Thursday, June 23, 2011

World spirituality?

At IPS Balder started a thread on The Center for World Spirituality, participants being a virtual who's who from the kennilinguist community. He shared a copy of videos of Marc Gafni selling the idea. What follows are excerpts of our discussion in the thread.


What do you think of this?  Is this something whose time has come?  Is the emergence of a 'world spirituality' inevitable, or even 'utterly necessary'?

In principle, I see the emergence of transcultural spiritual practice traditions which are global in reach and conception as timely, and to-be-expected -- if not really 'utterly necessary' -- in our interconnected, multicultural age.  So, I don't object to something like this.  There have been other hybrid, syncretic traditions that have emerged and thrived in the past -- from Sikhism, to Bahai, to Theosophy (among many others).  And for a number of years, I've been noting the signs that Integral Theory itself was morphing into a religious path in its own right -- with a creation story, unique sets of practices, a soteriological vision, etc.  At first I was ambivalent about this, but eventually I began to see it as potentially valuable -- particularly if it could be differentiated from Integral Theory, as a unqiue manifestation of Integral thought (allowing Wilber & Crew's particular religious commitments to be made more explicit, and perhaps freeing Integral Theory to work more independently of those commitments).

So, I don't see the creation or development of a "World Spirituality" as a wrong or ill-advised move (for those interested in such a thing).  But I do notice that, in listening to Marc speak, I nevertheless feel a lot of resistance.  Perhaps it is because of his background, which inclines me not to be very trusting of him personally.  But even if that is the case, I'd like for now just to set that aside and think about the content of the videos -- about the particular vision to which he is giving voice.

It may take awhile for me to sort through my responses to this -- positive and negative -- and I plan to think on this a bit, but for now I'll comment just on one of my more immediate reactions.  And that is that, so far, his presentation lacks particularity -- and it is the particulars that interest me.  The suggestion seems to be that there will be a 'path' which transcends all particularity -- that 'ends the trance,' as he says, of the particularity of individual religious traditions.  But obviously whatever 'way' he finds to 'include' the 'best medicines' of the different traditions will be particular; it will involve certain strategies, and decisions, and commitments that will establish this 'world spirituality' in its own particularity.  So, I'm suspicious of language which talks about 'ending the trance' of particularity (as if particularity is to be avoided, or can be escaped).  And perhaps he doesn't mean this.  I understand, I believe, one of his intentions for using this language: he wants to point a way past the common ethnocentric orientations that prevail in many world traditions.  And I'm fine with that.  But there may be other more promising ways to realize that than through creating a new religion.

I guess one of my concerns is that there seems to be a sort of hubristic anticipation that we can, and should, create a single path that unites all religions -- and that doing so is going to solve the problem of particularity (and the tensions that arise with particularity).  Do you get this sense?  What is your impression, positive or negative, of what he is up to here?


My first impression as well. It's standard kennilingus to the core with a tone that they would of course have the best, if not the only, unification of all religions. But as usual it speaks in generalities so broad as to be virtually meaningless, while the particulars tend to be techniques from various traditions incorporated as they are without much, if any, change. This seems to stem from the universal or absolute pole of the kennilingual metaphysical endeavor, which indeed transcends any relative particularity. And it just holds no appeal to me whatsoever.


The Center for World Spirituality regularly puts on events and 'services' in my area, so I may eventually go to one and hopefully get a better sense of the particularities behind Gafni's proposal.  But my impression so far is similar to yours, Edward: there is a "collecting" of disparate "best technologies" under a single umbrella that reminds me more of a modernist, universalizing or absolutist orientation than a (post)-postmodern one. But I'm more than willing to be wrong about this, so I will keep an open mind and will look into this further.

Mary W:

I feel resistant too -- even his presentation of these ideas feels spooky to me: that enthusiastic intensity and "This is the first time EVER that such things are POSSIBLE and we MUST take this step!!!" Plus: Is it really true that "everyone" has access to all the world's traditions? Does a poor child growing up in Afghanistan have access to all the world's traditions? If by "everyone" he means relatively affluent people in the West with access to education and technology, he should say that.

I don't mind syncretism, but a syncretism orchestrated and shaped by gung-ho board members of a world spirituality center makes me feel deeply hesitant. I would rather have new syncretisms emerge from the roots up, in local places, as a natural outgrowth of people practicing and learning and coming into contact with other traditions and ideas. Organic development versus "integrally"-modified development (IMOs ;). I'm fine with integral teachers teaching about religion and spiritual development, I'm fine with them working, practicing and teaching within a particular tradition to bring about a fuller and more healthy flowering of it, and I'm always happy to see interreligious and intrareligious dialogue and camaraderie going on. But "consciously" constructing a way to "end the trance?" That does sound like hubris to me.

Ironically, there is another (very) brief clip by Gafni (here it is) in which he talks about another pitfall that concerns me: "spiritual dilletanism" -- a kind of easy, shallow spirituality that can emerge when one wanders from tradition to tradition, picking and choosing personally appealing practices, avoiding the depth and transformation that might occur from engaging more fully with one (or a few) traditions.


I’m always amazed when any one of the integral intelligencia (that’s you folks) takes anything Gafni says with any kind of seriousness. He’s a preacher, plain and simple – certainly not a thinker. He parrots Wilber, Cohen, Hamilton, Kempton, at al, and passes it off as his own thinking.

