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«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»

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Suggestive of this kind of distinction is the research of Höllinger (2004), which shows that two main different strands within the New Age movement can be quantitative-empirically distinguished. His research was conducted with a large (n=3970), cross-national data set, in which several analyses were performed to explore the relationship between different spiritual activities (such as meditation, yoga, astrology, Tarot, et cetera) and multiple social and political orientations. On the basis of a statistical exploration of the data, Höllinger came to a distinction between two strands, one tending to what he calls “spiritual selfperfection” and the other tending to the “magical-esoteric,” which were associated with almost opposing social and political tendencies, as they tended to be, respectively, “more ‘progressive,’ grassroots democratic, critical, and counter-cultural or more ‘conservative,’ conforming to the social status quo and even authoritarian” (p.307). His research therefore gives some empirical, quantitative ground to the idea of progressive and regressive (or in his terminology, “progressive” and “conservative”) strands and tendencies in the 71 Because these concepts tend to have evaluative connotations (progression being associated with matters that we value, regression with stress and even pathology; see e.g. Loevinger, 1977), it is important to distinguish the descriptive aspect (structural development in terms of a progression towards more complexity, differentiation, and integration; and regression towards simplification and fusion) from the evaluative aspect (a positive or negative normative judgment vis-à-vis sustainable development). Next to that, it is important to emphasize that progression and regression are not mutually exclusive phenomena, and can simultaneously manifest in a single individual—e.g. in developmental psychology “progression through regression” is a well-known phenomenon, revealing the complex and interrelated natures of these concepts (Loevinger, 1977).

204 culture of contemporary spirituality. Further research is needed to confirm whether these two strands are indeed the different manifestations of a more progressive, integrative versus a more regressive development as conceptualized in this article. However, this analysis suggests that the potentials for sustainable development tend to be more consistently associated with the progressive, integrative tendency within the culture of contemporary spirituality, while the pitfalls are more consistently associated with the regressive, de-differentiative tendency. By shedding light on the developmental dynamics associated with the various tendencies and manifestations within this culture, such selfunderstanding may support it towards increased differentiation-integration.

Simultaneously, in alignment with Habermas’ notion of the ‘dialectic of progress’ (1976) my understanding is that every new worldview—while overcoming certain limitations and problems, and bringing forth certain potentials—will create its own sets of challenges, limitations, and pitfalls.

To summarize, understanding contemporary spirituality from a developmental framework converges not only with a widely acknowledged theoretical perspective on the subject, but is also solidly grounded in the empirical data of the World Values Survey. Next to that, it possibly renders two opposing, mutually exclusive interpretations of the phenomenon comprehensible, by allowing us to make a distinction between opposing tendencies within the culture of contemporary spirituality—regression versus progression (or dedifferentiation versus differentiation-integration). A developmental framework may in that way support us to make sense of the deeper logic behind the potentials and pitfalls that the culture of contemporary spirituality holds for sustainable development, inspiring to actualize and amplify the former, while mitigating the latter. This perspective may thereby make a worthwhile contribution to the important question of how to support the cultural transition to a (more) sustainable society.

6.4 Conclusion As an exploration of the sociological literature on the “New Age” shows, the culture of contemporary spirituality proves to be both a potentially promising force in the context of the goals and issues of sustainable development, as well as 205 a cultural phenomenon posing specific risks and pitfalls that should not be ignored. For an overview of these potentials and pitfalls, see table 13.

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) 206 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 of contemporary spirituality, thereby potentially providing 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 of contemporary spirituality, while the pitfalls tend to be more consistently associated with more regressive, monistic (de-differentiative) strands (see section 6.3). However, in alignment with Habermas’ notion of the ‘dialectic of progress,’ my understanding is that every new innovation or worldview is likely to—while overcoming certain limitations, solving certain problems, and bringing forth certain potentials— create its own sets of challenges, limitations, and pitfalls. Moreover, 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. Moreover, as this chapter is limited to a literature study, further research needs to be conducted to explore the extent to which these potentials and pitfalls are indeed operative, under which conditions they tend to be enacted, and how for example policy measures and communicative interventions may support potentials being actualized and pitfalls being mitigated. Lastly, the overall framework and my categorizations of these potentials and pitfalls need to be empirically substantiated and potentially expanded and revised in light of further research.

