Adam Blatner

Lecture given January 30, 2008; Slightly revised and re-posted: February 11, 2008:

(This is the website summary of the first in a six-lecture series on “Interfaith Spirituality” presented by Adam Blatner to the Senior University Georgetown lifelong learning program for their Winter-Spring 2008 program. The actual lectures were given extemporaneously, though I had written something like this out and used overhead transparencies to illustrate or re-state a number of the points being made.)
    Lecture 1:  General definitions and overview (see below).
    Lecture 2. Cultural Trends or Historical Roots that have led to the more recent (last 40 years) cultural trend of interfaith spirituality.
    Lecture 3:  Lynette Reed, D.Min., speaks on aspects of spirituality and religion.

This lecture series will offer an overview of interfaith spirituality, a general cultural trend that began around the mid-1960s and continues today, a trend that has as its basic theme a movement to reach across the dividing boundaries of the various religions and achieve not just a measure of tolerance, but a deeper appreciation of the common elements and themes in many spiritual traditions. This trend or effort is a response not only to the conflicts among many religions that have become violent, international in scope, and very dangerous to the progress of humanity, but also to a growing awareness of the deeper dynamics of spirituality that make such conflicts tragically unnecessary.


We begin by considering the meanings of the terms faith and spirituality.

I use the word faith to mean the exercise of  a set of attitudes and mental activities through which one finds purpose and meaning. People can have faith in life, in goodness, in hope, and turn to the light even when tempted by defeat or despair. It embodies noble thoughts, optimism, affirmation. Faith-ing is something you do, not something you have. If you don’t do it, it ain’t happening. So it’s something you practice.

Faith often—but not necessarily—involves religious belief. Somebody up there cares. Providence. Jesus. Guardian Angel. The Lord will provide. Some people just will to believe there will be better times, even without recourse to any clear image of what might be helping. It’s clear, then, that people of all different religions can have faith, and people with no particular religion can have faith.

 As I think about it belief is the superimposition of will onto thoughts, affirming them as true. There is a wealth of literature, many stories, also, of people who have believed, but their faith has left them, failed them. Mother Teresa reports a long period of suffering in this way.

More recently, the word has been stretched or co-opted by certain religious leaders to mean one who believes in their own or at least a related religious dogma or group of ideas. This confuses faith with belief. One can have faith without belief (i.e. without having to think that certain ideas are literally true), and, in contrast, one can believe many things without actually generating much faith.

But I want to note again that we should stretch our minds to include those who live with an attitude of hope and a willingness to love, to give generously, to help make this world a better place, even if they profess no officially approved belief system. These folks, too, are people of faith. The term should not be co-opted by the officially religious.

Remember, the world is full of people who pay lip service to their belief system and may even fool themselves into believing they are sincere, but whose lives show little evidence of the ethical lessons of their religion, and whose seem to not use their faith to sustain them in troubled times.

Finally, inter-faith refers to a more inclusive category of folks with different faith bases. Different religions and also those with no official religion.


Spirituality is most practically defined as the activity of developing a relationship to—or deepening a sense of connectedness with—the Greater Wholeness of Being.

That Greater Wholeness might be conceived of impersonally, as nirvana, or a vast field of mind or underlying dynamism; or more personally, as the more traditional ideas about God. Other religions have other names and mix these degrees of impersonal and personal qualities—in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and so forth. Indeed, within the conceptions of the Greater Wholeness of various religions there tends to be a range from the more personal, vivid images of the folk religion to the more abstract, non-imaged essences of the more philosophical theologians. Other terms used for this Greater Wholeness include “Source,” “Divine Providence,” Paul Tillich’s term, “The Ground of Being,” and so forth. What are some other terms that you’ve found to be more interesting, inspiring, and so forth?

An interesting thing about this word “spirituality” is that it was hardly used when I grew up. Or maybe the word was just assumed to be the same as religion. You inherited your religion, and it was often connected with your ethnic group. If you were of Scandinavian extraction and grew up in the north mid-west you might take your Lutheran church as a given—just something you did; or if you were Italian, Irish, or of Latin American heritage, it might be Roman Catholic—but even then, if you came from a relatively homogeneous neighborhood, the taste or feel of the religion might reflect your ethnicity more than any theology. You did it—or you turned away from it, or you did it superficially—which lots of folks did—paid it lip service, attended some major holidays.

