The rising culture and worldview of contemporary spirituality

Archive Fire blog alerted me to an article by the above name at this link. It is published in Ecological Economics 70, 2011, pp. 1057 - 1065. Therein Annick Hedlund-de Witt explores the relation of worldviews to different environmental behaviors, and which are more prone to sustainability. This excerpt if from the conclusion:

Some of the primary potentials that the culture of contemporary spirituality holds for sustainable development include an overall rehabilitation of nature, which comes to expression in a preference for organic food and vegetarian diets, natural products and conscious consumerism. This has a double effect: it not only results in less environmental pollution and resource depletion through the greening of individual lifestyles, but it also supports and stimulates (the transition to) a green economy, as it serves as an impetus for companies aiming to win these markets, and a discouragement or even a pounding for companies which are not taking up the environmental challenge. Additionally, the culture of contemporary spirituality tends to result in increased societal support to green political parties, sustainable initiatives and nature- and environmental organizations (see e.g. Dryzek, 2005; Höllinger, 2004). This is significant, as (electorally) supporting environmental policies and initiatives is probably one of the most significant actions individuals can undertake to support changes in a more environment-friendly and sustainable direction (Brown, 2008). Lastly, the culture of contemporary spirituality tends to result in an overall atmosphere of cultural experimentation, renewal and innovation, which may be crucial in creating the needed transitions to a more sustainable society and economy. According to Rogers' (1995) “diffusion of innovations model,” or the idea of social “tipping points” (Gladwell, 2000), the influence of innovators and “early adopters” in the larger process of socio-cultural and economic change is considerable. Overall, the results show that the potentials of the culture of contemporary spirituality are closely aligned with the perspectives of Ecological Economics, and may therefore significantly contribute to the ongoing movement to promote sustainability.

In contrast, one of the main pitfalls is the culture's association with narcissism, which may manifest in egocentrism, a lack of willingness for sacrifices and the refusal to take responsibility for the environment and the health and eco-social wellbeing of others. Moreover, a proclivity to instrumentalize and commercialize spirituality as mere means for self- and wealth enhancement may also be seen as a possible pitfall of this culture. Lastly, the tendency to regress to or
romanticize a mythic, pre-rational consciousness (and society) does not allow the achievements of modernity to be well-integrated — which is likely to result in an alienation of all those who defend the rationalist ideals of the European Enlightenment. This marginalizes its impact in (mainstream) society and potentially contributes to polarization and ‘paradigm wars.’

Introducing a developmental framework may serve to distinguish more regressive from more progressive tendencies within the culture and worldview of contemporary spirituality, thereby potentially providing a deeper insight into the observed potentials and pitfalls. That is to say, I propose that the observed potentials for sustainable development tend to be more consistently associated with more progressive, integrative strands within the culture and worldview of
contemporary spirituality, while the pitfalls tend to be more consistently associated with more regressive, monistic (de-differentiative) strands (see Section 3). However, this analytical lens, when used in the messy practice of everyday reality,will probably not result in a clear-cut, “black and white” picture, as potentials and pitfalls will likely be observed emerging together within individuals as well as within the different strands of the movement. Since I have not researched the (empirical) relationship between those two strands and their association with such potentials and pitfalls myself, it is merely a grounded (hypo)thesis emerging from this research, which needs to be further scrutinized.

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Just a question for now. Which of spiritual movements and organizations we've explored tend to overall fit the "more progressive, integrative strands" and which the more "regressive, monistic" and narcissistic strands?
As one sample see my last post in the "puritan postmetaphysics" thread.

Talk about postmetaphysical puritanism, recall this from Joseph's fine thread, “evolution as metaphysics and spiritual violence”:

KW, Cohen, and most of the luminaries in the Integral scene espouse an idealist, perennialist metaphysics that holds the pinnacle of human development as the realization of the one divine reality. Our flawed, fragile, & contingent self must undergo a radical transformation to attain this realization. It is easy to see why the metaphor of personal evolution fits into this metaphysical worldview. Too often, however, this has led to a violent devaluing of the self. KW is infamous for endorsing ‘rude boy’ gurus such as Adi Da & Andrew Cohen, who have both had former students make allegations of physical, psychological, & financial abuse against them. If the only worthwhile goal is the transformation of the unrealized self, then any means necessary to achieve that goal can be justified.

Maybe I’m attempting to weave two very different threads together here, but it seems to me that there is a connection. That there is a tendency in the Integral scene to invoke evolution as a metaphysical principle. That there is an inherent seed of violence in the transcendental nondualism that is representative of the major expressions of Integral theory. That the ‘integral guru’ who most fervently uses the term evolution in his rhetoric has been accused of emotional & physical violence against his students.

I believe that the tragedy of the Integral movement is it’s totalizing bent. Despite the rhetoric of honoring all stages & lines, in practice the “lower” stages tend to be treated as stepping stones to the privileged realization of the transcendental condition. This tendency distorts a genuinely insightful synthesis. The ongoing metaphysical distortion of the theory of evolution, & the violence inherent in the metaphor of evolution as development is a shadow of Integral theory that has not been acknowledged.

Also see our past Gaia discussion on Hamilton's "authentic enlightenment" for more samples.

And Balder from Joseph's thread referenced above:

I am concerned that this "ontological pluralist" approach might be applied in Integral circles only to "relative realm" issues, essentially leaving the (potentially totalizing) spiritual transcendentalism you mentioned untouched.

