In broad outline (I may need to add a few more points), an Integral approach to Religious Studies is ...

1) Meta-paradigmatically encompassing of at least eight broad zones of inquiry, each of which might contain multiple theoretical and disciplinary approaches to the field of religion: mystical/phenomenological, structural/psychological (Folwer's stages of faith, psychology of religion), hermeneutic/anthropological (Gadamer/Geertz), autopoietic/neurophysiological (neurotheology, neurophenomenology, etc), social autopoietic/systemic (social autopoiesis of religion, evolutionary theories of religion, etc).  In the spirit of IMP, however, hybrid orientations are also facilitated, such as Heidegger's or Levin's spiritual hermeneutic phenomenology, or Varela's neurophenomenology (named above).

2) Inclusive of the gifts of premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches to religious praxis and scholarship.

3) Conversant in, and capable of navigating within, metaphysical and postmetaphysical frameworks or modes of discourse.

4) Capable of fostering a coherent, integral-pluralistic approach to the challenge of religious diversity -- neither promoting a hegemonic inclusivism nor sliding into a depthless relativism.

5) Validating of emic as well as etic religious orientations and methodologies -- facilitated, perhaps, by the adoption of an enactive, processual, and/or participatory "view" or epistemology, which allows for the co-creative emergence of multiple religious worldspaces, forms of spiritual knowledge/experience, and soteriological horizons.

6) Broadly concerned with personal, cultural, and sociological dimensions of religious belief and practice -- no longer confining the "spiritual" to the (necessarily) private interior of the (isolated) modern rational ego.

7) Reinvigorating of the old archetype of the scholar-practitioner -- dissolving the hard-and-fast boundary, which has developed in recent years (esp. in academia), between the (critical) religious scholar and the (supposedly critically compromised) religious practitioner or theologian.  Critical engagement can be fostered and facilitated, not compromised, by serious contemplative engagement or religious praxis.

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I posted about this in the forum status bar already, but this is a better place for the announcement:  The new JITP issue on Integral Religious Studies is out.

Oky, Balder,

I read your descriptions of the 8 IMP zones relative to Religion.  Then I tried to mingle that with my own concerns about distinguishing "religion-as-organic-cultural-surplus-harmony" from "official pseudo-religion" AND my concerns about the unconscious/conscious split in all domains AND my concerns about the pathology/health dynamic in all domains.  So that left me with this:


32 Facets:

A Preliminary Pass at an Integral Methodological Pluralist Approach to Organic Religion


Don't get your hopes up!  I don't stand behind these results yet.  I can see all kinds of gaping holes and entries which do not satisfy me... but if I don't post what I just dashed off it might sit around forever in Google Docs and not prompt me to think any deeper on this matter.  So here is the conscious & unconscious & pathological & healthy "openings" for each interior and exterior forms of each of the four quadrants relative to natural religiosity.  It might give us some interesting parameters or stimulations...