Spirituality was sort of blurred in there with religion. In some circles, both became rather, well, old-fashioned, for the parents. In some college- and other cultures, more agnostic and atheistic or at least non-observant lifestyles seemed more “cool.” Skepticism and science went together—I’m talking about the sense of the culture in the mid-20th century—and it was not okay to talk much about the religious degree of observance of national political candidates.

Religion Defined

I think that the idea of religion is best understood as the social organization of the spiritual impulse. However, since social organizations don't always serve their original mission, it is possible to be religious without being spiritual! Alternatively, one can be spiritual without being religious. (Of course, one could be both spiritual and religious, or neither spiritual nor religious. This last point needs to be emphasized and considered!

Spirituality shifts away from its confusion in my youth with religion when it was something you were, or had, to being an activity, a conscious effort, something you do to deepen your faith. Now, here’s an interesting twist: While many people use the framework of their religion as the matrix for pursuing their deepening of their spirituality, there are others who claim to be spiritual and they don’t claim to be particularly affiliated with any religion!

Some say they are sort of Catholic, or Christian, or Jewish, but their spirituality also has been influenced by, say, Buddhism. Some say they’ve left the religion of their birth and are seekers, or have explored this or that “spiritual path”— and may be in-between right now.

The point is that many people—though still by no means a majority—might be recognized as being spiritual without being religious.

There are of course many who are religious without being spiritual, in that they haven’t recognized much need to deepen their faith, their relationship, or to develop their connectedness. They just are, they have it, they do it. They may do it a little deeper, by attending Bible class, but it’s not sensed especially as a personal journey.

We should not overlook the category of those who have dropped the whole domain, and are neither religious or spiritual. For most of these, the distinction is minimal and irrelevant—the whole enterprise is imagined as mere superstition or worse.

We’ll be giving more emphasis on those in or beyond any particular religion who are working the process in their own life. To be spiritual implies that it is consciously sensed as one of the channels of one’s own personal striving and maturation. It does not require any sense that one has “achieved” any special state, status, or enlightenment. Most folks I know who feel identified with the idea of spirituality are fairly humble about it, recognizing the field of study and the large field of existence to be vast and full of mystery.

Mysticism might be thought of as a more personal extension of spirituality, a desire to not only feel connected, but to experience some degree of union with the Transcendent Reality

Surveying the Field

The various major religious traditions are being discussed in another class this session (February, 2008) by Rev. Farley Snell, working from a classic text on comparative religions by Huston Smith. However, many current developments within and beyond religion—the focus of this lecture series—notes some of the trends that may not be addressed in a general survey of religion.

For example, in the great complex of religions called Christianity, there are in fact thousands of denominations, sects, and what might pass as cults. (Interesting, though, how these terms are in part sociological, and that depending on the number of followers, a cult may advance to the status of sect and from there to denomination or religion!) Just because there’s a name for a wide category of activities with a few discernable common denominators—i.e., “religion”—, we should not allow our minds to be deluded into thinking that the different denominations or sects are just variations of the same thing. The differences can be profound. Thus, Jehova’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Pentecostals, Methodists, and so forth only give a hint to the wide spectrum of trends within a religion. Note that some of these are less than two hundred years old, and new approaches are emerging every year.

Anyway, within Christianity there are sort-of “movements”—ususally not particularly organized or centralized. Some of these, with precursors of course going back sometimes centuries, include:  Liberation Theology;  Feminist Theology;  Ecological Spirituality;  New Scholarship that challenges the traditional history or literal interpretation of the stories of the Bible;  Evolutionary Theology (reconciling evolution and science), such as the writings of  Teilhard de Chardin;  a resurgence of widespread interest in Mysticism, along with a more popular reading of the writings of such figures within Christianity as Jacob Boehme, Hildegarde of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, etc.