In the given case, as usual, he is proposing green solutions to global problems, and it is just plain silly. There can never (in any of our lifetimes) be a world spirituality any more than there will be a world government. As Wilber was once fond of pointing out, there will always be people inhabiting every one of the developmental stages, so we will always have ego-drive religions built on power, and authoritarian religions built on divine law, and so on. Yes, there are people now who are world-centric, and maybe even kosmos-centric, but each of those will develop their own experiential spirituality shaped by their culture, their gender, their body – and if they are at the kosmos-centric stage, they are smart enough to avoid Gafni.

It’s a feel good message for the New Age crowd who follow him and take him seriously. On the other hand, that’s where the money comes from. And that is (in my opinion) where it comes down for MG – he’s about the money, the status, and the adulation.

Sorry – had to butt in. This is a hot button for me.


Nice to hear from you, William.  I don't regard your comments as "butting in" at all.  I agree with you that a "world spirituality" is certainly an impossibility in our time, if by that you mean the development of a universal, worldwide membership in a single faith.  I don't think that's likely (or desirable) in the foreseeable future.  However, if, by "world spirituality," we mean the emergence of a new, syncretic faith which gets its name because it deliberately incorporates principles from the major world religions and is generally worldcentric in orientation, then I think such a thing is possible -- and, in fact, has already been tried, on a number of occasions.

Regarding Gafni, I hear you.  I've long been skeptical and wary of him, partly because of his controversial background but also based on some of the content (and frantic style) of his presentations.  In this thread, however, because I do think there is some value in cultivating the emergence of a "new religion" or practice tradition based on Integral principles, I wanted to take a more open approach -- making room to look at the proposal itself, and to consider it on its own terms, without focusing immediately on Gafni himself.  But this is rather hard -- and perhaps it can't be separated from the person proposing it.

Speaking personally, I confess that more often than not I am turned off by the spiritual teachers associated with the Integral label.  I wonder what's up with that, and I do question myself.  But the fact remains: most of the "world's leading spiritual teachers" under the aegis of I-I give me an uneasy feeling.  (Father Keating is one of the few exceptions).  I suppose I am conflicted about this because, for some reason, I keep wanting this to be different; I keep wanting something else to flower in the Integral garden, and perhaps unwisely I am still holding out hope that that will happen.


I agree with all of you 100%. What William has said, is what I've been thinking and sensing, specially going to the 2010 ITC and meeting some of these folks. My real pleasure and inspiration was to meet some of you.
 I've always said that for me Ken Wilber was an amazing theoretician, but that his endeavour to embody it on a physical level seems mostly shallow to me. Gafni is definitely activating red flags for me and I don't know why, and I don't care in the end.  But I agree that there's something unique in the situation we're witnessing now. I share the excitement, but not the "we must!" part.

As for for the idea of a world spirituality I tend to disagree. I sense a lot of fascism creeping up all around the world and most of the uniformisation I see at the moment - which is more legal, political, viral, or economical - feels more like a limitation of my own freedom.

On the other hand, there also seems to be some beautifull and simple endeavour springing up. There caracteristic feels at the moment to be very practical, not very mental and certainly spiritualy undefined.
So this leads me to say that I sense and hope that we're more going towards a situation were we will drop for good any spirituality. Or more precisely, we will drop the word "spirituality". And I also think we will let go the desire to create, control and teach an over-arching spirituality.

What I'm refering to is this experience that when we embody or integrate presence, who can say what spirituality is? The whole thing is. It's all disolved basically. The word spirituality becomes obsolete as all endeavour to create something for everybody

So I'm for the end of seminars, teachers, therapists and healers of all sorts and all this sometime nonsense.  But I'm for human gatherings, based on practical and creative approach to the simple but complex problems we face. We have developped emtional tools, group dynamics tool, scientifique tools and many more.
Basically, I think thhat Gafni and the II bunch ought to stop their show and start cultivating some carots and potatoes and relax a bit - although they might still find a way to grow "integral carots" and trade mark them!
So I totally disagree with Gafni's words that "a World Spirituality is utterly possible and utterly necessary". Vivekananda said once that he'd be happy when there will be as many churches as human beings. Basically this amounts at the dissolution of the concept itself.


I said the following on p. 5 of the Rifkin thread about my preference for a postmeta spirituality:

And remember, the correlative, evolutionary consciousness in all this is distributed P2P, the better turquoise, integral enaction. In terms of spirituality, it is more akin to this type in the polydoxy thread and better than the kennilinguist variety in this thread.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely with William. Gafni is all about money, status and adulation. He is no thinker and relies on everyone else to come up with ideas and write them with some form of cohesiveness. Left to his own devices, all he can do is spout jibberish. He has been going on about World Spirituality for roughly a year now and has yet to even *define* it. He has a lot of names on his website but no one is doing anything. Gafni just likes to have his name associated with theirs - it makes him sound more legitimate, and the bonus for him is that they will be doing all the actual work! He claims to be in the process of writing several books at the moment - all with co-authors (meaning they will be doing all the work,too).

    Marc Gafni has some personality disorders and his grandiosity is really getting out of control. "For the first time in the history of the planet..." Wow, Marc, how fortunate we are to be here while you usher in WORLD spirituality. He is also the only D.Phil I know that insists on being called "Doctor". And someone needs to explain the word "transcend" to him. A-scend means to move upwards, de-scend means to move downwards, and tran-scend means to move across. Think trans-national, trans-continental, trans-oceanic, etc. It has nothing to do with ending trances.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.