Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Yesterday, searching on Google under the phrase, "enactive, participatory spirituality," I came across this relatively recent (2009) essay by Jorge Ferrer. It looks like it is directly relevant to my own recent Integral Theory Conference paper*, and also to the themes of this forum.
Here's a copy of the abstract:
"This paper first uncovers the subtle spiritual narcissism that has characterized historical approaches to religious diversity and discusses the shortcomings of the main forms of religious pluralism that have been proposed as its antidote: ecumenical, soteriological, postmodern, and metaphysical. It then argues that a participatory pluralism paves the way for an appreciation of religious diversity that eschews the dogmatism and competitiveness involved in privileging any particular tradition over the rest without falling into cultural-linguistic or naturalistic reductionisms. Discussion includes the question of the validity of spiritual truths and the development of a participatory critical theory of religion. The essay concludes with an exploration of different scenarios for the future of religion – global religion, mutual transformation, interspiritual wisdom, and spirituality without religion – and proposes that such a future may be shaped by spiritually individuated persons engaged in processes of cosmological hybridization in the context of a common spiritual family. A participatory approach to spirituality turns the problem of religious plurality into a celebration of the critical spirit of pluralism."
And here is a link to the full essay: The Plurality of Religions and the Spirit of Pluralism: A Participa....
I find I appreciate and resonate with parts of this essay, and I am uncomfortable or dissatisfied with others, but I may need to take a little time to sort through these reactions before I can produce a cogent response. His proposal is similar to the enactive model I outlined in my ITC paper (and I drew on some of his earlier work in the formulation of my ideas), but something about his overall framing of his participatory approach still strikes me as problematic. I'm not satisfied, for instance, with his appeal to the co-participatory "undetermined mystery," but I can't quite put my finger on what it is that bothers me. I'll think on this and will write more soon.
* While Ferrer doesn't make exactly the same arguments or come to exactly the same conclusions as I do, he does actually touch on enough of the same perspectives and players (Cobb, Hick, Heim, etc) that I'm feeling a little down! Makes my paper seem a bit redundant.
I didn't know you were still visiting this forum! Nice to see you.
Xibalba: I read that article and I find it quite incongruent in several ways. I don´t think that the search for an overall unity of religions (term taken in its latin connotation religere: to unify) is vain. As physicists are seeking a mother theory of everything, a symbol of endless creative curiosity, why would we not seek it in the spiritual domain even if it is ultimately a mystery. Universal truth doesn´t need to be oppressive in this sense.
I don't think a search for religious unity is vain, either. Personally, I think that "unity" is better approached as a horizon of possibility, to be worked out (enacted) by interested groups or individuals, rather than assumed a priori as the "background" of any assessment of various religious systems. Along these lines, I think Wilber's model is better taken as suggestive evidence for avenues of further cross-traditional inquiry, investigation, coordination, and cooperation than "proof" that all religions are ultimately talking about, or "accessing," the same thing. What do you think about that? I think this is generally Panikkar's approach, and why he emphasizes inter-religious dialogue and practice -- not necessarily to encourage the creation of "one world religion," but to allow for greater degrees of conciliation and mutual fecundation and the enactment of new horizons of meaning and participation. I believe I understand Ferrer's concern with regard to Wilber's system -- it involves certain commitments that are not empirically verifiable (is a theistic or non-theistic or panentheistic model "best"?) or unambiguously decideable, and therefore can't simply be "assumed" to be the only possible or even the best formulation -- but I think he may go too far in his "correction" for that.
Regarding Ferrer's definition of "participation," there's a good essay in his book, The Participatory Turn, which reviews the history of various "participatory" worldviews...with the "participation mystique" described by Levy Bruhl being a pre-rational form of it. The (post-)postmodern form of it is something like Varela's enactive paradigm. Ferrer's particular formulation may still be more postmodern than post-postmodern (I'm not really satisfied with it), though I do see him as attempting to move beyond that.
In my previous post, I mentioned I was not comfortable with his argument that various religious objects and ultimates are co-created participatively by human beings and an "undetermined spiritual power." Here, he seems to be defining participation, less in enactive terms (a la Maturana and Varela) and more as a cooperative effort between humans and a vague God-figure or an ambiguous "Spirit": Buddhists do something, "Spiritual X" responds, and the result is the jhanas or pure lands; Kabbalists do something, "Spiritual X" responds, and the result is the Four Realms. I'm presenting this in simplistic terms, which may be unfair, but I'm doing this because I find Ferrer is really vague about this aspect of his proposal and so it is not very compelling or satisfying for me. I'm not sure if positing an "undetermined spiritual X" as a co-participant with human beings in the creation of different spiritual realities or objects is the best way forward for a post-postmodern and/or post-metaphysical spirituality. I have some percolating thoughts on why this bothers me, but I need to allow that "cup" to brew a little longer before I write anything here.
Came across this today -- a brief online article by Ferrer, "Beyond Spiritual Narcissism," from Tikkun magazine -- (although the link has been somewhat finicky today) --
Thanks Mary. Ferrer, often falsely accused of relativism, indeed provides some useful guidelines for measuring qualitative distinctions between religious expression:
"The egocentrism test, which assesses the extent to which spiritual traditions, teachings, and practices free practitioners from gross and subtle forms of narcissism and self-centeredness; and the dissociation test, which evaluates the extent to which spiritual traditions, teachings, and practices foster the integrated blossoming of all dimensions of the person."
We see Rifkin dealing with this in his thread in the extension of empathy to wider circles, the reduction of narcissism and the embodiment of reason and spiritual values. But I would add to Ferrer's tests the socio-economic test, i.e., not only integrating the individual self via spirit-mind-emotion-body but how well the usually more significant influence of the lower right quadrant in the form of economic system is integrated and supported, without which the inner development and integration is unlikely. Rifkin is aware of this and it is truly and spiritually liberating to live in a more human economic system.
I have an interesting opportunity next week -- to guest teach in Jorge Ferrer's graduate seminar on comparative mysticism. The topic I've been asked to present on: Wilber, neo-perennialism, post-metaphysical spirituality, and the participatory critique. If you were to attend such a class, what would you like / want to see covered?