Another trend is called Creation Spirituality, emphasizing a more love-based rather than fear-based approach. The work of Matthew Fox is especially relevant to this. He alludes to the aforementioned trends, which started with the intellectual ferment within seminaries, convents, religious liberal arts colleges. Liberation theology, for example, was a response not only to the civil rights struggle, but has continued to bring the kind of moral conscience to political issues that stirs people up. Matthew Fox is a Dominican monk who was silenced by the Catholic Church, left, and became, I think, an Episcopalian. I heard him speak at a Transpersonal Psychology conference in 1993 and was especially struck by one comment: He suggested that we should carry two attitudes, one in each pocket. On one side, the mystical, for comfort, solace, grounding; on the other side, the prophetic—the voice of conscience, to disturb our complacency, stir us to social action, religious reform, whatever is needed. Tom Wilkens, one of our neighbors, gave a lecture series on Liberation Theology several years ago—noting that a good deal of it has been caught up in the politics of South and Central America.

A number of denominations have become more inclusive, addressing the spirit of developing communion and underplaying any requirement for belief in or adherence to dogma or many rules. These groups reflect the influence of the emergence of psychology, a heightened awareness of the power of mind to affect the feelings, body, and spiritual experience. Groups such as “New Thought,” Unity, and Religious Science are examples.

One of my own favorite trends is the branch of spirituality called "Process Philosophy," utilizing especially the philosophical writings of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000). These abstract refinements of the concept of God have been influential in many other theological developments, within Christianity, but also applicable to Buddhism and non-theistic spirituality.

Two other trends I forgot to list on the overheads include, first, one that began about a century ago—Pentecostalism, and associated trends, Charismatics, inviting in the holy spirit. This has begun to spread from a rather minor group to a more widespread trend.

The second further trend in the last fifteen years is the trans-denominational church, not affiliated with a particular denomination. The main minister or ministers don’t have to answer to superiors in a regional or central office. These churches often appeal to families and becoming mega-churches. I don’t doubt that there have been yet other trends I’ve overlooked.


The Jewish religion is again as diversified as the Christian religion. A thorough treatment of the history and details of the variations of Jewish practice could fill thousands if not millions of pages. Much of Judaism in the 18th century might be called “orthodox,” and there are still a fair number who sustain that approach. Some sub-groups of “ultra-orthodox” have become prominent because of their activities in Israel and New York, where they represent a resurgence of a desire for a much greater immersion in the culture.

Most of the Jews in America are descended from families who immigrated from Eastern Europe between around 1875 and 1930. A small number came over from Germany in the early 19th century; and some also are descended from Jews of Spanish origins who then moved to Holland and from there to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most consider themselves “conservative”—a term that had nothing to do with current political labels and simply represented a compromise between orthodox and reform.

Reform Judaism emerged in the mid-19th century mainly among upper-middle class Jews of the aforementioned Spanish-Holland-America axis—a bit more common in the Southern States—and also from the German-Jewish communities who came over before 1880. It was more oriented to assimilation and a selection of what they felt was essential in the tradition.

In the last 40 years, though, there have been a number of trends. One was a resurgence of interest in Hasidism, a sect that emerged in the 18th century in Eastern Europe and following the Second World War saw a group of ultra-orthodox immigrants coming to New York and other major urban centers. They’ve actively proselytized among the younger, more assimilated Jews: Their point is plausible: If you’re going to be Jewish at all, why not do it right? Why not do it whole-heartedly?

Other groups have gone beyond mere reform Judaism and have tried to re-discover in many different ways the essential idea of spirituality, even mysticism, and have mixed in many other trends—feminism, social action, new forms of liturgy, new rituals, and so forth. There’s been some overlap with other new age trends. Reconstructionist Judaism is one example. Michael Lerner wrote a book recently called “The Left Hand of God.”

I grew up in a Jewish household and attended some after-school programs, was Bar Mitzvah’d, but never really “got” the spirit of it. I became interested, instead, in a more general, cross-cultural exploration of faith. I heard just a little about Jewish mysticism in college, but really discovered it in my late 20s. The point here is that mysticism wasn’t much talked about in mainstream Judaism. This has changed significantly, so that Kabbalah, the name for the Jewish mystical tradition, has become a major component or focus of interest in many circles—not only for Jews, but, both now and (I have discovered) even in the Renaissance among some esoteric Christian thinkers, as well as in the European occult movements of the late 19th century!

