Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Jorge Ferrer just sent me a copy of a new interview with him (attached PDF below) that is appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Research. In it, of possible interest to members here, he talks about some of his conflicts with Wilber (which he correlates with Wilber's departure from the transpersonal community) as well as his current critique of Wilber-5. He also talks about the current state, and likely next steps, of the participatory movement, and touches on other areas of his work, such as in sacred sexuality.
It is always a pleasure to read Ferrer. My impression of him today is that he is doing excellent work in establishing definitions of religion AND spirituality which are operative at the green/postmodern/pluralistic level.
And before anyone gets a bee in their bonnet and starts wondering if this a reductionist appraisal which overlooks the true depth and sophistication revealed by the structural complexities of Ferrer's thought -- fear not! I am referring to the content, the emphasis, the project and NOT the man, the context, the capacity. Does that distinguish make sense to people?
No one is under any obligation to consider that the highest (sic) levels of structuralized meta-theory are the most important to focus upon. We should consider that virtually all the saints & spiritual heroes of human history tended to elaborate useful doctrines for the world in which they existed and not just the peak operating systems of which they are personally capable.
I have elaborated now in many places how the definition of spirituality (roughly the intrapersonal and transpersonal in Ferrer's description) and religion (the interpersonal spirit) must be conceived and enacted distinctly at each of the major developmental layers revealed by cross-disciplinary summary of unfolding models. Today our popular discourse is still stuck in orthodox/traditionalist/conformist definitions -- even where these definitions are used negatively to distinguish ourselves from them. Modern, postmodern and integrative levels have yet to be well-clarified or dynamically cultivated in the world. This is a moral necessity. And Ferrer is doing this very well in the pluralistic mode.
Again this is not to say that Ferrer is "green" but that the key conceptual and ethical issues which he is trying to build into the very definition of spirituality and religion are those which we expect from a healthy and comprehensive "postmodern" culture. And the biographical problem elaborated in this interview (i.e. that the transpersonal community which rationally embraces authentic spiritual experience is not adequately absorbing the philosophic, social and ethical developments of the late 20th century) situates that very nicely.
So rather than argue about where equiprimacy, equipotentiality & equiplurality might be inadequate to ultimately contextualize the future of human spirituality, about how the pluralistic vision maintains the unnecessary primacy of the conversation-of-the-"traditions", about how the ontological Mystery is an incomplete articulation extrapolated from the incommensurability between reality-tunnels -- I choose instead to laud this as leading edge work in the absolutely necessary establishment of pluralistic-level religion. Not only is pluralistic spirituality and religion a gate through which all higher models must pass (and a set of things which must be included in order to pass) but it is an entirely legitimate and critical zone of its own which must be brought more forcefully into the world.
Good article. On p. 101 I appreciate how different religions emphasize and develop different aspects, like contemplation, psychophysical integration, social service etc. All these aspects are part and parcel of a 'spiritual' tradition. It's a point I made in the FB thread on Clinton v. Warren. It seems some traditions make state experiences the foci of what's important and foundation for the whole shebang (like Sam Harris recently). Ferrer expands on this later on the page and into the next page with the eco-social-political test. That was also part of my argument in that thread as part of a legitimate 'spiritual' tradition.
LP's point about Ferrer's article pointing to a necessary example of a practical mode for our times is one I've made for political-economic models. That is, the likes of Senators Warren and Sanders are pertinent for our times in moving away from oligarchy toward a fuller, contemporary democracy than that originally envisioned by the Founders. And that Rifkin's reports of the emerging Commons is a contemporary expression of what is happening on the ground at this transition from capitalism toward what we might envision as 'integral.' I chose to support these contemporary developments whatever 'level' might be ascribed to them in some nebulous fantasy of what it's supposed to be. Granted I'm still active in that envisioning process, but leaving it much more open to change from what is already on the ground than trying to fit what's on the ground to some abstract ideal. Which, btw, is one of Ferrer's criticisms of kennilingus.
