Our Planet's Interfaith and Interspirituality Development - Contemplative Journal

Our Planet’s Interfaith and Interspirituality Development

Our Planet’s Interfaith and Interspirituality Development

Our plant is developing interfaith and interspirituality movements in incredible ways in this day and age. Read on to find out more…

The Two Undercurrents of Interfaith Development

We may be apt to think the modern interfaith perspective and growing interest and openness among the world’s peoples to consider the religious beliefs and spiritual heritages of people from widely varying cultures is merely a by-product of the “Information Age.” Indeed, particularly since the last world war, not only is more information available about the world’s religions, this information is much more readily shared. However, as our book The Coming Interspiritual Age emphasizes, there are stronger and deeper forces at work influencing the apparent rapid growth of world interfaith exchange, trans-traditional practice and belief, and the growing sense of a shared universal spirituality, or “interspirituality.”

Two powerful undercurrents are setting the pace of global interfaith and interspiritual development. First is the world’s inevitable movement toward globalization and multiculturalism across all arenas of human endeavor. Second is the movement of cognitive brain-mind development away from the parochialisms of the past toward deeper appreciations of unity and profound interconnectedness. The human species has for far too long sustained a lens of fragmentation, competition, and even conflict between worldviews stuck in the traditional “boxes” of our planet’s divergent cultures. The interfaith and interspirituality phenomena are not only timely, inherent responses to globalization, they fall in line with our species’s unfolding evolution.

Because of this, interfaith and interspiritual leaders and practitioners must be even more proactive in their pivotal role at this threshold in human history. Comprehending this, Wayne Teasdale, in his seminal work The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (wherein he coined the terms “interspiritual” and “interspirituality”) stated:

We are at the dawn of a new consciousness, a radically fresh approach to our life as the human family in a fragile world. The necessary shifts in consciousness require a new approach to spirituality that transcends past religious cultures of fragmentation and isolation. This revolution will be the task of the Interspiritual Age. We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind.”[1]

Understanding that “interspirituality”—this more universal experience of the world’s religions, emphasizing shared experiences of heart and unity consciousness—represents religion’s inevitable response to globalization, Teasdale further realized:

The real religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself, because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world religions. If this is so, and I believe it is, we might also say that interspirituality—the sharing of ultimate experiences across traditions—is the religion of the third millennium. Interspirituality is the foundation that can prepare the way for a planet-wide enlightened culture, and a continuing community among the religions that is substantial, vital, and creative.[2]

Today, we’re witnessing many parallel discussions concerning globalization in all fields of human discourse: governance, economics, science, and culture, to name a few. The interfaith and interspiritual conversations are religion’s part of this evolutionary leap.

The Current Unfolding Interfaith Movement 

Interspirtuality emerged from the growing interfaith phenomenon of the latter half of the twentieth century. According to Brother Wayne Teasdale, this new movement is the result of the world’s religious and spiritual leaders talking to each other—discussions that were both long overdue and destined to come of age in the global era. Interspirituality represents the culmination of years of international interfaith and ecumenical exchanges centered on the recognition of a common experience within all spiritual traditions—a sense of profound interconnectedness and what this implies for how humans should behave both individually and collectively.

This recognition has occurred hand in hand with the wider universal sense of unity that underpins the world’s other currently advancing ideals of holism: true economic egalitarianism, the abandonment of militant nationalism, nuclear disarmament, and other ethical gold standards advanced by the secular voices of globalization and multiculturalism. They are ideals that propel the defining edge of human development. When polled about these ideals, some 80% of Americans felt such ideals were both important and achievable.[3]

Central to globalization is the imperative that our two primary ways of knowing—the external explorations of science and the internal explorations of religion and spirituality—must converge as coherent parts of an emerging worldview or cosmology. Not only must these realms cooperate, they must forge new approaches that can successfully nurture a healthy global and multicultural age.