There has been a flurry of attention given to Kabbalah because some celebrities have shown an interest, but, alas, this has been in a cult-like, commercialized spin-off that most serious thinkers find painfully superficial and appealing simply to magical new-age sentiments.

Finally, many Jews have been involved in interfaith efforts for decades. Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Martin Luther King in Alabama. Others have sought to promote Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue. And so forth.

Probably we should not avoid the fact that a good deal of writings on interfaith spirituality, if you look through library catalogs, have addressed more specifically the problems encountered by interfaith marriages. The rate of intermarriage between Jews and Non-Jews since the 1960s has gone over 50% ! Other interfaith marriages have also been pervasive, and more recently these have included the bridging of Western and Eastern religions.

Other Religious Traditions

Islam also has a mystical tradition called Sufism, and there have been a number of Sufi teachers in America. Some of these leaders and groups have given a special emphasis to articulating the common threads among the many traditions.

Buddhism is spreading among not only people of Asian descent, but reaching many who find in its psycho-spiritual approach a degree of relevance and meaning that they didn’t find in the Western religious traditions of their families. Zen was popular among the beatniks in the 1950s and continues to have a certain appeal. Tibetan Buddhism has been made a bit more popular through the travels of the Dalai Lama and a score of teachers. Mindfulness or Vipassana meditation has been promoted by Buddhists from Southeast Asia.

Certain ideas from Taoism and Confucianism continue to be woven in, re-discovered. The point is that there are many who are going back and re-thinking some deep tradition.

Nor should we forget that there are teachers of Sikh and Sikh-related spirituality, and Jainism’s nonviolent emphasis has influenced many thinkers, including Mahatma Gandhi. One need not be an adherent of a definite sect in order to take in good ideas from other groups. Gandhi, of course, influenced Martin Luther King, who by no means bought into the seemingly polytheistic religion of India, but did open to certain spiritual influences.

Hinduism—a Western term for the bundle of religions of South Asia, is called by Indians "Santana Dharma"—roughly translated, the Holy Way. Since the 1960s, there have been many teachers of Yoga and other aspects of Indian thought in the West. It turns out that their teachers told them to come! Presciently, they sensed that people in the West needed some of their insights!

Yoga, which mainly associated with the body-exercise form called “hatha yoga” is really a much broader approach. The word is related to the English word, “yoke" and refers to the vehicle or way or method for spiritual development. One point here that is particularly relevant to our thinking about interfaith spirituality is that Yoga recognizes that different folks need different strokes. Just as we recognize that some kids are more natural “jocks” (i.e., athletes), while others are more artistic, and so forth, Yoga recognizes that different kinds of people will find their spirituality emerges best through different kinds of activities.

Those people who find their spirituality expressed through duty and doing good deeds, social action and local harmony, are living their religion, doing “karma yoga.” Those who get a lot out of going to church, participating in the liturgy, perhaps helping with it, singing in the chorus, putting on the Christmas pageant, and so forth—these are those who feel connected through the spirituality of devotion, what’s called “bhakti yoga.” Some meditate and contemplate more, and this is closer to “raja yoga,” while others really get into study, learning—but it’s a learning that is mixed with true “heart,” sincerity, and a desire not just to appear smart or gain status, but to feel more deeply connected—“jnana yoga.” Comparable roles or ways of “doing” spirituality may easily be found in Western religions. The point here is that rather than a given denomination coming to emphasize one or another approach, what if churches of the future acknowledged that within any congregation there would be respect given to people who connect, worship, study, or take it into society? Other facets also merit respect, and this general idea is a bridge to the increasing recognition of differences in individuality. (Last Fall my lecture series was about how we are individuals, and this point simply extends that insight to include our thinking about spirituality.)