Integralites always face twin-tasks (a) elaborating their own characteristics & working intelligently and (b) ethically with all the enfolded layers it contemplates. Very often that means pressing forward in theory & personal consciousness while making practical efforts to support the best version of the emerging cultural situation.
A world where Rifkin systems are deployed, Ferrer-style religious discourse occurs & a vision like that of Senator Warren dictates policy is a tremendously better world. A richer, healthier, more evolutionary, more satisfying world. This cultural platform requires our support, clarification and empowerment at almost every turn.
But also how emerging cultural conditions affect how we envision our 'integral' future. Per Spiral Dynamics the internal levels emerge in coordination with environment conditions. I'm suggesting that accounting for our current emerging environmental conditions requires changes to our 'integral' visions. I've criticized the Lingam for sticking to his AQAL vision where it most certainly diverges from, and refuses to change in light of, those emerging environmental conditions.
LP, yes, even if we see Ferrer's work as primarily Green/postmodern, it has value just as that and should not be disparaged: we need good, healthy Green to take root and flourish broadly (and this still hasn't happened in many places). I actually don't see Ferrer as Green, or "only Green," but it is clear that his model is a pluralism-forward one, and this will generally appeal to postmodern culture. I say he isn't "just" Green because he is able pretty clearly to see postmodernism's aporias and limitations -- particularly the limits and deficiencies of constructivism and relativism. But he also appears, in his desire to confront the often-naive and too-easy inclusivist and perennialist 'unifications' of spiritual worlds and soteriologies that have been common in transpersonal writings, to err perhaps too much on the side of religious difference -- and this plays into postmodern expectations and norms.
Although I think we differ a little on the importance to give to traditional religious boundaries, I agree that part of the 'problem' Ferrer may be wrestling with may be born of taking traditional identifications a little too seriously. It's worth considering and discussing further. I'm not entirely clear on your understanding of the role of a 'pluralist' orientation at MOA-2 or higher. I recall we went back and forth a bit around the question of whether it makes more sense to speak of multiple interfacing integrative meta-theories, or to just ally with one -- and to presume that, whatever other meta-theories might offer, our preferred meta-theory (IT) must already contain it (a return of inclusivism). Maybe we can talk about that further at some point.
Regarding Ferrer's comments about Wilber asking Kaisa (at JTP) not to publish Ferrer's work, or only to publish a balancing positive essay about Wilber whenever they published a critique, this is a little hard to believe...but I do believe him. He told me about this, and about a similar, more recent incident with another well-known publisher of a spiritual magazine ("If you publish anything by Ferrer, I'll never publish anything with you again"), when I first met him a couple years ago, and it was clear he was disturbed and affected by this, as I expect anyone trying to publish professionally would be.
His Wilber experience in 2000 is consistent with history. The Wyatt Earp episode in 2006 was another prime example he doesn't mention. That's when I officially became excommunicated since I criticized the Lingam on that one, after which I too was labelled MGM. As to whether the Lingam has overcome this personal propensity (aka dysfunction) thereafter I don't know. The inclusion of Bhaskar and Morin in recent ITPs is more likely Sean's doing. Wilber's writing on both indicate though he's still up to the Perennialist inclusion of them in his higher teaching.
Which not coincidentally we both see in LP's AQALified versions of IT, even seeing Ferrer's content as green. I noted above I will not belabor the point about green v. integral, as what is taking place on the ground is more important to support. Without current, actual developments in progressive politics and Commons socio-economics there will never be a living future example of IT. And that IT will have to adapt to said actual developments and no doubt look far different that the current AQAL dogma (kennilingus). In that sense Ferrer's work is much closer to what is actually ongoing, albeit in the academic sphere.
From the FB thread:
Mark Forman: It's a good interview. As a total non-scholarly comment, I can't quite shake the flat feeling I get after reading Ferrer. This update is not different, though I respect his intellect and his intentions seem terrific.