I think the "Integral project" is a mixed bag*.  There are groups and communities where you still see something of a regressive or somewhat narcissistic self-orientation, as you are pointing out, but if you consider the work being done in the name of Integral as a whole, by disparate individuals around the world, then the project as a whole could be seen to be in alignment with the vision expressed in this article (which is an interesting one, which I plan to read in full when I have a chance).  However, given the various different streams in this 'whole,' some of them at odds with each other, we can't really speak of this as a conscious, unified whole; it is more of an accidental and somewhat hidden whole.

On another note, at break a short while ago, I was reading in Levin's The Listening Self again (I'm perpetually coming back to it, but still haven't finished it), and found a section in it which I think relates very well to this thread, which I will try to copy or type up later.  He is talking about stage 3 practices of the self and their inseparability from social, environmental, and other concerns.


* Interestingly, a friend of mine reported recently that he was disappointed to learn that the Wilber household, which he was visiting, didn't recycle.  I can't really wag a finger there, though, since I am inconsistent in my recycling efforts as well.

(One cannot serve both God and Mammon, Lacan and Habermas. hahahaha.)

Let me take another tack and try and reconfigure the debate so as to avoid this "green" nonsense, which to me has always smacked of either a conservative, reactionary, retrogressive "blue" attitude toward left-leaning politics, or else a defensive reaction against what might be interpreted, at some base level, as a form of "science bashing," or perhaps, a bit of both, particularly for someone who grew up on the Great Plains where being Republican was de rigeur and being a "rebellious youngster" meant showing support for the outcome of the Kansas "monkey trial." hahaha.

There is among esotericists two strands: one that is antagonistic toward science and another that is open toward it, that embraces it. Of course, those that embrace it want a modified image of man and the universe incorporated into the scientific worldview, one that recognizes elements of what Sellars calls the "manifest image." In any case, esotericists who are anatagonistic toward science can be seen as belonging to a long strand of the western tradition that have been antagonsitic toward the systematic "scientific" strand in western thought. Vico's rants against Aristotle or Blake's rants against Newton come to mind as examples. The "humanist" tradition generally falls within this trend as does the perennialist tradition.

At the same time, I think that there is an important critique of "scientific" thinking that can be taken from this antagonistic strand. It is not simply that scientific, systematic thinking is inappropriate where certain humanistic values are concerned, their core value being self-knowledge. (That is another post I am working on.) During the twentieth century a distinct critique emerged, one that stands on it own.

That critique can be understood as targeting an implicit but not always stated value hidden within the scientific program. And that purpose or value is this: the subordination and control of Nature.

While they also reflect what Brassier calls the polemic and apologetic defence of the "manifest image" strand of Western thought, the Frankfurt school's attacks on "instrumental reason" and Heidegger's critique of "technological rationality" can be seen as revealing this "hidden agenda" within "scientific thinking." No doubt there are other strands complicit in this agenda, such as the Biblical tradition's idea of Man as sovereign over Nature (which "green" Judeo-Christians have struggled to reinterpret as "shepherding"), but generally, we see the distinct emergence of this programmatic idea with the modern thinkers.

Compare for example Francis Bacon: "Nature is a woman, and for this reason we should seek to dominate and control her," perhaps the most explicit expression of this program. Bacon also talks about finding the "key" to Nature, and there is the suggestion, though it is not stated, that this key opens some kind of chastity belt; he seems, in other words, to be saying, "surrender the pink" (as Carrie Fisher put it).

Baudrillard, in his Towards a Political Economy of the Sign, notes how in the political economies of both Karl Marx and Adam Smith, human freedom is predicated upon the subordination and domination of Nature; Marx takes this idea over from Hegel. This mean that both leftist and conservative political economies are complicit. (Which makes me wonder how classical Marxism was EVER classified as "green"; an idiotic and misinformed idea -- one need simply to look at the environmental legacies of Russia and China.)


Anyway, take this line of thinking where you wish.

I'm wondering if this article is by the wife of Nick Hedlund, who has an organization called Integral Synergy, and who was in one of my classes a few years back.

kela, I'm not quite getting how that relates to the two broad spiritual categories in the main article. It seems the progressive wing does not devalue nature or want to dominate but the opposite. They also do not value strictly instrumental reason, since it leads to the utilitarian attitude you depict; it sees beyond this to environmental and social relations is a wider matrix, with humanity's place within, no over, it. Hence it is also not narcissistic, contrary to some claims about so-called green. And I don't see them as a particularly "esoteric" scientific community. Scientific yes. but unless spirituality can be broadly considered esoteric I'm not so sure.

My sense is that, generally speaking, "integralists" -- like the Tom dude some of you know, who runs the United Church of Christ up here in the hippy-dom of the Pacific Northwest (who seems like a real cool dude) will be, generally speaking, more or less rather "green" in their orientation and approach integral theory and practice along more pragmatic lines, whereas the hard-core "kennilingae," who genuflex to the master, will be, like "da Masta from Nebraska," more retro-bluish, and reactionary toward them-thar tree-huggin', idiot-compassion, hippy-commie-pinko greenies. :-)

*That da masta from nebraska doesn't recycle doesn't surprise me. hahaha. kidding.

I think the "Integral project" is a mixed bag

Agreed, but I'm trying to differentiate those threads in the movement, those sub-schools (e.g. AWAL) which are more or less inclined toward the two broad categories of progressive and regressive above. Granted, even with a sub-school there are differing "lines" or views depending on context or issue. And even within such a sub school there are individual differences. But there are some overall orienting generalizations, like in the critiques already linked.

I guess I'm not quite understanding what the "manifest image" is, since it seems contrary to the scientific image. I get that they can both be "idealized", so in that sense both metaphysical. But is an integral postmetaphysical spirituality either a strict manifest or scientific image?

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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?

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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