Other Spiritualities

For too long the various indigenous traditions were considered “primitive” by those with a more colonialist mentality, a presumption of the moral and spiritual superiority of those who possessed the more devastating and powerful weapons. I find it amusing, sad, and ironic that I grew up in a culture that was only beginning to emerge from this terribly immoral attitude. In the 1960s, along with the civil rights movements, the civil rights of other indigenous people were also being highlighted. Native American Indians were seeking more recognition for the many types of oppression they were still suffering.

Part of the interest in this sub-culture was stimulated by interest in the peyote ceremonies, along with an interest in many intellectual sub-cultures in psychedelic phenomena. This led to an attitude of looking more closely at many other cultures and traditions and discovering there a number of ideas, methods, and spiritual insights that had been obscured in the Western religions.

An interest in shamanism, for example, became far more widespread in the 1960s and 70s—and since. Many books, programs, and articles addressed the psychology, anthropology, and metaphysical philosophical implications of this tradition of going into a kind of hypnotic trance in order to access your guides. Related traditions could be found in Siberia, South America, Australia, and other cultures.

This going back to traditional sources extended also into Western history. There was a resurgence of interest in the European esoteric and occult tradition. Back in the Renaissance, as I mentioned, there were people who were looking at the deeper currents of the world that might not be adequately addressed by—or have been obscured by—the official church doctrine. Without having time to describe it, there was a “hermetic” tradition among some intellectuals, the word being related to the ancient Greek God, Hermes, related to the Roman God, Mercury, and associated with wisdom.

There were many pioneers in the following centuries, from Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century to the emergence of Rosicrucian and Masonic groups—alluded to by Dan Brown in his best-selling Da Vinci Code book and related writings. There was a fashion in some circles in magick (spelled with a k to differentiate it from stage magic), of using ritual and self-induced trance to experience unusual states and, it was claimed, to effect certain results. Any of you who read or heard about the recent semi-new-age fad, “the Secret,” might recognize these preludes to prosperity thinking and imagining and envisioning as techniques to getting.

There were many serious thinkers who wove in spiritual ideas, such as Rudolf Steiner’s thinking about what he called "Anthroposophy" in the19th century, and the spin-off from this work in the private educational system called the Waldorf Schools. How many of you have heard of these?

Finally, after years of terrible persecution and a holocaust that in numbers may have been far greater than the Nazi campaign against the Jews—I’m referring to centuries of witch hunts and burnings of the women who were the folk-healers, the carriers of the nature religion in Europe, there has been, again, more in the last 40 years, a resurgence of interest in the nature religion, Wicca—previously stigmatized unfairly as being associated with Satan, and evil witches— although in fact the great majority are very peace-loving and nice. Only recently has Wicca been included as it being okay to have a special sign at military cemeteries.

In America, there was also a mixture of esoteric thinking and occult revival. Part of this was the fashion in “spirtual-ism,”—not the same as spirituality, but rather the activity of mediums in connecting with and channeling the spirits of the dear departed. Still somewhat fashionable and a little less disreputable or kookie, spiritualism was quite popular in many circles around 1860, originating in upstate New York.

Other trends included such movements as Theosophy, with leaders such as Alice Bailey, Anne Besant, and HPB, the initials given to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

Around the late 19th century, a group of rigorous intellectuals founded the Society for Psychical Research to find out what all this was about. They did a lot of work and found out that, well, there’s something. We’ll touch on this more when we talk about parapsychology.

The desire to balance dry scientism and hard-edged secularism with something more juicy, mythic, and spiritual, has led within the last few decades to a resurgence of interest in fantasy and imagination. Consider the numbers of books, dolls, videos and stories that weave in ideas or images of angels, fairies, sprites, wizards, dragons, and so forth. The popularity of  Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogies and movies, The Hobbit, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books, and even the mythic themes in the five Star Wars movies and the Star Trek movies and television reruns—these are all only the tip of the iceberg. All this is laying the foundation for a mentality that is less literal, more mythic, poetic, and it is just this kind of mentality that can handle interfaith spirituality.


A major part of the wide field of cultural trends generating a foundation for interfaith spirituality has been the emergence of psychology from its social roles as an academic-scientific specialty or a treatment for mental illness to something that is becoming integrated as a natural and important element in mainstream culture.

