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,




* 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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Stuff we've covered in the forum. Like your criticism of the Lingam's ontological monism. And his attachment to neo-perennial metaphysical principles like the strict dichotomy of causal-relative. And the metaphysics of presence inherent to his direct access to the Real via meditative states. And his superman program with hypercapitalist marketing as but yet another example of metaphysical thinking.

So is this at CIIS, the bastion of the MGM according to kennilingus? And how did you get this invite?

Yes, good points -- I will bring these things up.  The class is at CIIS, so definitely the real (and imagined) tensions between integral and participatory accounts will be a "live" topic.  Jorge contacted me a couple weeks ago because he is going on retreat that week and wanted to know if I could fill in.

If you haven't read it yet, this Ferrer article might also be useful context, "Participation, metaphysics and enlightenment: Reflections on Ken Wilber's recent work."

Great, thank you -- that looks familiar but I'm not positive I've read it, so I will look it over this weekend.  Last night, I read another recent article of Ferrer's critiquing Wilber's post-metaphysics.  It is an unedited proof, so I can't post it here, but it is Chapter 10 of this book (Google preview).

(I think the contrast it tries to draw between participatory and integral accounts is not that strong, since many of the elements that it names as distinguishing concepts in participatory thought are actually fairly significant in integral thought as well.  So, I may discuss that and try to zero in on what I think are more salient points of contention -- though I'm still more interested in constructive alliances than in inter-party critiques.)

One topic I want to raise is the limitation of Ferrer's writings to discussion of the co-creation of spiritual realities.  He doesn't, that I have seen, offer any reflection on the human role in the co-creation of 'other' realities or objects.  A participatory account is correlationist, to some extent, but a question I have is how far and in what ways Ferrer intends his participatory account to apply.  Is the co-creation of a spiritual reality, for instance, similar or different from my 'participatory' involvement with the coffee cup on my desk...

Excellent paper! The idea of the primacy of consciousness, panchychism, and that some spiritual entities co-exist with us is not inherently irrational, imo. And my experiences in life confirm these hypothesis. Mr Ferrer is correcting or highlighting some rather important misunderstandings in the integral model, imo.

The class went well.  We talked about several different perennial philosophical orientations -- basic, esotericist, perspectivist, typological, and structuralist -- and I related that to several common interreligious orientations (exclusivist, inclusivist, pluralist, etc.)  We then reviewed Robert Forman's perennialist approach, particularly his concept of the "pure consciousness event" and several related mystical experiences (which he calls Dualistic Mystical States and Unitive Mystical States).  I used one of Judith Blackstone's contemplative bodywork exercises to enact a sense of these states.  The second half of class was dedicated to reviewing Wilber's evolutionary-structuralist, and now evolutionary-enactive, models (perennialist and quasi- or post-perennialist), and to relate these to Ferrer's participatory approach.  While this was at CIIS, the students (contrary to reports about MGM anti-Wilberianism!) were mostly pretty open to the integral model, at least as I presented it.

So what were some of the comparisons with kennilingus and ferrerius?

And I'm not surprised that CIIS students aren't MGM, as the latter is a kennilingus straw-man projection.

One of the things I discussed is Ferrer's classification of Wilber's Integral as a kind of structuralist-evolutionary perennialism, including Ferrer's critique of the same.  Regarding the latter, he considers Wilber-5 to approach a participatory understanding, but he sees it as stopping short of it and being unnecessarily constrained by its embeddedness in a metaphysical involutionary account (which entails a pre-determined, "return trip" evolutionary trajectory from gross back to nondual).  I suggested there are post-metaphysical ways to view this (for instance, a la Levin) that can be quite coherent with the overall integral narrative (at least, using similar distinctions but understanding and holding them a bit differently than you usually hear).

Jorge Ferrer (2000) on the five types of perennial philosophy (which he lays out as a preface to his participatory critique of perennialist thought).

