The Coming Interspiritual Age
(Vancouver, BC: Namasté Publishing, 2012)
During the 1945-1990 Cold War, secular ideological confrontations and inter-State conflicts were seen as most dangerous threats against peace and security. Since the end of the Cold War, the world has been going through a series of interrelated intra-State conflicts in which religion has been a factor, as we see currently in the Muslim-Christian divide in the Central African Republic or the Muslim-Buddhist divide in Myanmar (Burma).
While these two conflicts are not really over theological issues, religious differences are a shorthand definition whereas ethnic, class, migration and geographic differences may be harder or at least longer to explain.
Thus inter-religious or inter-faith study, dialogue, and cooperation take on a worldwide importance. There have been and continue to be organizations, conferences and movements that have focused on such inter-faith efforts. Some have been high level efforts directly sponsored by the leadership of religious bodies such as SODOPAX, a working group of the Vatican and the World Council of Churches that worked for a number of years in Geneva. The World Conference on Religion and Peace, whose founding Secretary General, Homer Jack, an active FOR member, was created to be a multi-religious effort to promote disarmament and conflict resolution. (The organization has now changed its name to Religions for Peace.) The Parliament of the World's Religions and the United Religious Initiative work along the same lines.
The term interspirituality was coined in 1999 by Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Roman Catholic lay monk who had the little-used status of 'hermit' and a pioneer interfaith participant. He is the central figure of this study. For him, interspirituality was a trend emerging from within the world's religions as the result of the inner exploration of contemplatives and mystics who draw on the commonality embedded in the world's Wisdom Traditions. Brother Teasdale sets out his views in The Mystic Heart (Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999). He was deeply influenced by Catholic priests who had lived in India such as Bede Griffiths and Henri le Saux who had studied Hinduism and developed Christian ashrams where members followed a life style large patterned on Hindu sannyasa (those who renounce the world). Teasdale also drew on the writings and example of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit whose views fell outside the accepted dogmatic patterns of his day. Teilard's religious writings such as The Phenomenon of Man (New York; Harper Perennial, 1959) were only published after his death in 1955. Brother Teasdale also draws on the work of Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk who late in life became interested in Asian thought, in particular the Zen school of Buddhism.
Interspirituality is part of a broad trend; as Johnson and Ord point out With the advent of international communication systems, we have become acutely aware not only of the startling diversity in the views of the citizenries of individual nations, but also of striking similarities among citizens across all kinds of national and ethnic boundaries. This reflects a world in transition from ethnocentric identities to a world-centric identity.
They go on to stress the importance of direct spiritual experience, often through meditation. Individuals who experience a profound consciousness of unity don't have trouble recognizing a common core in experience, whereas individuals who look through a culturally influenced intellectual framework often don't recognize the inherent unity and even argue against it.
They cite Edward Bastian Interspiritual Meditation (Charleston, SC: Create Space, 2010) on meditation techniques and guided meditations which can be used in interfaith or interspiritual settings.
Others, on the edges of Catholic thought are also part of this current: Mathew Fox The Coming of the Cosmic Christ(New York: Harper, 1988), Hans Kung's writings and Raimon Panikhar The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1981).
There is an analysis of the contributions of those outside of church structures, in particular Ken Wilber and his 'integral ' approach Integral Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 2007), Abraham Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being (New York: Wiley, 1998) and Eckhart Tolle A New Earth (New York: Dutton, 2005).
The writings and lectures of Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, and Alan Watts are credited for creating the sort of open atmosphere and interest in the role of myths which allowed an interspirituality approach to become part of an intellectual mainstream. As I was a student of Mircea Eliade the first year he came to the University of Chicago (1957), I have followed his approach to religious studies.
Too much is packed into this book. I am not sure that we need an outline of through from the Bronze Age to the present. The thread of the argument gets lost in the details. Nevertheless the book is a good overview of significant thinkers. I fear that few of them are read in the tension-filled frontier of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Our task is to see how a spirit of respect for the spiritual life of others can spread.