Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Generative (en)closures are like assholes -- everybody's got one.
These "magic bubbles" are ubiquitous and universal. Cells, selves & groups of all sorts are energetically engaged in establishing themselves as unique fields of relatively amplified coherence. These fields are partially set apart from their surroundings by a permeable membrane of physical acts, subjective impressions, communication systems and shared spirit.
Yet of all the myriad modes of generative (en)closure we find ourselves especially interested in the "sacred" versions of culture. That means we are primed toward events, spaces, objects and forms of practice-communities that are conventionally associated with religious traditions.
However we cannot take these traditions at face value. Why not? Because all they have meaning that meaningfulness is not the particular style associated with the rather loft "integralesque" and complicated vantage point from which these sorts of discussions may issue forth. What cans the notion of a "religious tradition" mean to us?
Knowing the incorrigible habits of integralites, we can predict that such traditions must appear, eventually as metaphorical zones of heightened cultural coherence which are experienced distinctly through the cognitive apparatus of each major developmental layer of human consciousness.
So let us take a quick peek:
Conventional popular terminology operates a set of associations which connect these linguistic acts with the mentality of orthodox/supra-tribal/believer-sects. For such people (within us) the production of religious bubbles is normalized into "traditions" which are based upon confessions of membership and the affirmation of standardized nation-like symbolism.
We immediately see that this is the orthodox meaning of famous "traditions" inherited predominantly from nationalistic, racial, sectarian city-state / agricultural-kingdom phases of history... including parts of the world still largely involved in this reality. So Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Shinto, Hinduism, etc. are a vision of generative (en)closures operating at this level and for this type of world.
Modern "enlightenment" mentality typically investigates the abstract mechanism-objects which may appear in the mind under various different names. This extra-cultural consciousness already seriously undermines the conventional assumption of religious bubbles as traditions. It supposes that every individual, regardless of their geographic and ethnocentric origin, is free to select from the big "menu" of normally presumed traditions. And we already begin to require those modifiers such as "seems like" and "almost" (which will become even more necessary at more complex layers) in order to fully clarify the experiential acts which are establishing generative (en)closures of the sacred-group type.
Pluralism begins by alternating between realities. It therefore revalues apparent alternatives, folds in the obvious examples of minimized or excluded "others", and quickly moves to begin appreciating the inter-contextual effects operating at the semantic boundaries between interpretations. It proliferates alternatives and meta-models while deconstructing its options into creative sub-components. Here we require quotation marks around the word "tradition" and expect that a variety of Christianities, Buddhisms, Islams, etc. are holding hands with an indefinitely unfolding mixture of neo-archaic, quasi-fictional or hyper-individualistic attempts to performatively enact a religious bubble. The general ambivalence toward the hegemonic idea of a "tradition" arises quite naturally when our consciousness begins to emphasize background ecosystemic networks and the surprising world of unseen ingredients.
Here the definition of a tradition can only be a kind of game-piece in co-creative exchange. Linguistic habits, divergent states of consciousness, the activation of "neurosomatic brain circuitry" and the rise of the relaxed/sensitized universalist ethos requires that: Traditions are "whatever" WE say they are.
Integrative approaches to religious bubbles must take over and newly explain the complementary validity of the previous phases. It is no longer good enough to imagine that traditions are anarchic mutual constructs any more than it is acceptable to pretend that popular group-designations represent monolithic "traditions" (or even easily comprehended sets of sub-traditions).
A twin task emerges here. We must enfold and validate the previous layers while also asserting a new coherent scaffolding of organic-functional & trans-structuralist "types" which form the REAL traditions.
Religion here must be a temporalized spectrum of transrational tantric wholism dependent upon synchronization, creative appropriation of apparent incommensurability, and and advanced dialectical sensibility.
We assume that different modules/lines of development probably form the basis for a categorization of types of religious bubbles -- enacted in all quadrants and perceived distinctly at each layer of socio-cognitive reality. These basic types are the valid "traditions" when viewed from this level but they must be held alongside the embrace of non-pathological junior levels as well as held open for any degree of pragmatic usage among people whose temperament or prior-level conditioning leaves them instinctively skewed toward inherited styles.
THE SLIDING SCALE
What do I mean by a "sliding scale" between alternatives? Consider the following two examples:
A cult of Medieval Buddhists practiced meditation in a very interesting fashion. They called upon a compassionate Buddha-of-Light by Name. He had once walked upon the historical earth but now lived in a heavenly afterworld. By getting right with this figure your soul could be reborn in this heaven. Here the grace of illumination is rapidly and easily attained.
Not only does this sound a lot like what we normally mean by "Christianity" it was also noted by Zen Master Hakuin that a profound, insight and hard-practicing Name-Praying Buddhist should be considered to be doing Zen.
The Christian monk named Eckhart prayed to the Virgin Mary in a special way. He made his mind still and empty like a virgin's womb so that an all-pervading and nameless wisdom-power would naturally flow in, impregnating him with a new self -- a "christ" who would feel, see and understand via the christ-mind. That sounds a lot like Zen Buddhism.
Very Buddhist Christianity. Very Christian Buddhism.
Our pluralist consciousness learns to situate people on a sliding scale of alternatives between these major blocs. But we must ask whether or not those blocs are sustainable? If these traditions are so various as to include each other in most practical ways then of what use are they as the reference-group at all? Why situate the sliding scale between them? Why not look for better grouping? Why not look as a zoologist would look -- and not a record-keeping of names would look.
