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Vision of the Future of Religion

Vision of the Future of Religion

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06/14/2013

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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
139
 A Participatory Vision of Religion
Te Plurality of Religions and the Spirit of Pluralism: A Participatory Vision of the Future of Religion
 Jorge N. Ferrer 
1
Caliornia Institute o Integral StudiesSan Francisco, CA, USA 
Tis paper rst uncovers the subtle spiritual narcissism that has characterized historical approachesto religious diversity and discusses the shortcomings o the main orms o religious pluralism thathave been proposed as its antidote: ecumenical, soteriological, postmodern, and metaphysical. Itthen argues that a participatory pluralism paves the way or an appreciation o religious diversity thateschews the dogmatism and competitiveness involved in privileging any particular tradition over therest without alling into cultural-linguistic or naturalistic reductionisms. Discussion includes thequestion o the validity o spiritual truths and the development o a participatory critical theory o religion. Te essay concludes with an exploration o dierent scenarios or the uture o religion–global religion, mutual transormation, interspiritual wisdom, and spirituality without religion–andproposes that such a uture may be shaped by spiritually individuated persons engaged in processeso cosmological hybridization in the context o a common spiritual amily. A participatory approachto spirituality turns the problem o religious plurality into a celebration o the critical spirit o pluralism.
 W 
hen David B. Barret, the main editor o themassive
World Christian Encyclopedia 
(Barretet al., 2001), was asked what he had learnedabout religious change in the world ater several decadeso research, he responded with the ollowing: “We haveidentied nine thousand and nine hundred distinctand separate religions in the world, increasing by twoor three religions every day” (cited in Lester, 2002, p.28). Although there may be something to celebrate inthis spiritual diversity and ongoing innovation, it is alsoclear that the existence o many conicting religiousvisions o reality and human nature is a major cause o the prevailing skepticism toward religious and spiritualtruth claims. Against the background o modernistassumptions about a singular objective reality, it is under-standable that the presence o a plurality o mutually exclusive accounts leads to the condent dismissal o religious explanations. It is as i contemporary culturehas succumbed to the Cartesian anxiety behind what W.E. Hocking called the “scandal o plurality,” the worry that “i there are so many divergent claims to ultimatetruth, then perhaps none is right” (cited in Clarke, 1997,p. 134). Tis competitive predicament among religiousbelies is not only a philosophical or existential problem;it has also has prooundly aected how people romdierent credos engage one another and, even today,plays an important role in many interreligious conicts,quarrels, and even holy wars.
2
As the theologian HansKüng (1988) amously said, there can be “no worldpeace without peace among religions” (p. 194) to whichone may add that “there might not be complete peaceamong religions without ending the competition among religions.”ypical responses to the scandal o religiousplurality tend to all along a continuum betweentwo drastically opposite positions. At one end o thespectrum, materialistic, scientically-minded, and“nonreligionist” scholars retort to the plurality o religious world views to downplay or dismiss altogetherthe cognitive value o religious knowledge claims,regarding religions as cultural abrications which, likeart pieces or culinary dishes, can be extremely diverseand even personally ediying but never the bearers o any “objective” truth whatsoever (e.g., Rorty, 1998). At the other end, spiritual practitioners, theologians,and “religionist” scholars vigorously deend thecognitive value o religion, addressing the problem o religious pluralism by either endorsing the exclusive (orultimately superior) truth o their preerred traditionor developing universalist understandings that seek toreconcile the conicting spiritual truths within one oranother encompassing system. Despite their proessed
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
,
28 
, 2009, pp. 139-151
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
140
Ferrer
integrative stance, most universalist visions o humanspirituality tend to distort the essential message o thevarious religious traditions, hierarchically avoring certain spiritual truths over others and raising seriousobstacles or interreligious harmony and open-endedspiritual inquiry (see Ferrer, 2000, 2002).My intention is this essay is to rst uncoverthe spiritual narcissism characteristic o our sharedhistorical approach to religious diversity, as well asbriey discuss the shortcomings o the main ormso religious pluralism that have been proposed as itsantidote. Second, I introduce the “participatory turn”in the study o spirituality and religion, showing how it can help to cultivate a resh appreciation o religiousdiversity that avoids the dogmatism and competitivenessinvolved in privileging any particular tradition over therest without alling into cultural-linguistic or naturalisticreductionisms. Ten I oer some practical orientationsto assess the validity o spiritual truths and outline thecontours o a participatory critical theory o religion.o conclude, I explore dierent scenarios or the utureor religion and suggest that a participatory approachto religion not only osters our spiritual individuationin the context o a common human spiritual amily,but also turns the problem o religious plurality into a celebration o the critical spirit o pluralism.