In spite of there being a period of time in the early and mid-20th century in which, for various reasons, psychology (and science) seemed to be aligned against spirituality—and it was, especially because as I’ve said, most of spirituality was covered over by layers of dogmatism, superstition, fear-based rules, and other problematic habits—but there has also been a counter-trend. Thoughtful people have noticed that spirituality is an important part of healthy psychology, also.

One of the major pioneers of psychology was William James, who also around 1904 wrote a book titled the Varieties of Religious Experience. Others since have noted the importance of bringing together these two fields.

In the mid-1950s, Existential and Humanistic Psychology emerged as a field that addressed the higher capacities in human nature. Rollo May wrote a book titled The Cry for Myth around 1960, and noted that dry science cannot really fill the heart’s longing for a sense of personal meaning and purpose.

The meaning of the word “myth” shifted from something that wasn’t true to something that could not be understood as literally, factually true, but as an image, a story, it evoked deep feelings that expressed psychological and cultural ideas that had a different kind of truth. There is little or no factual truth to the idea that love makes the world go ‘round, but it strikes a chord of recognition that could be made into a song. May’s point is that humanity needs myth.

Carl Jung, one of the early depth psychologists, had a myth-oriented approach that had become somewhat disreputable, out of the mainstream, in the 1950s. With the emergence of psychedelics as well as cross-cultural studies in the 1960s, well, nothing other than Jung’s psychology really spoke to the types of imagery and symbols that were flowing into the culture’s collective consciousness. So as Freud has slipped significantly from its higher status, Jung has correspondingly risen. Jung was the psychiatrist who really recognized the psychological truth of religion.

(Anecdote: A reporter asked Jung what, after all his studies, he had learned about God. Jung responded, “I don’t know anything about God. All I know about is what humans tend to think about God.”)

Other psychiatrists and therapists also addressed the issues that relate to interfaith spirituality. Worthy of mention is Viktor Frankl, who wrote The Search for Meaning among other books.

In 1969, branching out of humanistic psychology, Transpersonal Psychology became a recognized sub-field—dealing as it did with the ways spirituality and psychology overlapped with each other. It was only beginning to be time when the word “spirituality” could be talked about—for most secular people it called up associations to the traditional stereotypes of religion.

There is a phenomenon called “cultural lag,” referring to the way it can take ten, twenty, sometimes fifty years for a stereotype to change. Mothers-in-law, Ethnic Jokes, the way smoking is “cool,” psychotherapists—and how they rarely look or act like the cliche of psychoanalysts—, what it means to be a senior citizen, what age is— folks don’t catch on readily to how things are changing, and the media and cartoonists and others pander to these old stereotypes.

Even in the professions, then, the term “spirituality” only began to catch on more widely in the 1980s, when increasing workshops and papers and journals with that word began to be used more frequently.

In seminaries and hospitals, Chaplaincy Programs and Pastoral Counseling became more popular, and more inter-denominational. Who could afford to staff chaplains for separate religions? That only happened a little bit in the Second World War movies—a Catholic chaplain for the Catholics, Protestant for the Protestants, etc. Nowadays, chaplains have to be able to minister to the Muslims, the Wicca, the Buddhists, the Jews, and a lot to the not-anything in particular but I need to talk to the chaplain. Staffing also makes it such that there aren’t that many psychotherapists, or there’s too much stigma and a mark on your record if you do seek mental health care. So you go to the chaplain.

Branching off from chaplaincy or pastoral counseling, there is a quasi-therapeutic approach called Spiritual Direction—started by the Jesuits centuries ago, but becoming more widespread. It’s sort of like executive or manager or life coaching, but with a spiritual twist.

So psychologists are becoming more spiritual—as a collective—there are still many hold-outs; and churches and religions are becoming more psychological, hosting Marriage Encounters, etc.

I’m all for this. I see spirituality as generating a larger framework or meaning map within which people can do better work in psychotherapy, and in turn, I see learning about psychology or therapy as a way of really implementing or adapting in real life the deeper spiritual lessons. So there’s a symbiosis.


