«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
A third possible pitfall of the culture of contemporary spirituality is that some interpretations/variations of the common New Age views may breed passivity. In the contemporary spiritual perspective there is general agreement that humanity has now arrived at an evolutionary crisis or turning point, and has therefore both the incentive and potential for making the transition towards a new and higher consciousness, possibly resulting in a more healthy, humane, and sustainable society. However, opinions differ with regard to the role human beings play in this process, ranging from a more active and co-creative perspective in which the human contribution is critical, to a more pacifying belief in the ultimate perfection of the cosmic processes, tending to see the coming transformation as an inevitable evolutionary event (Hanegraaff, 1996). While 198 the former tends to activate and empower individuals, the latter perspective may result in passivity.
Another theme is the exclusive focus on inner work. Although inner work may be of great value in and of itself, the pitfall of this orientation shows up when inner work is engaged at the expense of the needed outer work (often based on a view in which spirit is seen as primary to matter). Obviously, meditating alone will not solve the environmental crisis, and this inner attitude needs to be translated to and become manifest in physical existence. However, many forms of inner spirituality are not necessarily committed or even oriented to that kind of dedicated involvement with the affairs and injustices in the world.
The exclusive focus on inner work may therefore exclude challenging the systems, structures, and hierarchies that disempower people and make it difficult to become conscious ‘agents of change’ in the first place.
In the words of Taylor (1989):
A society of self-fulfillers, whose affiliations are more and more seen as revocable, cannot sustain the strong identification with the public community which public freedom needs. […] The primacy of selffulfillment, particularly in its therapeutic variants, generates the notion that the only associations one can identify with are those formed voluntarily and which foster self-fulfillment, such as the ‘life-style enclaves’ in which people of similar interests cluster. […] Politically, this bit of the ‘counter-culture’ fits perfectly into the instrumental, bureaucratic world it was thought to challenge. It strengthens it (p. 508).
A tendency to regress to, or romanticize a pre-rational, more unitary (but undifferentiated) consciousness can also be seen as one of the pitfalls of the culture of contemporary spirituality (see e.g. Wilber, 1995, 2001, 2007; Höllinger, 2004;
Campbell, 2007; Houtman et al., 2009). This may come to expression in a tendency to emphasize “holism,” “unity,” and “wholeness” in a way that does not honor the developmental process of differentiation. For example, the New Age rhetoric tends to emphasize feelings, emotions, and intuition over mind, thinking, and rationality, instead of stressing the complementation and integration of the two different modes of being (Campbell, 2007; Heelas, 1996). Wilber (2001) 199 speaks in this context of the pre/trans fallacy or the pre/post fallacy: the categorical error to confuse earlier and less complex stages of development with later and more complex stages of development—e.g. the tendency to equate pre-rational perspectives with post-rational perspectives because they are both non-rational.
Another possible pitfall is that the New Age culture may be experienced as ‘too countercultural’ or ‘too socially deviant’ by the rest of society, which will probably substantially marginalize its impact in terms of societal and cultural change in the direction of sustainable development. This is most likely the case when this culture defines itself over and against the more mainstream culture instead of opting for a more inclusive and invitational approach, framing itself as a next step that includes and integrates both traditional and modern achievements and values.
6.3 Discussion: A dialectical-developmental perspective on contemporary spirituality In this chapter I propose to view the culture of contemporary spirituality from an explicitly developmental perspective. That is, I attempt to understand it by looking at sociological understandings of processes of social development and change, as well as explore it in the light of constructivist developmentalpsychological insights about the growth and evolution of the individual. It is important to note that development is not understood here in a Modernist sense of a unilinear developmental progression from ‘primitive’ levels of social evolution towards the ‘civilized’ status represented by the modern West—a perspective critiqued and debunked by both anthropologists and sociologists for its ungrounded optimism, oversimplification, and ethnocentrism (Ferguson, 2002; Marshall, 1998). Nor is it meant to refer to a progressive movement towards a state that is univocally “better”—morally or otherwise. In contrast, with development I refer to a structural evolution towards increasing complexity, differentiation, and integration, in line with the insights of the developmental structuralists in the field of psychology (e.g. Kegan, 1994, 1982;
A first reason to look at contemporary spirituality from a developmental perspective is that in the New Age literature, the phenomenon is often framed as 200 being post-traditional, post-Christian or post-secular rather than pre-traditional or pre-secular (Houtman and Aupers, 2007; Hanegraaff, 1996). Several researchers argue that the culture of contemporary spirituality is profoundly shaped by processes of notably secularization and rationalization (Hanegraaff, 1996;
Heelas, 1996).68 This understanding suggests a developmental sequence to, or at least a historical understanding of, its emergence in present-day culture.
Generally, it is seen as involving a shift of authority: from ‘without’ to ‘within’ (Heelas, 1996). According to Inglehart and Welzel, industrial society is characterized by a secularization of authority, while post-industrial society brings increasing emancipation from [external] authority (2005). According to some, this turn away from life lived in terms of external or ‘objective’ roles, duties, and obligations, and a turn towards a life lived by reference to one’s own subjective experiences—also referred to as the subjective turn—has become the defining cultural development of modern Western culture (see e.g. Heelas and Woodhead, 2005; Inglehart and Welzel, 2005; Taylor, 1989). The developmental process observed could thus be described as a gradual internalization of authority.
Related to that, a developmental perspective seems warranted by the results of the WVS. As Inglehart and Welzel (2005) frame it: “we interpret contemporary social change as a process of human development, which is producing increasingly humanistic societies that place growing emphasis on human freedom and self-expression. A massive body of cross-national data demonstrates that (1) socioeconomic modernization, (2) a cultural shift towards rising emphasis on self-expression values, and (3) democratization, are all components of a single underlying process: human development” (p. 2). They thus explicitly relate individual-level values with system-level changes, and make human development their primary lens for understanding and explaining processes of social and cultural change.