Uncovering Our Spiritual Narcissism
 A 
ew marginal voices notwithstanding (e.g., see Lings& Minnaar, 2007; Oldmeadow, 2004; Stoddart,2008), the search or a common core, universal essence,or single metaphysical world behind the multiplicity o religious experiences and cosmologies can be regardedas over. Whether guided by the exclusivist intuitionismo traditionalism or the deism o theological agendas,the outcome–and too oten the intended goal–o suchuniversalist projects was unambiguous: the privileging o one particular spiritual or religious system over allothers. In addition to universalism, the other attemptsto explain religious divergences have typically taken oneo the three ollowing routes: exclusivism (“my religionis the only true one, the rest are alse”), inclusivism (“my religion is the most accurate or complete, the rest arelower or partial”), and ecumenical pluralism (“theremay be real dierences between our religions, but alllead ultimately to the same end”).Te many problems o religious exclusivismare well known. It easily osters religious intolerance,undamentalist tendencies, and prevents a reciprocal andsymmetrical encounter with the other where divergentspiritual viewpoints may be regarded as enriching optionsor genuine alternatives. In the wake o the scope o contemporary theodiversity, the deense o the absolutecognitive superiority o one single tradition over all othersis more dubious than ever. Inclusivist and ecumenically pluralist approaches suer rom similar difculties inthat they tend to conceal claims or the supremacy o one or another religious tradition, ultimately collapsing into the dogmatism o exclusivist stances (e.g., seeFerrer, 2002; Halbass, 1998). Consider, or example,the Dalai Lama’s deense o the need o a plurality o religions. While celebrating the existence o dierentreligions to accommodate the diversity o human karmicdispositions, he contends that nal spiritual liberationcan only be achieved through the emptiness practiceso his own school o ibetan Buddhism, implicitly situating all other spiritual choices as lower–a view thathe believes all other Buddhists and religious people willeventually accept (D’Costa, 2000). Other examples o inclusivist approaches include such diverse proposals asKukai’s ranking o Conucian, aoist, and Buddhistsystems as progressive stages towards his own ShingonBuddhism (Hakeda, 1972); Swami Vivekananda’sproclamation o (neo-)Vedanta as the universal “eternalreligion” (
sanatana dharma 
) that uniquely encompassesall others (Halbass, 1988); the Baha’i belie in its being the last and highest, though not nal, revelation o a succession o religions (Coward, 2000); and Wilber’s(1995) arrangement o all religious goals as hierarchicalstages o spiritual development culminating in his ownarticulation o a nondual realization.
3
In a way, thevarious approaches to religious diversity–exclusivism,inclusivism, and ecumenical pluralism (more about thelatter in a moment)–can be situated along a continuumranging rom more gross to more subtle orms o “spiritual narcissism,” which ultimately elevate one’savored tradition or spiritual choice as superior.
4
Te bottom line is that, explicitly or implicitly,religious traditions have persistently looked down uponone another, each believing that their truth is morecomplete or nal, and that their path is the only or mosteective one to achieve ull salvation or enlightenment.Te ollowing section considers several types o religiouspluralism have been proposed in response to thisdisconcerting situation.
Te Varieties of Religious Pluralism
eligious pluralism comes in many guises andashions. Beore suggesting a participatory remedy to our spiritual narcissism in dealing with religious
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
141
 A Participatory Vision of Religion
dierence, I critically review here our major typeso religious pluralism: ecumenical, soteriological,postmodern, and metaphysical. As noted,
ecumenical pluralism
admits genuinedierences among religious belies and practices, butmaintains that they all ultimately lead to the sameend (see, e.g., Hick & Knitter, 1987; Hick, 1989). Teproblem with this apparently tolerant stance is that, whenever its proponents describe such religious goal, they invariably do it in terms that avor one or another specictradition (e.g., God, the transcendently Real, emptiness,and so orth). Tis is why ecumenical pluralism not only degenerates into exclusivist or inclusivist stances, but alsotrivializes the encounter with “the other”– ater all, whatis really the point o engaging in interaith exchange i  we
already 
 
