email@example.com
(In the next two sessions we’ll have two other speakers presenting other aspects of this cultural trend of interfaith spirituality.)