Becoming One in the Spirit
The Growing Edge of Interspirituality
by Kurt Johnson
Br. Wayne Teasdale is famous for his “interspiritual” worldview embracing all the spiritual narratives of the world as one collective heritage, arising historically from the consciousness experience of our species, and seeks to draw from these resources the tools for altruistic behaviors that can actually build a world so envisioned. This is a beautiful sentiment, but how do we go about instituting it in our everyday lives, and what role do today’s religions have in helping us do so?
These questions were the impetus behind my writing The Coming Interspiritual Age as a follow-up to Teasdale’s now classic book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (1999) — in which he coined the word “Interspirituality.” After publishing this book, Teasdale founded the Interspiritual Association, which was incorporated in 2002 as Interspiritual Dialogue (ISD), and Interspiritual Dialogue n’ Action (ISDnA) in 2005. Teasdale was critically ill during the last years of his life and devoted most of his time to finishing his two last books, A Monk in the World and Bede Griffiths: An Introduction to his Interspiritual Thought (both 2003). During this period Teasdale’s ongoing vision for “Interspirituality” was communicated mainly to those he worked closely with at the Interspiritual Association and at Fr. Thomas Keating’s Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue.
Following Teasdale’s death in 2004, Fr. Keating, whom Teasdale named as one of his mentors, continued to confer with Teasdale’s interspiritual association through regular meetings. This helped him plan The Dawn of Interspirituality Conference held in 2013, which, in turn, spawned The Interspiritual Network which joins more than one hundred interspirituality-oriented associations and networks worldwide.
Later, in 2004, Teasdale’s association presented on the topic at the 2004 Barcelona Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since then, “interspirituality” has rapidly garnered popularity, going from just a few citations for “Interspirituality” at Google to nearly 100,000 today.
The Dawn of a New Consciousness
This rapid expansion reflects two major actualities, both of which hold long-term historical implications. First, what Teasdale termed “interspirituality” was not new. Earlier, Raimon Panikkar had called it the “intraspiritual experience,” Matthew Fox “deep ecumenism,” and Thomas Merton the “mystical communion.” Eastern writers had added a number of expressions for it as well. The emerging paradigm actually reflected the vision of over fifty major historical religious figures who emphasized a “commonality of heart” across all the world’s traditions. Thus it is no surprise that today we see interspirituality nearly everywhere, under a variety of names and with the brandings of diverse groups and leaders worldwide; not just as “interspirituality,” but as “global-, ecumenical-, universal-, trans-traditional-, or worldcentric-spirituality,” along with the “spiritual but not religious,” the “nones,” and the “multiple belonging.”
Second, evolutionary biology has come to recognize that interspirituality is exactly the adaptive trait that would naturally arise within religion as the world moves toward inevitable globalization and multiculturalism, not only because that adaptive trait would be required of a globalizing civilization, but because current evolutionary theory shows that natural selection at the level of groups and systems of groups chooses the best cooperators, not the best competitors. This recognition has been widely discussed by The Evolution Institute and in publications from Yale University and The Templeton Foundation.
The good news is that both the religious and scientific understanding of what interspirituality is as a cultural phenomenon includes the coexistence and synergy of the variety and integrity religious expressions and an understanding of their underlying unity in our profoundly interconnected world.
In Mystic Heart – Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions (1999), his seminal work on interspirituality, Wayne Teasdale heralded:
We are at the dawn of a new consciousness, a radically fresh approach to our life as the human family in a fragile world. This journey is what spirituality is really about. We are not meant to remain just where we are. We cannot depend on our culture either to guide and support us in our quest. We must do the hard work of clarification together ourselves. This revolution will be the task of the Interspiritual Age. The necessary shifts in consciousness require a new approach to spirituality that transcends past religious cultures of fragmentation and isolation. We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind.
This would manifest, he said because of “a new set of historical circumstances,” something that particularly rings true today.
Teasdale enumerated fundamental changes in global awareness necessary for a successful global shift toward the Interspiritual Age, some of which he noted as already happening. A number of these shared conclusions are now widely acknowledged and quoted worldwide. They are often referred to together, as “The Interspiritual Declaration.”
Interspiritual literature has gone through “three generations” of books. First came the primary seminal books of the paradigm, including both Teasdale’s work and that of others who held similar views of interspirituality. The second generation elaborating these ideas and their implications in more detail. An example of this generation is God of Love (2012) by Mirabai Starr. The third generation emerged when publishers then began saying “yes” to much more detail and elaboration on the implications of the interspiritual paradigm for specific traditions. It includes books such as Interspiritual Meditation and The Interspiritual Mandala (2014) by Edward Bastian (2015), The New Monasticism (2015) by Adam Bucko and Rory McEntee, The Art of Community (2016) by Charles Vogl, Let There Be Light (2016) by Andrew Vidich and Arthur Stein, Belonging to God (2016) by William Keepin, and Mature Interspirituality (2017) edited by Swami Shraddhahanda.
Diversification and Global Hubs
As interspirituality has become a household word, “ownership” of the paradigm has spread to myriad communities. There really is no core “ownership” of the paradigm now. I meet people and groups using the word who have never heard of Br. Wayne Teasdale or the history elaborated above. The early propulsion of interspirituality came from the contemplative community and the sacred activist community.
It was in these contexts of deep spiritual practice, or committed spiritual service that many embraced the “unity consciousness” of interspirituality. About five years ago this too began to change. Another powerful element was added, including “Integral Theology,” inspired and informed by Ken Wilber, and what is sometimes called “The Emerging Church” within Christianity. Presence is a web platform which proposes “A Global Conversation for a New Earth.” Matthew Fox’s exploration of the Cosmic Christ has been followed up by people like Andrew Harvey, Doug King, Rob Bell, and more.
The Teasdale-related core of the interspiritual paradigm has grown to become the dynamic Unity.Earth platform involving elements ranging from education to scholarly writing, institutional and internet teaching, global festivals, a global “Convergence” radio series, spiritual tourism, indigenous support and sacred site work, and concerted spiritual practice and social service. In 2018, it will be hosting a “Summit” for the launching of its new web platform “The Convergence Academy.” Unity.Earth, however, is only one “hub” among many now. Satyana Institute will host a second Dawn of Interspirituality Conference in Costa Rica in 2018, and major innovators of interspiritual education, like The Spiritual Paths Foundation (founded with Fr. Keating). Slate Branch Ashram and Sacred Feet Publishers, and The One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City, will continue to flourish and expand. It has been a rich decade for interspiritiuality.
For further study of the interspiritual movement, please see the following, from which the quotations above were drawn:
Richard Clugston and Marian Villela, Ethics, Spiritual Values and the New UN Development Agenda
Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord, The Coming Interspiritual Age (2013)
Netanel Miles-Yepez, The Common Heart: An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue (2006)
Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (1999)
Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Post-modern World (2007)
D. S. Wilson, Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others (2016)
Header Photo: tommyvideo, Pixabay