Oddly, the place I disagree the most is in regards to transpersonal psychology, as opposed to universalism vs. pluralism per se. It does seem to me that Ken was accurate in his diagnosis: transpersonal does seem an uneasy mix of Jungianism (unmodernized for the times), postmodernism (often unchecked), some integrative elements, and big problems with science as an enterprise and a worldview (science often=bad). I just think the field cannot relate itself to anything outside of itself; it remains insular and cul-de-saced.
When I read Wilber I hear implications and connections to many fields and thinkers - some explicit, some implicit - but Ferrer's influences are much more limited and in-house.
I guess that is it; his work to me lacks a universal or trans-disciplinary spirit, as does transpersonal as a field (as I have experienced it). I think that is why they are always searching for definition; they know a larger world exists but can't quite get there. And that universal spirit seems to beg or even neccesitate at least some willingness to make distinctions beyond the few he makes.
ME: Mark, to me that seems like a fair critique. The Transpersonal field -- which I value, and which I teach -- nevertheless does seem to be becoming moribund, in terms of its current output and organization. Similar to the humanist movement. Not a lot new happening there in the past few years (that I have seen).
Rather than speaking to the transpersonal movement as a whole, I will focus here on Ferrer's participatory approach (since this is a thread on his work). It seems clear that Ferrer is much more knowledgeable than Wilber of current developments, perspectives, and trends in religious studies (though he doesn't include in his writings a few of the voices that I find most promising) -- and this is a strength of his that can make "integral" engagement with him worthwhile. But it is also a weakness, from an integral metatheoretic perspective, since he has for the most part limited his reflections on, and applications of, participatory thought to this rather narrow, specialized area. This is something I address in a paper I'm working on right now: while Ferrer's most recent book, The Participatory Turn, includes an illuminating genealogy of the phases and manifestations of participatory thought throughout human history, and while Ferrer occasionally does mention (usually in passing) the implications of participatory metaphysics for other fields besides religion and spirituality, he nevertheless focuses *primarily* on accounging for the participatory enaction of spiritual phenomena. This is not necessarily a bad thing; this is his field of specialization, after all. But it seems to me that a broader reflection on the nature and scope of 'participation' in fields other than religion would not only be illuminating, and provide grounds for a more robust transdisciplinarity, but it would (I think) be likely to expose some of the limitations of current participatory thinking. I'm thinking here, for instance, of how far a "participatory" account of science would go; I think it would founder, without bringing in something like the structuration and metaphysical distinctions that Bhaskar introduces.
This is off the cuff, too, BTW. But it is just to say that I agree with you when you say, "And that universal spirit seems to beg or even neccesitate at least some willingness to make distinctions beyond the few he makes." Word.
Aye -- his "Wilber experience" is just hearsay but it feels plausible.
(a) a mass machinery of people migrating into modernist mentalities, and
(b) a strong, well-elaborated, healthy greenery gaining ascendancy in most areas of culture (including the totalized culture of religion/renaissance)
...then the goals of most integrative models fall flat on their asses. Although, obviously, integral mentalities and models have a lot to contribute to that project.
The primary solution to MGM has got to be Healthy Green. When it comes to flat, narrow or premature "second tier" culture we must always err ethically in favor of options for stabilizing, improving & empowering postmodernity.
As indicated at the beginning of this thread I do not see Ferrer as "only Green". However the issues and projects which he emphasizes are consonant with my understanding of maturing green-appropriate spirituality & religion. The context from which he presents these concerns is not thereby limited to some conventional integral notion of "green" -- and certainly not any reason for the dismissal or trivialization of his approaches.
Digging into the way that pluralism operates as MOA-1 (distinct from MOA-2), how it operates as a critical component of the barely-thinkable MOA-3 models AND how it supports the "left hand" of MOA-2 metatheorizing form an interesting set of distinctions but, yes, they may be outside the jurisdiction of this thread.