  1. Zone 1 - The Private Conscious Experience of the Religious Subject - I suffer my contraction and separation at various levels -- and I long for the unity in which I am relieved or exalted beyond this field of limitations.  Yet I also intuit that an ultimate condition may exist in which my current state is already resolved into an implicit realization.  I recall the trace of peak experiences and wish for some dynamic affinity in which creative life tasks and a social movement of some kind, some stage, would help me to organize the burden of my existential situation and my religious instincts.  So I prayer and meditate.  I adore many significances.  I acquire insights, understandings, tactics for “religiously” approaching the world with my feeling-attention.  I try to gain insight into my sinful or ignorant patterns.  Always I re-discover the persuasive encounter with virtues in their essential “frequency-energy-quality’ forms.  I sometimes encounter eternal verities (positive intensities of Reason which limit and exceed the options of my thinking).  My immediate self-sense enters into my religious awareness either as a demonic illusion or as the seed of my promised being-ness.  There is a distant “hum” of the sacred in my ears.
  2. Zone 1 - The Private Unconscious Experience of the Religious Subject - I do not exactly know why I am drawn to certain religious fascinations and compulsions.  The images and energies of early childhood, pre-natal echoes and the haunting structures of the ancestral mind allure me in various forms which I seldom recognize.  I am too willing or too unwilling to surrender to authorities.  My own desire comes back “at me” from cultic objects and “magic gift-giving” sources who, despite what I fancy myself to believe, agitate my behaviour.  I am fetishistic.   
  3. Zone 1 - The Healthy Subjectivity of the Religious Individual - I am faith-full.  I have a visceral trust in my life and reality which my religious encounters and context empower -- a trust strong enough that I am resilient in the face of setbacks, energized in my attempts & willing to risk uncertainty and incoherence because of the foundational reliableness of faith;  I take a self-evident pleasure in the immanent spirit of the religion reflected into social and natural settings; unhurried anticipation of deeper merger with the surplus bio-cultural energy; plentiful peak experiences; attentiveness and openness to the sacred; sense of Being, presence;
  4. Zone 1 - The Unhealthy Subjectivity of the Religious Individual-  I believe in “belief” and cling to mine.  My religious feelings gravitate toward the religions of other times, places and peoples.  I feel my religiosity could become “pure” but is opposed on all sides by the corrupt and misguided direction of current cultural progress and from many of the creative, pleasurable energies of life.., feeling of having one’s religiosity jeopardized by the energies of life; fixation of identification on symbols of religion; inability to separate religion from inherited religious categories; belief in prioritization of Origins; I believe in a primal Nothing or an additional universe; regressive tendencies and low energy appear in the form of stage-manifestation below my average; I approximate primitivism.  Example: the sinner, the shameful false priest.
  5. Zone 2 - The Inner Structures Surrounding the Conscious Religious Subject - She or he is drawn to religious forms which express certain stage-like structures of subjective values; different levels of simplexity (stages of faith, etc.).  Religion makes available to me cosmological and ontological visions in which I enhance my “universe” through clarification of my world-picture; it offers me encounters with forms that reflect the structure of my psychology back to me;
  6. Zone 2 - The Inner Structures Surrounding the Unconscious Religious Subject - S/HE is unknowingly identified with interests that are concealed by his or her conscious values.  Ranging from simple belonging desires to Freud’s oedipal believer in an illusion to Jung’s seeker-after-individuation or Reich’s consciousness rejecting the vital strength of emotional surrender.
  7. Zone 2 - The Inner Structures Surrounding the Healthy Religious Subject - S/HE experiences fidelity to an Event (badiou);  I am not actively opposed to zones of hir own energy.  Experiences intellect, emotion and sensation-perception in relative harmony per the appropriate level of complexity.  Examples: the tantric yogi, the true devotee, the Good European, the.  Strong ability to contemplate the Sacred and employ it to arrange other subjective content.  
  8. Zone 2 - The Inner Structures Surrounding the Pathological Religious Subject - S/HE uses religious to self-enclose; isolationist, death-seeking, tautological ignorance;  the appearance of self-serving hypocrisy and deception veils self-destructive and culturally destructive tendencies.  Examples: the Mohammedan Suicide Bomber, the masochistic flagellator,
  9. Zone 3 - The Conscious Experience of Religious Sharing - We love something, we are or are not “religious”; we can’t get enough of a certain approach to cultural surplus; we share a series of pathways to ecstasy
  10. Zone 3 - The Unconscious Experience of Religious Sharing - WE are really attracted by that Swastika or Cross.  We stimulate each other productively while we are having religious interactions.  We use religious devices (such as confession) to turn each other toward the epistemic assumptions of our age.
  11. Zone 3 - The Healthy Experience of Religious Sharing - WE team-feeling, conspiracy, loving mutuality, cheerful rational unspoken cynicism; feeling that “We are an Valid Interpretative Framework”; psychoanalytic health procedures such as confession; futurism feelings; expanding sense of shared strength, meaning and adherence to truth; rejoicing, commiserating, tasking each other, inspiring each other, loving, listening
  12. Zone 3 - The Pathological Experience of Religious Sharing - WE feeling that we are the endangered singular truth framework which must protect and enforce itself in any form of any debate; we are menaced by heretic, infidels, witches, etc.  It is intolerable to allow dissent to stand; procedures such as confession used for nefarious purposes
  13. Zone 4 - The Appearance of Religious Teams -  THEY agree on a certain set of protocols and claims; THEY have a certain platform of values
  14. Zone 4 - The Hidden Structures in which Religious Teams are Embedded - THEY Foucault’s Episteme; Heidegger’s Metaphysics; the system of symbols and implications which structure the shared field; They project onto common symbols; they produce a instance of the Lord and the Dharma ; They have certain enacted interests which they value ambiguously;
