Ferrer's "The Plurality of Religions and the Spirit of Pluralism"

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.

 

Best wishes,

 

B.

 

* 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.

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Hi Balder

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. As a critique of Ferrer´s definition of subtle narcissim, I am thinking about the work of Ken wilber in the early 80ies. He elaborated on the self-psychology model of narcissism of Heinz Kohut to tell that the higher the level of consciouness reached the lesser the amount of narcissism left. Now, the subtle narcissim definition of Ferrer sounds a bit like the old terms spiritual materialism of Trungpa och the ultime knot of self-contraction of Adi Da in a sense.

What also strikes me in this papper, is the abscence of any empirical findings, neither any attempt to develop a methodology to do sober research on what he says; it is published in a journal of transpersonal psychology, very amazing. I don´t see any convinvicing theoretical correlations between the spiritual systems he is presenting, and there is a bizarre scientific conflation concerning claims of valididy in verification procedures of spiritual experiences in meditators. In other words, a Satori is not only a claim of superiority based on tradition, nor a cultural construction s but it is a spiritual fact and should be treated as such. Trying to avoid hierachy thinking based on years of meditative or praying experiences just for the sake of fairnness and equality between various systems can be deceiving. I still don´t now the true value of whirling of a turkish dervisch compared to hours of zazen of a zen monk during a seshin in terms of spiritual growth and comparison of spiritual experiences? Or how is the true value of a tridentine mess rite of traditional roman catholic church (told in latin) compared to the modern version of Paul VI after Vatican II? Traditionalists in Roman catholic church claim that their version has a higher dignity because it better preserves the mystery of eucharisty and transsubstantiation than the modern version. There is no way to see any "scientific" quality difference here. So even within the christian church, we have a split or pluralism of faiths which contradict the Ferrer assumption of a so called homogeneity of perceived faith for christians as superior to other faiths. So how claiming superiority to other faiths when you are already splitted within your own system?
His conclusion is more like apologetics of his notion of a participation. I still don´t get what he means by participatory, it i very unclear to me.

regards






Do you?

This sort of constructive form of "neo-positivism" would be not bad to use sometimes for doing sober reseach instead of using the too predictable postmodern speculative jargon.
Hi, Xibalba,

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.

Best wishes,

B.
Hi Balder

I am still reading some debates on this site, They are generally of good quality. I was just busy with so much research and teaching work.

Since the appartion of Ferrer´s book "revisioning transpersonal pychology", mny things have turned to the better, I can see he gained in "professional maturity" (this is not derogatory thou). The tone in the second book is much humbler tha his original critiques, particularly the first book and his adolescent like bashing of theearly pionniers Maslow and Grof I didn´t appreciate at all.

The notions of emic and etic differences were at the core of his critiques of the so called empiricist frame of Grof´s work ( a type of neocartesian worldview). But that´s harldy new, the source comes from in the field ethnography and its emphasis on methodologies like participation observation in order to get to the menaings of a rite, ect.. KW is explicit on this with his distinction between LLQ (emic methodologies like those of Clifford Geertz or Bourdieu) and LRQ (the etic and Nilkas Luhmann´s system theory as an example). So in this sense both areas are needed and I don´t see any so called innovation in that. But there are intersting analyses in the new book too.

can you elaborate on your post-post modern a la Varela?
I doubt Varela was at a level a KW would define as post-post modern in epistemological terms. Varela was primarily a biologist with the limited horizon due to that discipline.

Regards
My question going in to the article is this: What exactly is spirituality as he defines it, a variation on the magazine's question "what is enlightenment?" A few clues:

"human spirituality has been characterized by an overriding impulse toward a liberation of consciousness" (143).

"...constituted by the undetermined dimension of the mystery or generative power of life" (146).

I saw numerous references to the "generative power of life" as a foundation for spirituality, this wonder at the mystery of creation. Not surprisingly, creation myths are at the heart of religion and spirituality, if we can only contact origin we will be in touch with God, the universe or everything. Ever Gebser fell prey to this spell in the Ever Present Origin. I suggest that "liberation of consciousness" might involve letting go of such an origin, and choose as my option of Ferrer's 4 possible future expressions those in the postmo secular variety, but don't qualify them as "spiritual," but rather nondual. From that perspective spirituality is still participating (talk about participatory) in the dualism that separates spirituality from embodied life, even if it is of a more subtle variety. Understanding more about the generative power of human sexuality is liberating too, especially if you take out the cosmological overlay and understand it as a nondual interaction between poles.
Here’s more from the article:

“It is important to sharply distinguish between the modern hyper-individualistic mental ego and the participatory selfhood forged in the sacred fire of spiritual individuation. Whereas the disembodied
modern self is plagued by alienation, dissociation, and narcissism, a spiritually individuated person has an
embodied, integrated, connected, and permeable identity whose high degree of differentiation, far from being isolating, actually allows him or her to enter into a deeply conscious communion with others, nature, and the multidimensional cosmos.