"1. Basic. The first and most simple form of perennialism, maintains that there is only one path and one goal for spiritual development. According to this model, spiritual paths and goals are everywhere the same, and descriptive differences either reflect an underlying similarity or are the result of the different languages, religious doctrines, and cultural backgrounds. The point here is, then, that although mysticism is phenomenologically the same, nonexperiential variables may affect its interpretation and description (e.g., Huxley, 1945; Smart, 1980).

2. Esotericist. The second form of perennialism while admitting many paths, holds that there is only one goal common to all spiritual traditions. As in the previous model, this goal, although universal, may have been differently interpreted and described according to the specific doctrines of the various mystical traditions. Although not exclusive to this school, this view is usually associated with traditionalists such as Schuon (1984a) or Smith (1976, 1989), who claim that the spiritual unity of humankind can be found only in the esoteric or mystical core of religious traditions and not in their exoteric or doctrinal forms. Echoing this esotericist tenet, Grof (1998) points out that: "Genuine religion is universal, all-inclusive, and all-encompassing. It has to transcend specific culture-bound archetypal images and focus on the ultimate source of all forms" (p. 24). The guiding root metaphors of this model are the images of different rivers reaching the same ocean, different pathways leading to the peak of the same mountain, or different cascades of water issuing from a single spring.

3. Perspectivist.  The third form of perennialism, although conceding the existence of both many paths and many goals in mysticism, conceives these goals as different perspectives, dimensions, or manifestations of the same Ground of Being or Ultimate Reality. Grof (1998, p. 26ff), for example, explains the diversity of spiritual ultimates (a personal God, an impersonal Brahman, sunyata, the Void, the Tao, Pure Consciousness, etc.) as different ways to experience the same supreme cosmic principle. The title of the essay, One Is the Spirit and Many Its Human Reflections, by Nasr (1993), is characteristic of this approach. This position can take a Kantian outlook, as in the case of Hick (1992), who suggests that conflicting spiritual knowledge claims and world views result from different historically shaped phenomenal awarenesses of the same noumenal reality.  The guiding root metaphorhere is the popular Sufi story of several blind men touching different parts of the same elephant, each insisting that their description accurately depicts the whole.

4. Typological. Closely related to universal perspeetivism is the postulation of a limited number of types of mysticism that run across the different traditions, e.g., Otto's (1932) outward and inward, Stace's (1960) extrovertive and introvertive, or Zaehner's (1970) nature, monistic, and theistic. This model is also perennialist insofar as these types of mysticism are claimed to be independent of time, place, culture, and religion. Typological universalism generally takesa perspectivist stance and affirms that the different types of mysticism are diverse expressions or manifestations of a single kind of spiritual experience or ultimate reality.

5. Structuralist. This model understands the many mystical paths and goals as contextual manifestations (surface structures) of underlying universal patterns (deep structures) that ultimately constitute one path and one goal paradigmatic for all spiritual traditions. Already implicit in Jung's distinction between noumenal and phenomenal archetypes, and in Eliade's studies on myth, a two-level structuralist accountof universal religion and mysticism was first explicitly proposed by Anthony and Robbins (Anthony, 1982; Anthony & Robbins, 1975). The structuralist approach to perennialism took a developmental and evolutionary turn in transpersonal studies in the hands of Wilber. According to Wilber (1984, 1995, 1996, 1997), although historical and cultural factors determine the surface manifestations of spiritual forms, human spirituality is ultimately universal, as constituted by an evolutionary hierarchy of invariant deep structures or levels of spiritual insight: psychic, subtle, causal,and nondual.  A metaphor used by Wilber to depict this model is a ladder whose rungs correspond to the different spiritual levels."