  15. Zone 4 - Healthy Activity of Religious Teams - THEY strong collective intelligence collating and enaction protocols appropriate to the current knowledge on this topic; pragmatic ethics; organic expansionism; valorization of the wise and creative; participation-based; they are empowered by a post-conventional integration of the reason and trans-reason of their day; their deities and legends resemble them; They form good relationships through their religious interactions; establishing functional roles; picking up people mystics, artists, politicians, philosophers and orchestrating their curiosities and drives into the cohesive whole of the religion.
  16. Zone 4 - Pathological Activity of Religious Teams - distinct pattern of perversity common the institutions and church; the ‘hazing’ and ‘hurting’ patterns; low level collective intelligence protocols; mobs, oligarchs & authoritarians; they form self-suppressive or destabilizing relationships through their religious affiliation; avoidance of relationship; membership-based; their deities and legends resemble someone else or no one at all;
  17. Zone 5 - Looking AS the Conscious Religious Intelligence Matrix (my neuro-organism as far as its concerned, “it sees...” ) - This self-excited, self-enclosed, self-sustaining, environmentally engaging cognition and communication system is “me”.  i tell informative stories; religion helps me meet my real world survival needs and thrival pleasures;
  18. Zone 5 - Looking AS the Unconscious Intelligence Matrix- I am the hidden organizing power of a World of Perception; I am the Logos in this sense; Or perhaps I am the Gnostic Demiurge whose power must be thwarted; I don't know how I am choosing to generate my autopoetic enclosure so the arising field of my experience seems to emerge from a mystery (unconscious) form of myself which I dimly intuit as a "higher" version of me.  The holy guardian angel.  
  19. Zone 5 - Looking AS the Healthy Religious Intelligence Matrix - I feel good; I feel I am working.. This energy pattern is flowing well.  I am stable and self-creating;  There is a consistent flavor to my neurological field of self-experience, a "tao" or "christ" or "buddha" as a successful style indicating that the organizational work is succeeding.  I see the Face of God in my total field.
  20. Zone 5 - Looking AS the Pathological Religious Intelligence Matrix - I am rejecting data, refusing parts of my self-generative experience, unstable, haunted by irruptions and breakthroughs; i misinterpret my psychosis and schizophrenic reality distortions as religious evidence; i take no joy in my autopoesis; i am desperate for physical-information maintainence and so I manipulate religion into a quest for immortality/
  21. Zone 6 - Looking AT the Conscious Religious Neuro-Organism - Religion appears to be a function of this person's body-brain organism.  It is an expression of built in instincts (god-shaped holes) or particular circuity (a la Leary's model).  Neuro-theology.
  22. Zone 6 - Looking AT the Unconscious Religious Neuro-Organism - S/HE is the hidden neuro-biological electro-chemical, sub-atomic, informational and energetic structure which operates this body and brain; i am attracted to the possibility of empowering, indulging and possibly alchemically mutating this body; the demise of the organism lingers; the pre-natal echoes live on as ‘spirits’; i can indulge my body in religious enterprises
  23. Zone 6 - Looking AT the Healthy Religious Neuro-Organism - That body brain is functioning well; My reality is being enactively organized well; hemispheric synchronization; pre-frontal cortext stimulation and training; skillful use of entheogenic drugs; exercise, love, nutrition, work encouraged;  
  24. Zone 6 - Looking AT the Pathological Religious Neuro-Organism - That body is not functioning well; I am not breathing properly, firing properly, chemically imbalanced; my rejection of the limitation of my knowledge-structure makes me crave re-stabilizing stories; avoidance of functional extension; hind-brain stimulation; addiction patterns reinforced; organ problems; chi-blocks; “softening” due to over-reliance on entheogenic drugs; dullness from repetitve procedures (“prayer head”); apotosis psychosis
  25. Zone 7 - Looking AS the Conscious Level of the Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its own inside systems)  - THESE conditions are ripe or unripe.  There is a strong fit!  The prophecy is true!
  26. Zone 7 - Looking AS the Unconscious Level of the Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its own inside systems) - THESE revolutionary paradigm shifting events will keep the system running smoothly, unchecked, This “book” is my individual key (protestant);
  27. Zone 7 - Looking AS the Healthy Form of the Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its own inside systems) - THESE    . These translated Bibles are personally empowering.  Our aesthetic is being recorded, inscribed, arranging the structures of the world.  We are making beautiful and strange things.
  28. Zone 7 - The Pathological Insides of a Religion - THESE situations are too overwhelming; we might as well give up.  These translated Bibles cause me to fixated on the “beliefs” and break away from culture and aesthetics into ingrown factions.
  29. Zone 8 - Looking AT the Conscious Level of Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its “environmental” interactions with other systems) - THOSE societies are helping or hindering the production of religious networks through the presence or absence of stress, resources, opportunities, etc.  That pageantry.  Those churches and holy sites.  Those costumes.  Trying to sway elections with a call to spiritual values;
  30. Zone 8 - Looking AT the Unconscious Level of the Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its “environmental” interactions with other systems)  - THOSE Ideology - “Spiritual but Not Religious” as adjunct to Global Capital; the material foundations of the religious styles of each age; the pressure for planetary faith; attempts by the Catholic Church to exterminate itself through book bans, doubling down on anti-homosexuality, Examples:
  31. Zone 8 - Looking AT the Healthy Form of the Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its “environmental” interactions with other systems)  - THOSE information, democracy, self-critique; post-pluralism; assimilation, apotheosis and self-unveiling of dominant media; nihilism as unhook predecing new system.  BLESSINGS.   Examples: the emergence of science and modernity in European Christendom; the Pax Romana emerging from the Roman Imperium.
  32. Zone 8 - Looking AT the Pathological Form of the Religion’s Social Exteriors (in terms of its “environmental” interactions with other systems)  - THOSE disfunctional techne; loss of contemplative power through electronic reality; a few interests are sequestering an exaggerated share of the system resources, breaking the “machine” of bio-culture.  Examples: interfaith massacres, knowledge bans, support for the fascist family structure