know 
that we are all heading toward the samegoal? A classical example o this stance is the theologianKarl Rahner’s (2001)
 
amous proposal that practitionerso other religions could attain salvation by walking dierent paths because, though unknown to them,they are “anonymous Christians” who can be deliveredthrough God’s grace. Te contradictions o pluralisticapproaches that postulate an equivalent end-point or alltraditions have been pointed out by students o religionor decades (e.g., Cobb, 1975, 1999; D’Costa, 1990;Panikkar, 1987, 1995). A genuine religious pluralism,it is today widely accepted, needs to acknowledge theexistence o alternative religious aims, and putting allreligions on a single scale will not do it.In response to these concerns,
 
a number o scholars have proposed a 
soteriological pluralism
thatenvisions a multiplicity o irreducible “salvations”associated with the various religious traditions (e.g., Heim,1995). Due to their diverse ultimate visions o reality andpersonhood, religious traditions stress the cultivation o particular human potentials or competences (e.g., accessto visionary worlds, mind/body integration, expansion o consciousness, transcendence o the body, and so orth), which naturally leads to distinct human transormationsand states o reedom. A variant o this approach is thepostulation o a 
limited 
number o independent butequiprimordial religious goals and
conceptually possible 
ultimate realities, or example, theism (in its variousorms), monistic nondualism (à la Advaita Vedanta),and process nondualism (such as that o Yogacara Buddhism) (Kaplan, 2002). Te soteriological approachto religious dierence, however, remains agnosticabout the ontological status o spiritual realities, being thereore pluralistic only at a phenomenological level(i.e., admitting dierent human spiritual ulllments),but not at an ontological or metaphysical one (i.e., at thelevel o spiritual realities).Te combination o pluralism and metaphysicalagnosticism is also a chie eature o the
 postmodern
solution to the problem o conicting truth claims inreligion. Te translation o religious realities into cultural-linguistic abrications allows postmodern scholars toexplain interreligious dierences as the predictableupshot o the world’s various religious belies, practices,vocabularies, or language games (Cuppit, 1998; Flood,1999). In other words, the various gods and goddesses,spirits and ancestors, archetypes and visionary worlds,are nothing but discursive entities (Braun, 2000).Postmodern pluralism denies or brackets the ontologicalstatus o the reerents o religious language, which areusually seen as meaningless, obscure, or parasitic upon thedespotic dogmatism o traditional religious metaphysics.Further, even i such spiritual realities were to exist, thehuman cognitive apparatus would only allow knowledgeo culturally and linguistically mediated experience o them (e.g., Katz, 1998). Postmodern pluralism recognizesa genuine plurality o religious goals, but at the cost o either stripping religious claims o any extra-linguisticveridicality or denying that one can know such truthseven i they exist. A notable exception to this trend is the
metaphysical 
or
deep pluralism
advocated by a number o process theologians (Cobb, 1999; Grifn, 2005). Relying on Whitehead’s distinction between “God’s unchanging Being” and “God’s changing Becoming,” this proposaldeends the existence o two ontological or metaphysicalreligious ultimates to which the various traditions aregeared: God, which corresponds to the Biblical Yaveh,the Buddhist Sambhogakaya, and Advaita Vedanta’sSaguna Brahman; and Creativity, which correspondsto Meister Eckhart’s Godhead, the Buddhist emptinessand Dharmakaya, and Advaita Vedanta’s Nirguna Brahman. A third possible ultimate, the cosmositsel, is at times added in connection to aoism andindigenous spiritualities that venerate the sacrednesso the natural world. In addition to operating within a theistic ramework adverse to many traditions, however,deep pluralism not only establishes highly dubiousequivalencies among religious goals (e.g., Buddhistemptiness and Advaita’s Nirguna Brahman), but alsoorces the rich diversity o religious ultimates into thearguably Procrustean molds o God’s “unchanging Being” and “changing Becoming.”

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