Research such as this may therefore invite a more sophisticated exploration of the phenomenon in the research community. The results presented here suggest that greater attention should be paid to understanding the nuances of this emerging cultural phenomenon, raising questions as to what 207 contributes to progressive tendencies and what promotes regressive tendencies.

Next to that, by contributing to a deeper understanding of its developmental dynamics, this study may function as an invitation for the culture of contemporary spirituality to engage in a critical self-reflection on its pitfalls as well as an acknowledgement and empowerment of its sustainable potentials. The value of this study therefore lies in putting the subject on the agenda and proposing a framework for a more nuanced and pragmatic exploration of an influential cultural phenomenon—one that has a substantial, yet largely latent potential for contributing to the timely challenge of sustainable development.

More generally, if the described change in worldview and values is indeed taking place, the culture of contemporary spirituality is not only instrumental for initiating individual, behavioral, cultural, and institutional/economic change, but also intrinsic to the process of defining and shaping our understanding of sustainable development itself. As sustainable development refers to a quest for developing and sustaining ‘qualities of life’ (De Vries and Petersen, 2009), as mentioned in the introduction, a clear challenge for sustainability strategies, policies, and practices is “to take into account values that correspond to diverse human needs and multiple perspectives and worldviews. This includes values that many individuals and groups do not currently prioritise, yet which are likely to become important as humans further develop” (O’Brien, 2009, p. 177). These may include, for example, aesthetic and spiritual values such as the experience of snow or wilderness, a sense of place or non-dual relationships with other living organisms. Therefore, this study highlights the importance of the interior, (inter)subjective dimension of values, worldviews, and culture in the larger sustainability-debate, and explores its potential and limitations for (facilitating) changes in the exterior dimensions of consumer and behavioral, political, institutional, and economic change. Lastly, this study may shed light on a possible future trajectory of Western (sub)culture, thereby informing strategists, (ecological) economists, and potentially policymakers to anticipate and enact strategic pathways toward the actualization and amplification of its potentials, while simultaneously alleviating and mitigating its pitfalls for sustainable development in the twenty-first century.

208 Chapter 7 The integrative worldview and its potential for sustainable societies: A qualitative exploration of the views and values of environmental leaders The postmodern mind has come to recognize, with a critical acuity that has been at once disturbing and liberating, the multiplicity of ways in which our often hidden presuppositions and the structures of our subjectivity shape and elicit the reality we seek to understand. If we have learned anything from the many disciplines that have contributed to postmodern thought, it is that what we believe to be our objective knowledge of the world is radically affected and even constituted by a complex multitude of subjective factors, most of which are altogether unconscious. Even this is not quite accurate, for we must now recognize subject and object, inner and outer, to be so deeply mutually constituted as to render problematic the very structure of a “subject” knowing an “object.” Such a recognition—hard-won and, for most of us, still being slowly integrated—can initially produce a sense of intellectual disorientation, irresolution, or even despair. Each of these responses has its time and place.

But ultimately this recognition can call forth in us a fortifying sense of joyful coresponsibility for the world we elicit and enact through the creative power of the interpretive strategies and world views we choose to engage, to explore, and to evolve with.

- Richard Tarnas72 72 In: Cosmos and Psyche. Intimations of a New World View (2007), p. 40.


7.1 Introduction Some authors argue for the emergence of an integral or integrative worldview in our contemporary cultural landscape—that is, a worldview attempting to reconcile rational thought and science with a spiritual sense of awe for the cosmos (Benedikter & Molz, 2011; Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006; EsbjörnHargens & Zimmerman, 2009; Laszlo, 2006; Van Egmond & De Vries, 2011;

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