Very interesting, Layman.  Yes, I like these extensions and think something like this is necessary.  I will respond to your particular points in detail later. An additional facet or dimension you could bring in more explicitly might be the developmental one*.  In my post right before yours today, I mentioned the new issue of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, which features a lead article by Dustin DiPerna.  I do not have a copy of that article, and have not read it yet, but I expect he is carrying forward ideas he has presented earlier (on developmental religious studies).  Here is a sample from his older work.  Bringing in this basic 5-stage developmental model and interfacing it with your facets above would yield 160 facets altogether.

* There are some caveats to be made about taking a developmental approach to religion -- some of the traditional or common rankings are a bit suspect and apparently largely ideologically motivated, and others may be too simplistically linear -- but I still think this is an important dimension we need to consider and include.  One developmental model we've discussed here recently that both Theurj and I like is offered by David Michael Levin (discussed in this thread, among other places).

My copy of the JITP issue on Integral Religious Studies arrived yesterday.  I have started on DiPerna's article and will report on it later.  I also just read an essay by Amod Lele, which is reminiscent to me of the kinds of arguments kelamuni used to make here regarding "mystical empiricism," what he considered the fallacious or problematic rhetorical dichotomy of "talking school" vs. "practicing school," etc.  Lele argues that by focusing on enaction and injunction and "replicable spiritual experience," Wilber does not, and cannot, include the "essentials of the premodern traditions" in his Integral model, since current leading historical scholarship (Sharf, Halbfass) demonstrates that "replicable spiritual experiences or phenomenal states" were almost never central concerns or points of orientation for most traditions (or even for their central "masters" or exemplars).


There's a lot to discuss here, and I'd like to come back to some of his points later.  An important implication of his critique, which I've touched on elsewhere, is that Integral may participate to a degree in a problematic essentialization of religion: seeing all religions as involving, at their authentic core, a contemplative, injunctive, experientially oriented practice.  This assumption is found in the argument that, by taking a mystical injunctive approach, we can include the essentials (and trim away the metaphysical non-essentials) of all authentic premodern religious traditions.  Lele suggests that an Integral approach might indeed still be able to include the essentials of premodern traditions, if it wanted to, but it would need to do so differently for each tradition:  how one might include the "essentials" of Confucianism would likely be quite different from how one includes essentials from Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, and Shinto.  The mystical-injunctive approach is not sufficient -- if one is really interested in including premodern "essentials."


Of course, Integral could take another tack as well: it could more consciously adopt a polemic, mystical-normative approach towards religion.  "Mystical experience may not have played a significant role in past religions, even among so-called transformative or contemplative streams of these traditions, but it should have, and this is why...."