Teasdale’s goal, along with that of the other great historical champions of a universal spirituality—nearly fifty of whom are described in The Coming Interspiritual Age and pictured at www.thecominginterspiritualage.com and www.isdna.org—was to prepare the world’s religions for their role as an asset toward achieving this mature global civilization, not a liability as part of the worldwide problem of competing ethnocentric and nationalistic allegiances. These interspiritual pioneers believed that the primary vector of our species’s ultimate spiritual and ethical development wasn’t any one of the world’s countless spiritual paths, but the shared direction of all. For this view, Teasdale coined the words “interspirituality” and “intermysticism” and put forward the view that, in the deepest sense, the historical development of humanity’s spiritual unfolding has been a single experience on behalf of all humankind—a convergence continuing to this day, defining the leading edge of the maturation of our species.

After the publication of his books, Teasdale worked tirelessly (along with many other interspiritual pioneers) to initiate institutions and structures that could support this historic threshold in human development. Their success in inspiring so many others has, to a great degree, resulted in the upwelling of the current growing global interspiritual emergence. Diverse traditions are coming to see that at the heart of all spiritual traditions is a “mystic heart” that connects us to the very core of reality itself—one that can enable humanity to unconditionally embrace all beings with the love and compassion central to all the world’s spiritual teachings.

In other words, the world’s interspiritual pioneers see the emergence of a new axial age that can lift all of humanity to transcend the differences and disagreements that have plagued the human family, instead nurturing a spiritual alignment based on the universal elements shared by all the religious, spiritual, wisdom, and philosophical traditions of the globe. This alignment is characterized by four points:

  1. the possibility of a common unifying core to human mystic experience
  2. basic teachings held in common by all the world’s religions
  3. shared ethical implications of the teachings of all the great traditions, and
  4. mutuality across the religions regarding commitment to social and economic justice.

Trends Toward an Emerging Global Interspirituality

The Coming Interspiritual Age recounts in detail the emergent steps toward a global interspirituality. We painstakingly documented as undeniable trends the progression toward globalization, multicultural blending, the rise of a global collective, and scientific advances to support the reality of unitive consciousness, along with newly emerging self-evident truths that will characterize the twenty-first century.
Globalization of planet earth and the resulting multicultural blending is inevitable. But the question remains as to what kind of globalization it will be. Will it be devoid of any significant contribution from the Great Wisdom Traditions, or will it usher in a new spiritual axial age? If indeed multicultural globalization is inevitable, we must ask ourselves how this process will unfold. Will it be a bumpy ride full of competition and conflict—indeed possibly even outright economic and military warfare, or will a more reasoned dialogue emerge, mitigating such negative consequences?
Inevitabilities such as these elicit the question of whether this era of globalization can lead the world to a maturation like that predicted by such visionaries as Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo. This vision also framed the “foundationalist theologians” after Vatican II, who envisaged the possibility of a global religious pluralism ultimately joined in heart and consciousness. Further, these unifying principles characterize the best vision of philosophy and futurism as well—from the perennial humanist goal of “a global ethical manifold,” to Ken Wilber and the integralists’ positing of a “conveyor belt” to an “Integral Age.”

Creeds and dogmas, exclusive in nature on a cultural level, still characterize much of the purely religious side of the world’s spiritual traditions. However, significant movements across the world’s spiritual communities are beginning to potentially alter the global equation. This spiritual emphasis on the experience of “the heart” and states of unitive higher consciousness appear to nurture universally life-altering experiences of interconnectedness, mutuality, and “oneness.” These experiences are reflected in an increasingly expanding worldwide popular literature and media regarding the experience of the gestalt of “we.” They are also reflected in the results of scientific studies of humanity’s advancing cognitive skills, human brain-mind research indicating ongoing moral maturation, and advances in our species’ understanding of science itself—in the New Physics’ quantum realities and the vibratory understandings of string and M-theory.