I have a question for anyone familiar (at least somewhat) with Ferrer's participatory model.  As you know, he argues that the spiritual worlds and ultimates of different religious traditions are ontologically real and co-created or enacted (i.e., Brahman is real, not just as an interpretation or idea, but as a participatorily emergent, ontologically 'thick' spiritual reality or ultimate).  He argues that spiritual participation is between human beings and an open, creative, non-determined Mystery or spiritual power, and he criticizes interreligious models which posit a single, pregiven noumenal reality 'behind' the appearances of different religious experiences and beings.  With this in mind, please read the following two quotes from The Participatory Turn.

1:  "Would not accepting [the] cocreated nature [of Yaveh, Brahman, dakinis, angels, etc] undermine not only the claims of most traditions, but also the very ontological autonomy and integrity of the mystery itself?  Response:  Given the rich variety of incompatible spiritual ultimates and the aporias involved in any conciliatory strategy -- whether essentialist, perspectivist, or structuralist -- I submit that it is only by promoting the role of human constructive powers to the very heart and summit of each spiritual universe that we can preserve the ultimate unity of the mystery -- otherwise we would be facing the arguably equally unsatisfactory alternative of having to either reduce spiritual universes to fabrications of the human imagination or posit an indefinite number of isolated spiritual universes or monads.  By conceiving spiritual universes *and* ultimates as the upshot of a process of participatory cocreation between human multidimensional cognition and an undetermined spiritual power, however, we rescue the ultimate unity of the mystery while simultaneously affirming its ontological richness and overcoming the reductionisms of cultural-linguistic, psychological, and/or biologically naturalistic explanations of religion."  (Ferrer, TPT, p. 145)

2:  "After the participatory turn, however, these interreligious rankings [as found in and among Abrahamic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions] can be recognized as parasitic upon the Cartesian-Kantian assumption of a universal and pregiven spiritual ultimate relative to which such judgments can be made.  To put it another way, these interreligious judgments are intelligible *only* if we first presuppose the existence of a single noumenal or pregiven reality behind the multifarious spiritual experiences and doctrines.  Whenever we drop this assumption, however, the very idea of ranking traditions according to a paradigmatic standpoint becomes both fallacious and superfluous.  I am not suggesting that spiritual insights and traditions are incommensurable, but merely that it may be seriously misguided to grade them according to any preestablished spiritual hierarchy or traditional religious insight." (Ferrer, TPT, p. 148)

My question is simple.  It seems from the above that, in framing the participatory model (of religious worlds and ultimates) in terms of human co-creative participation with an undetermined spiritual power, Ferrer doesn't really get away from the (perennialist and neo-Kantian) models he criticizes which posit a single pregiven reality underlying religious diversity.  The structure of his model appears to be the same.  Yes, human spiritual worlds are likely granted more ontological 'weight' and validity in this model than you might find in a model which understands spiritual realms and beings as purely conceptual, as products of the imagination; and, yes, this model appears more egalitarian than some others, which tend to privilege one tradition or revelation above all or most others.  But in basic structure, with his interest to preserve the unity of the Mystery, it still seems Ferrer is positing a single underlying spiritual reality that 'explains' and 'sources' all of the spiritual forms and possibilities of the various world religions.  In other words, he doesn't really move that far from the perennialist models he critiques, since he is also still positing a single, pregiven spiritual reality 'behind' all the known religious worlds.  The difference, rather, is that he insists that this spiritual reality is not pre-*formatted*, not 'already shaped' according to any of the religious descriptions we recognize.  It is a mysterious, open, 'pure creativity,' not beholden to any tradition, but responsive to practitioners from all traditions (or none).  In a sense, in a participatory approach, this 'nondetermined spiritual power' is the real ultimate, and the 'ultimates' of various religious traditions are co-creative responses of this spiritual power to human inquiry and engagement.

Does this seem like a fair analysis?  Am I missing something?

You know him now, having subbed for one of his classes. Why not go to the horse's mouth? And then let us know here? I got this info from the CIIS directory:

Jorge Ferrer

Department Chair; Core Faculty
East West Psychology
(415) 575-6262

Yes, I was thinking about writing to him -- or, more likely, sending the paper I'm working on to him once I finish it. 

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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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