I've in fact made a postmeta case for including the mystical experience (states thread) but de-mystifying it, so to speak. And not making it the central focus of an overall integral practice but rather focusing on those aspects that lead to social activism and justice. The latter is what I appreciate most about religions, how they help the downtrodden. Granted a 'unitive' (or as I prefer, 'integrative') state experience moves us to compassion and service, but as I've said before such states themselves are integrated by stages and the integral stage is what postmetaphysically contextualizes the state(s). Nothing new to that, standard kennilingus, except that I translate the state(s) differently, again de-mystifying them and giving it/them less importance. Which of course is a different integral stage interpretation of what integral means.

Dear Sirs,

I'd like to speak up in favor of problematic essentialization of religion.  That is to say, part of Integral's mandate is to investigate & include, but equally it is a social movement and emerging religious sensibility of its own that must, to some degree, invent the essences of other traditions in a manner consonant with what we are trying to produce.  A tight-rope is being walked and complaints that a certain degree of over-generalization, or a certain non-resonance with the concerns and evaluations of historical practices must be expected in this process.  Not that we shouldn't dig deeper but some complains must be contextualized with this understanding that integral is not an academic think tank whose sole goal is to accurately depict what other people thought they were doing...

However (and as theurj gets to) religious injunctions are not solely or even primarily oriented toward mystical states.  I think Wilber uses the term "contemplative traditions" quite purposefully to distinguish those religious streams which emphasize contemplative injunctions but he doesn't assert that this is the primary characteristic of religion.  His overall approach (where he is not, as in the SES notes, anticipating the arising of new planetary religion) is to treat religions as potential machines for stage-development in a context of maximizing the greatest depth of experience for the greatest span of people.  So that's a much more strongly world-interceding view which, it could be argued, mobilizes meditative injunctions as adjuncts to the improvement of human conditions through the enrich of human psyches.  

Yours truly,

Piffle Flamperdeen

Honorable Mr. Flamperdeen,

I concur.  Do you concur?

In the past, I've discussed several different, concurrent streams of "integral thinking" or "integral cultural movement" vis a vis religion and spirituality.  On the one hand, Integral tries to map extant traditions, situating them in various locales of AQAL space.  This is Integral in its psycho-historical-objective mode.  In this role, at least to the extent that Integral discourse emphasizes Integral as a "comprehensive map" which allows you to view how various traditions are actually related to each other (in perspectival, developmental, typological, and line- and state-specific ways), Integral would do well to get its history, and its socio-cultural-historical representations, right, if it wants to maintain its credibility as a universal (and relatively neutral or 'contentless,' as Wilber puts it) mapping system.  Relating this to religion, Integral in this role can potentially underlabor, philosophically and psychometrically and otherwise, for multiple traditions.  This, at least, is what some folks have been trying to get "Integral" to do and be, including Wilber in some of his writings. 

But on the other hand (and there may be as many hands here as Chenrezig's), Integral has always had specific (normative) spiritual commitments, and in more recent years is clearly emerging as a spiritual visionary, practice path unto itself*.  In this role, the emphasis here is on enacting new spiritual vision, setting integral norms, articulating soteriological horizons, etc, and this could certainly involve "inventing essences of religion consonant with what we are trying to produce," and "mobilizing meditative injunctions as adjuncts to the improvement of human conditions." 

In my opinion, these different "integrals" haven't been clearly differentiated and this can work to Integral's disadvantage socially, at least to the extent that it is striving for academic credibility (and it is).  It is not hard to find Integral followers who repeat Wilber's generalizations about other traditions (including contemplative traditions and spiritual exemplars) as if they represented simple, historical facts (rather than the more nuanced, enactive, creatively normative understanding you argued for above, Mr. Flamperdeen).  This leads us into territory similar to Bahai (where Buddhism and other traditions are "essentialized" in a way that serves Bahai ends, and upholds Bahai faith and "vision," but also in ways which Buddhists and others so-represented would have a bit of trouble recognizing or agreeing with).  Does Integral want to repeat this?  It certainly could do so, and Integral could still be a "fulfilling" path for folks who embrace such a vision.  But Amod Lele, in the article I was discussing, is talking, not about Integral Religion, but about the emerging field of Integral Religious Studies.  Such moves, in an academic Integral Religious Studies context, would not be received very well, and would not be regarded as credible.