While psychology has entered the culture, another marginal field is still struggling to gain respectability: ESP—extra-sensory perception. There are many sub-components of what a colleague recently termed “extra-ordinary knowing”: telepathy, or mind to mind communication; clairvoyance, or seeing, feeling, hearing, or intuiting things that are going on elsewhere and there’s no ordinary sense explanation; precognition, or intuiting what will happen in the future; psycho-kinesis, or mind over matter; healing through touch, intention, prayer, or other non-physical means; astral projection or out-of-the-body experience (sometimes called OOBE); “seeing” auras or body energy fields, and combining this with clairvoyance for diagnosis, or healing; recollection of “past lives” and other uncanny “memories” such as pre-natal experiences, alien abductions, etc.; lucid dreaming (or being sort of awake and able to choose where and how to travel in the dream worlds; and so forth.

I mentioned mediums and there has also been a related activity, channeling "spiritual entities" as sources of wisdom. So there have been many books on all these, and also many skeptics who say that none of this is true.

Noetic Sciences

Emerging shortly after the founding of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology was the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The word “Noetic” refers to the Greek "noous", meaning, well, “to know,” but referring more broadly to consciousness in all its forms. Intelligent and open-minded seekers sought to understand the nature of mind—not confined to the laboratory studies that have come out more in the last fifteen years—the emerging field of neuroscience----that, too, but this went to the edge of what we know, including such questionable arenas as spirituality, parapsychology, and the like.

Not only did “IONS”—an acronym for the Institute of Noetic Science—get cooking, but in the last thirty years we’ve seen the founding of a goodly numbers of associated journals, including, well, IONS’s journal, recently renamed “Shift”; the Journal for Consciousness Studies; ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation (for which I’ve served as one of the editors for 5 years); the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology; Tricycle (A Journal of Buddhist Studies); and appealing to a somewhat broader and more populist market, magazines such as Science and Spirit, Spirituality and Health, What is Enlightenment? Yoga Journal, New Age Journal, Utne Magazine, and so forth.

Noetics and Consciousness Studies involves an interdisciplinary effort that weaves together research in a wide range of fields, including:
anthropology       linguistics                    ecology                       cognitive psychology
mythology           parapsychology           philosophy                  comparative religion
thanatology          neurophysiology         "new physics"               psychopharmacology
history                 depth psychology        alternative healing

Finishing up, the point of this survey is to notice that many different cultural developments have all been warming up to create an infrastructure for interfaith spirituality.

In addition, there have been religions, such as Bahai, that make a point of integrating religion. There have been trends towards ecumenicism since the mid-1960s, following up on the Second Vatican Council. There has been an expansion of interest and the offering of courses on comparative religion and related interdisciplinary approaches, as mentioned above.

To summarize, Interfaith Spirituality has been around as an idea for a fair amount of time. In 1893 at the Chicago International Exposition, they also held a Parliament of the World’s religions and people from all over—including a Zen Buddhist from Japan and an exponent of Vedanta, the intellectual extension of Hinduism, from India. These exotic fellows were hits, and they were invited to lecture around the country. They set the stage for a continued importation of spiritual teachers—really, just a trickle until the mid-1960s—but all this retained a rather eccentric flavor—away from the mainline.

Remember, though, that fashions change. Country was tacky until it became cool—there was a country-western song about this. Science fiction, too, has gone mainline, as well as science and computer geek-hood. So spiritually-minded folks are coming out of the shadows, out of the woodwork, and this is good. Our circle of caring is expanding.

There was another Parliament of Religion held in 1993, then, by visionaries who see in the endeavor of interfaith spirituality one of the possible bridges to peacemaking and ecological stability—a constructive response to the main challenges of our time. There was enough of a response that they did it again not a century later, but a decade later, in Barcelona, in 2004 (well, 11 years). And six weeks ago not too far from here I attended a small conference that included many of the people who were featured in a recent book, the Amazing Faith of Texas. This conference was part of that wider movement that’s happening internationally—and now you’re part of it.

Next week we’ll talk more about some of the component cultural trends that have led up to the trend of Interfaith Spirituality.


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