68 According to for example Hanegraaff’s (1996) thorough study, “the foundations of New Age religion were created during the late 18th and 19th century, in the course of a process which I have referred to as the secularization of esotericism. … Those traditions on which the New Age movement has drawn can be characterized as western esotericism reflected in four “mirrors of secular thought”: the new worldview of “causality”, the new study of religions, the new evolutionism and the new psychologies” (pp. 517-518).
201 Moreover, a developmental perspective may help us to understand why an exploration of the theoretical literature seems to suggest that the culture of contemporary spirituality can be interpreted in (at least) two completely opposing ways, including a more regressive, pre-rational perspective as well as a more progressive, post-rational, integrative one—as I sketched briefly in the introduction of this chapter. Contemporary spirituality is often understood as at least partially a response to the ills of Modernity (Campbell, 2007; Hanegraaff, 1996; Heelas, 1996; Höllinger, 2004), and the solutions that it offers can therefore both be sought in an attempt to go back to a society before modernity came into being, as well as in a tendency to go beyond (the limitations of) modernity. The former is exemplified by the (according to some) “romanticizing” of indigenous peoples and a “oneness with nature,” and comes saliently to expression in the a-historical orientation of much of the New Age, its elevation of myth, feeling, and intuition as sources of knowledge above reason, logic, and analysis, and its fusion of science and metaphysics (Campbell, 2007). The latter is seen in its worldcentric orientation and postconventional morality, its progressive social/political signature, and its attempt so overcome dichotomies and synthesize the best of both worlds (Höllinger, 2004; Ray and Anderson, 2000). Similarly, Hanegraaff emphasizes that the New Age worldview “believes that there is a ‘third option’ which rejects neither religion and spirituality nor science and rationality, but combines them in a higher synthesis,” attempting to formulate answers to the limitations of both faith and reason (1996, p.517).69 However, this holism of religion and science, or faith and reason, may be attained in two fundamentally different ways. The first is a monism, fusion, or dedifferentiation (Campbell, 2007; Hanegraaff, 1996; Heelas, 1998) of science and religion, in which the independence of the two enterprises is fused in order to operate as a whole. However, it could be said that it thereby reverses the 69 As Hanegraaff (1996, p.516) articulates it, “New age holism emerges as a reaction to established Christianity, on the one hand, and to rationalistic ideologies, on the other. The fact that it has to fight on two fronts creates a certain amount of ambiguity. As a religious reaction to rationalism and scientism, it has to demarcate it from its principal religious rival, Christianity; but in its reaction to traditional Christianity it frequently allies itself with reason and science, and therefore has to demarcate itself from rationalist and scientistic ideologies.
The solution to this dilemma is, of course, the affirmation of a “higher perspective” in which religion and science are one.” 202 painstaking process of the Enlightenment-project, which fostered the differentiation of the secular and religious spheres. As Campbell (2007) has argued, this may be one of the foremost negative implications of the New Age worldview becoming increasingly dominant in postmodern society. Arguably, it is the most prominent objection raised against the culture of contemporary spirituality by those who defend the rationalist ideals of the European Enlightenment (Höllinger, 2004). In contrast, the second approach emphasizes the need for an integration of the differentiated spheres, with the ambition that “science and religion can find a common ground of understanding by recognizing the different and valid methods of inquiry that each use” (EsbjörnHargens and Wilber, 2006, p. 528). Ken Wilber and colleagues defend this position (Esbjörn-Hargens and Wilber, 2006; Wilber, 2001). However, both this more monistic as well as this more integrative tendency seem to be present in the culture of contemporary spirituality (Hanegraaff, 1996; Wilber, 2001; Höllinger, 2004).
In line with basic psychological-developmental insights, I propose that a tendency of de-differentiation or monism may signify a more regressive inclination within the culture of contemporary spirituality, while a tendency of differentiation and integration may signify a more progressive bent (see also Wilber, 2001). Theorists like Piaget, Kohlberg, Loevinger, Fowler, and Kegan, (and more broadly speaking the school of developmental structuralism within psychology, see Mc Adams, 1994) 70conceive of development as progressing through hierarchical stages, in which each stage is shown to be more differentiated than the preceding one, while it is also more integrated (Fowler, 1981; Kegan, 1994, 1982; Loevinger, 1987). Higher levels of functioning or development therefore involve greater levels of (cognitive) differentiation and 70 As Mc Adams (1994) summarizes the major premises of the school of developmental structuralism: “Epitomized in the monumental work of Jean Piaget on cognitive development, this broad approach to psychology views the individual as an active knower who structures experience in ever more adequate and complex ways. Development is viewed as progression through hierarchical stages. Earlier stages must be mastered before subsequent stages can be approached. Each stage builds on its predecessor and ultimately encompasses all that came before it. Movement from one stage to the next is a complex product of both internal maturation and external forces, which are in constant reciprocal interaction” (pp. 542-543).
203 integration (Mc Adams, 1994). For this reason, reaching the holism that so much of contemporary spirituality is about through de-differentiation or fusion rather than through integration, can be seen as a regressive tendency: from a developmental perspective it is reversing the process of differentiation and integration to more simplistic understandings of reality. Progression and regression are thus concepts that are used by the developmental structuralists to indicate the direction of development.71 A developmental framework may thus help us to understand both of the observed tendencies within the New Age movement (monistic versus integrative) and render them comprehensible despite their opposing and seemingly mutually exclusive natures.