I definitely agree that Integral can and should engage in some creative visioning and even re-essentializing, in its social-generative role -- taking on an active apologetic approach, as I suggested at the end of my previous post -- but this should ideally either be teased apart from other "integral" projects (which have different aims), or at least done with greater self-reflexivity and awareness.


* An Integral Ordination program has recently been approved (by Wilber), and I have been asked (shhh) to sit on the board that is working out some of the dimensions of Integral Spirituality as an "official" entity.

It is not clear, given the historical operations of social movements & religious emergence that the failure to clearly differentiate these "integrals" will be socially disadvantageous.  This could be -- but it equally may be the case that a certain vagueness in this regard is vital.  Would Christianity have exerted such an impact if the Bible had been clearly differentiated into history, mythology, ethics, etc.?  Or rather does its life consist in entangled mass which is so instinctively challenged by the scholarly investigator (in any of us)?

Obviously Integral must retain enough comprehension and ongoing-inclusion-of-objections to keep it relevant in "spiritual and political academia".  But we might easily over-emphasize the importance of this. 

However I am not talking here as one who might be called upon to address Lele's concerns in ways which s/he would find "credible".  That is only the local constraint of such a dialogue.  Though, doubtless, a motivated person could probably critique Lele's comprehensions and assumptions about traditional religious practice quite readily. 

>* An Integral Ordination program has recently been approved (by Wilber), and I have been asked (shhh) to sit on the board that is working out some of the dimensions of Integral Spirituality as an "official" entity.

WHAT??? Sorry, shhhh -- (what?)  I mean - good.  Since I have a great many strong and complicated feelings on these subjects I would be interested to know how it's going and what relevance such "official" clarification is expected to have?  The emerging organic planetary character of human spiritual philosophy and practice is my eternal companion... so I am always keen to smell whatever dead animals are being dragged up the front door by the cat in the night. 

I agree that too much emphasis on "academic acceptability" could be deadening -- not to mention misguided, especially if the primary aim (or, your desire) is not to develop an academic instrument but a socio-spiritual generator or engine.  I also recognize we can't really predict what  will prove advantageous or disadvantageous to Integral's ultimate public acceptance or flowering.  In my comments, I am (obviously) arguing for my own preference, which is that  Integral spiritual discourse and apologetics take (good enough) account of the kinds of  critiques offered by folks such as Lele or Kelamuni (or scholars such as Halbfass or  Sharf) not to overly strain its credibility and not to "found itself" unknowingly on modern(ist) perennial philosophical representations of the world's traditions (especially when other, better options are available).  In past discussions on this forum, I don't think I've ever fully agreed with Kelamuni's arguments, and I don't fully agree with Lele, but I think they both bring something important to the table -- speaking on behalf of some of the leading religious studies scholars of our day -- that is important to take into account.  I'm interested in Integral's success, and would like to contribute to its strong and healthy flowering.  To me, this means going beyond some of its earlier working assumptions, but also some of its current marriages of convenience (such as to Cohen), the ongoing maintenance of which does undermine its credibility, and its potential and power, for me.


As for the secret nighttime activities of this balding, rat-dragging cat, I don't expect this program or this "board" to have significant impact on what is happening organically with "integral spirituality" around the world.  My own promiscuous tomcattiness will also not allow me to pledge exclusive allegiance to whatever vision this board crafts -- I think an Integral spiritual flowering should be a multitudinous flowering.  To my knowledge thus far, the purpose of this work will be to begin to craft some of the basic guidelines and ethical principals for an "ordained" Integral ministry.  I'll be happy to talk to you about whatever shenanigans we get up to, if and when we meet (I'm expecting the first meeting will be a little later this summer).

Yeah, concur, etc.  You seem the very sort of chap to help work out what "good enough" integral apologetics and intra-distinguishing might require.  At the very least one of Integral's great weapons -- hinted at rather than exhausted by Saint Ken -- is it ability to flexibly, adequately absorb all complaints.  Although the terms of this adequacy are always up for grabs the skills gained in the attempt are part of what do and will characterize the living body of the integral community at all levels.  Our collective spiritual self-confidence is adumbrated by every accommodation.  We are very hegel's-end-of-history in this sense. 

So I'm all on board with that.  Now, I personally -- whatever my own feelings about Cohen -- have never sensed his alliance as a threat to integral credibility and power although I see that such ripples of concern periodically move through the community.  Where do you situate the danger here?