DHARMA & PRACTICE
Nothing is lost when a post-traditionalist deconstructs and (except for pragmatic and respectful gestures) dispenses with the connection between religionized cultural sub-fields and received nominal religious typologies. Just as no magic is lost when we add a rational-technical understanding of the miracles of nature... although our pre-rational sentiments may contract uneasily in the face of such a shift... fearing to lose their bearings on what is most valuable.
So practices, which form the core (or, in some versions, the totality) of a religionized cultural sub-field, persist perfectly well without old-fashioned categorization. In fact they may themselves be the basis, when understood as perspectival and "developmental line" methods, of a superior classification system.
The dharma or logos is understood in traditional models as something like a fixed book of wisdom to be affirmed and ritually duplicated. At more complex levels we may view it as more akin to a bio-electronic conversation. A certain set of the potential algorithms of the universe correspond to the underlying maneuvres which are elaborated as the skills, probings and insights whose total pattern-attractor, including its potential for surprises, constitutes the spiritual and religious and "set". It can be engaged from within any local organismic, energetic or historical setting but, obviously, only in the degree to which those forms permit that generative conversation to occur. Initially some glimpses and experimental practices are more possible than others. Although as they produce depth, growth, coherence and divergence-convergence they tend to look more and more like the whole dharma. Given an unconstrained situation and indefinite time we can suppose that this fractal will eventually regenerate its basic attractor shape. However in contingent circumstances this only goes so far and therefore a great plethora of differences is apparent as the obvious fact.
RELIGIONIZED CULTURAL SUB-FIELDS
Spirituality is the work for personal coherence. Religion is the work for cultural coherence. It entangled, organizes and weds the various genres of social, biological and psychological collective activity in order to fulfill the intrinsically rewarding goal of production apotheotic "renaissance-like" degrees of surplus meaningful and aesthetically unique group empowerment. Because of its wholeness orientation (since we are looking at this phenomenon from a wholeness-level of understanding!) it is supposed to be a generic process working with the general background of civilization in any contemporary epoch. However in practice it appears first (and sometimes only) as sub-zones within the general condition of the culture -- and obviously we mean the total sapient culture of the planet and not the rather meager of local linguistic and thematic geographies.
So religionzed cultural sub-fields of intensified coherence, exhibiting the flavor of religiosity for the current civilization, arise by means of insightful and effortful compliance with whichever of the dharmic algorithms (practices!) can be instantiated effectively in its circumstance. These pools, insofar as they are operating with the same background civilization, are resonant with each other. They may therefore merge by "complement" or "progressive mutual approximation".
In addition to this striated vision of religious bubbles we must be aware that multiple types of bubbles may operate with largely overlapping sets of symbols and referents. This is because the actual activity of generative (en)closing, like that experience of a layer of consciousness, is anchored in the style of the context -- the holding -- and not exactly the content which is affirmed.
This is especially pertinent when it comes to social discussion. We have to make two critical distinctions: active vs. neutral (or even degenerative), sacred vs. topical.
1. The former implies that any communication (which reinforces a boundary by referencing it) might be vibrating with the freshness of new meaningfulness OR basically a mechanical reiteration. For example, the perpetuation of the signifier "Christ" may in one utterance operate to help continue the vitality of a particular religious bubble or it may be indifferent to such a function -- used without spirit in a manner whose effects are primarily (if not totally) inert relative to the establishment of the membrane around a field of cultural coherence.
The slogan "no one is neutral on a moving train" reminds us that non-progressive or non-resonant embodiments of zone-establishing signifiers quickly move from the status of placeholder to the status of underminer. Not carrying it forward frequently operates as if it were destructive. And yet it may use apparently the same symbols or rituals, etc.
2. Our second distinction requires that we tease apart the production of "talk bubbles" from "religious bubbles". Clearly there may be all kinds of overlap but it is not necessarily the case that a particular generative (en)closure is being established when it seems to be appearing in discussion and shared thinking. People frequently manipulate conversation TOPICS in order to discuss other topics which are urgent, titillating or nearby.
Just as any critical discussion of a thinker's positions may be quite valid while not actually pertaining to that person's ideas in any legitimate or comprehensive fashion, and just as the shadow of a celebrity can occupy a place in the politics of cyberspace which has little to do with their actual nature or positions (frequently unknown to the people discussing them) we can find this same pattern of "ghosts in the system" in the study of religious bubbles as well.
Therefore, at minimum, we need to make sure that we do not mistake the transactional economy of conversation -- whether populist, academic or apparently "devout" -- for the symbolic and cognitive processes which support the establishment of a generative (en)closure of the religious-group type. They may or may not be the same in any given instance. A great deal of hesitation is required in front of apparently obvious topics. Even those who appear supportive (and are therefore readily embraced and affirmed) may be supporting a phantom that simply bears an identical name in the discourse.
Hopefully this is all the beginning of a fruitful conversation...
Looks interesting, theurj -- thank you. I will bookmark it. I also just passed it on to my friend (and an infrequent visitor here), Mark Schmanko. He's taking a course with Timothy Morton right now and is working on a paper for the class on the insider/outsider phenomenon in religious studies.