“In this scenario, it will no longer be a contested issue whether practitioners endorse a theistic, nondual,
or naturalistic account of the mystery, or whether their chosen path of spiritual cultivation is meditation,
social engagement, conscious parenting, entheogenic shamanism, or communion with nature.9 The new
spiritual bottom line, in contrast, will be the degree into which each spiritual path fosters both an overcoming of self-centeredness and a fully embodied integration that make us not only more sensitive to the needs of others, nature, and the world, but also more effective cultural and planetary transformative agents in whatever contexts and measure life or spirit calls us to be” (146).

I agree that we must move beyond the dysfunctional, disembodied rational ego into an ego that is integrated with its prior state-stages (I don’t separate them into the state or stages dichotomy), both phylo- and ontogenetically. And that one form of this might express as a postformal, postmetaphysical, naturalistic and nondual secular humanism whose “spiritual” practice might be, for example, social engagement with no meditation or contemplative practice whatsoever. Ferrer allows for this kind of “atheistic” expression as long as it overcomes self-centeredness and lends itself to being a “more effective cultural or planetary transformative agent.” At least he doesn’t trash this as some form of materialist reductionism or lower-level meme. Good for him and good for the rest of us non-religious types.
Hi balder

may I ask you a question?

how do you look at the colinear or co-nonlinear relationship between orders of complexity and orders of pluralism ?
I just sense there is something of a hidden domination discourse in Ferrer´s writings in his critique of Wilber, particularly his partial review of KW´s epistemological pluralism which is not only a cognito-centic power trip to me.
iOW, you can - epistemologically speaking- willing to know by being centered in the heart, in an emotionally affective way in a developmental perspective.

regards




Balder said:
Hi, Xibalba,

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.

Best wishes,

B.
Hi, Xibalba,

I think I would agree regarding Varela's epistemology -- I think his enactive, neurophenomenological theory opens the way forward for a viable post-postmodern approach (integrating pre-modern, modern, and postmodern views and disciplines), but that his particular focus was too narrow to be considered fully "integral." His enactive epistemology informs Wilber's notion of AQAL "tetra-enaction," which is why I generally refer to it (in shorthand) as a foundational element of a post-postmodern approach.

Regarding the relationship between orders of complexity and orders of pluralism, I think that is a good point; I believe there probably is a correlation between them, and that some forms of pluralism are likely more informed by an appreciation for nonlinear complexity than others -- doesn't Morin address that, to some degree, in his essay in Ferrer's book? -- but with your background in psychometrics, I believe you would be able to say more about this than I can. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

I'm not sure I fully understand your second point, but I agree that Ferrer's critique seems rather unfair to Wilber's approach in several ways. For instance, I don't think Wilber's primary orientation is for all traditions to be integrated into a single mega-religion, as Ferrer intimates; I think, while Wilber is involved in articulating a particular spiritual path (Integral spirituality via ILP and IMP), he also envisions IMP being used uniquely by various traditions to arrive at "indigenous" integral versions of their traditions. In a recent paper, I argued that these two orientations can / should be better differentiated in Integral discourse, but I do think both orientations are already present in his work. But, in any event, you are focusing on a different point. Can you say more about that? Are you saying that a developmental, epistemological-pluralist approach is not only cognicentric, but can be heart-centered as well?

Best wishes,

B.
Hi Balder

yes I think there is a close relationship between these two orders.
I can recall for that the work of Deidre Kramer on world views and the conclusions she drew on a difference between the "deconstruction" post-modern like dynamic relativism or contextualism interpretation of pluralism (a kind of early vision-logic in wilberian terms) versus dynamic dialectial interpretation of pluralism (or late vision-logic if we ought to se such old terms), or a more "constructive" form of post-modernism.

On the second point: an epistemological approach would use a re-actualized or more advanced form of object relations building including higher stages of development. This would draw on the past works of psychoanalysts like Fairbain, Guntrip and Jacobsson to include orders of complexity related to new objects relations beyond post existential levels, on the affect and the spiritual lines (using KW model of course), This would be a good complement to the cognitive line. We thus put more emphasis on research on Guru Yoga, the ancient devotional tradition which is according to that tradition the highest form og Yoga, a heart felt relationship to the divine mystery through a close relationship to an accomplished "yoga master". In this sense, it is deeply participatory at human relation level because it can describe accuraltely how the introjection process of exterior relationships is looking like in the everyday life and how the corresponding structures building in interiority spaces of the individual are taking permanently roots ät the 2nd and 3nd tier levels of these developmental lines.
Hi, X, yes, I think that is a promising approach. I've been attracted to some of Mark Epstein's work in this area (conceptualizing transpersonal / higher contemplative development in neo-Freudian, object-relational terms). I also understand Harvey Aronson has specifically analyzed guru yoga from object relations and self psychology perspectives, but I haven't been able to locate a copy of the paper. Epstein focuses more on the potential of mindfulness to promote "the integrity of a more highly complex psyche," and to use the ego to observe its own manifestations and institute developmental change within the ego system beyond conventionally recognized configurations. But I agree with you that a practice such as guru yoga, seen possibly in self psychological terms, could also be a powerful developmental catalyst, and partakes, as you say, of a participatory sensibility that is consonant with Ferrer's and Wilber's enactive emphases.

Came across this today -- a brief online article by Ferrer, "Beyond Spiritual Narcissism," from Tikkun magazine -- (although the link has been somewhat finicky today) --

http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/winter2011ferrer

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?

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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