Good to hear that I will hear about the conclusion-generating cat council whose conclusions the cats have pre-concluded that they probably won't treat as personally conclusive.  Yay!

Good to hear that I will hear about the conclusion-generating cat council whose conclusions the cats have pre-concluded that they probably won't treat as personally conclusive.  Yay!

That's funny!  But that's not what I meant.  :-)  I'm only speaking on my behalf (not knowing a number of the other board members yet), but for this cat, I will want to help craft guidelines I deeply believe in, support, and would be willing and happy to follow if I were a minister, without concluding that whatever way is worked out is the only viable way to "do Integral ministry," and without attempting to preclude the emergence or development of those other ways.

Where do you situate the danger [of the association with Cohen] here?

An Integral association with him isn't "all bad," in my opinion -- I do like some of his ideas, and it's clear he also values and strives to enact Integral thought (to some extent) -- but my concern hinges around two things:  1) the reports about his past behaviors with students (though, admittedly, there have not been any recent reports that I'm aware of), and 2) the particular metaphysical mix he endorses (a classic metaphysics of the One, impersonality and impersonal collectivity, absolutization of evolution) is a potentially dangerous one, socially and psychologically, in my opinion.  Zach Stein did a pretty good analysis of these dynamics in Cohen's community in an issue of JITP (see below).  We've discussed some of these issues in various threads, and Joseph, a member here, has offered a good critique of the fetishization of evolution.

Here's an excerpt from Stein's JITP article:

The role of the guru (i.e., Cohen) is to facilitate this transformation of the individual, from a partial and unique ego to a radically impersonal expression of cosmic evolution. Because the ultimate goal of the teaching is to create a dynamic community of individuals, all of whom are awakened to the same evolutionary impulse, the Classic wholistic authority of the teacher can be justified. The teacher is ostensibly already an expression of the Authentic Self, which means he is already in touch with the impersonal evolutionary impulse that the student strives to realize. Thus, the teacher is taken as justified in enlisting the conformity of the student across a wide array of particulars affecting their life-trajectory. In the terms of the Classic structure, the teacher is already that One without a second (the Authentic Self) and the student strives to be That.  So the goal of the teachings and the scope of teacherly authority are aligned in that they focus on overcoming individuality for the sake of what is universal.


Both Cohen and Gafni have teachings that display Integral metaphysical and epistemological aspects.  While they stem from specific traditions, they make translineage justificatory moves, pulling from a wide array of traditional, non-traditional, and scientific sources. Both are prodigious interlocutors and communicators, which gives their views a multi-perspectival interpretive bent and intersubjective validity. And both have catalyzed diverse and dynamic student bodies that engage in post-traditional forms of spiritual practice and contemplative enactment. However, as noted above, the teacherly practices they deploy and aim to justify (and thus the texture of the authority dynamics in their communities) are almost diametrically opposed.

Putting an emphasis on impersonal evolutionary processes allows Cohen to justify classic guru relationships, the subordination of the individual to the cosmic process, and the homogenization of personality characteristics and modes of ethical engagement. In the context of the post-industrial West, the liability here is that these forms of student-teacher relationship are incongruent with broader cultural values, representing a step backward behind the advances made in the wake of the Western Enlightenment. One of the great dignities accompanying the emergence of Modern forms of authority are ethical views that stress the inviolability of the individual, views that aim to insure persons are treated as ends in themselves, and never merely as means to an end. Classic forms of authority are built around the idea that persons lack this kind of intrinsic value; instead, persons are understood as instances of a generic metaphysical type, to be valued in terms of their position in the Great Chain of Being, the dominant social hierarchy, or as facets of broader cosmic processes. So while Cohen’s teachings represent a kind of sophisticated Integral view, they are nevertheless amenable to justifying authority dynamics that are out of step with some of the most important ethical innovations achieved by the West. Put bluntly: the greatest human rights violations in history have all followed in the wake of ideologies that subordinated the individual to broader processes and thus characterized persons as means to an end. (Stein, On Teachers and Teachings, 2011, JITP v.6 n.1).

Also recall Mark Edwards on the topic in this post. Concluding sentence:

"The defence of the ancient models of student-teacher relationship, particularly where development is focused on the stage-based lens, seems to me to be a sign of regression rather than evolution."

Reply to Discussion


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?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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