Indeed, modern science continues to bring forward major discoveries concerning the unified nature of reality—both at the level of new factual discoveries and also changes in science’s methods and philosophies. Holistic visions and discoveries are arising across all the physical, biological, and cognitive sciences, affecting our understanding of basic physics, chemistry, and technology, our anthropological origins, ultimate views of cosmology, and changes in the assumptions and methods of the philosophy of science itself. What was dreamed of or speculated about only a decade ago—about time, matter and energy, life, communication, and the cosmos—is now considered commonplace reality within the scientific community.

New self-evident truths also appear to be emerging. The merging rational and analytical mind of the Renaissance and early European enlightenment created a gestalt in which individuals began thinking strongly in terms of their own worldviews and life options, not just those of the privileged or governing elite. As such, that era witnessed the emergence of self-evident truths with regard to the rights of individuals. Today, in step with the trend in cognitive evolution toward holism, we also see new self-evident truths arising. But this time they appear to involve the meaning of collectives and the roles of individuals and institutions within and in responsibility to a collective. We’re seeing this in the emergence of a sense of inalienable rights with regard to access to resources which appears to be behind all of the worldwide “Springs”—the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and the emerging Catholic Spring. In turn, these reflect science’s new understanding of humankind’s ongoing cognitive development—out of the old paradigm of dualism and into a new paradigm of non-dualism—the realm of the world’s perennial mystics.

Our Chances for Survival

A new field of science has arisen: “The Cognitive Science of Religion” (CSR), formally associated in 2006, combining the studies of five major academic fields focused on the investigation of religion and spirituality by scientific methods.[4] The perspectives of CSR suggest the real danger for the world’s future may be that the human “monkey mind” will become entrained in ways of viewing reality, and functioning within it, that are radically non-fact-based and thus lead to public decision making that actually impedes or seriously challenges a successful future for the species.

CSR also clearly distinguishes the phenomenon of religion from that of spirituality. According to CSR, spirituality refers to humans’ underlying personal subjective experiences of reality (“contemplative” and “mystical” experiences, for example). These often lead experiencers to profound, life-altering understandings of the nature of reality and their place in it. Historically, however, CSR sees these naturally occurring experiences, which appear to be part of our deepest human nature, as historically changed (in some senses “hijacked”) by the eventualities of organized religious systems. The priority of organized religions is usually not so much the individualized subjective life-changing experience, but the wider sociological phenomenon of organized religions, which naturally have as their currency exclusive beliefs, dogmas, and creeds. CSR sees the arising of religion from spirituality as natural, but often with a pathological paradox, because religion actually has a different social purpose: to conform behavior to various social, cultural, and political norms (and less-to-nothing to do with spiritual experience). It’s this pathology that the emergent interspiritual conversation addresses, offering new inspiration and hope to so many.

The coming decades will prove pivotal with regard to whether a new global gestalt, with a new cosmology common worldwide for the “person on the street,” can emerge—and what it may look like. Some startling statistics frame this emergence. In the West, some 70-75% of younger people proclaim themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”[5] Similarly, across the world’s traditional cultural spheres, 35% or less are actually participating actively in the traditional religions of that cultural sphere, while, worldwide, 86% of the global population have worldviews stemming from some kind of religious or spiritual heritage, and less than one billion hold purely atheistic or reductionist scientific views.[6] This is a huge vacuum in which the cosmology or gestalt of the future will emerge. And, to make the matter even more momentous, science itself appears to be continuing through an anti-purely-reductionist, anti-purely-mechanistic shift in search of holistic paradigms that can more skillfully grasp and explain the kind of reality—from the infinitesimally large to the infinitesimally small—implied by today’s quantum and vibratory string views of the cosmos.[7]

In the midst of all this stands the emerging interspiritual paradigm—as a holistic paradigm certainly not alone on the world stage, and certainly part of something bigger than just an increase of available information in our modern Information Age. This realization should challenge those of us at the leading edge of this understanding to recognize we have a pivotal responsibility regarding the survival of our species. The religions have, again and again, turned to emphasizing difference, competition, and even conflict. In doing so, they have held up for derision the spiritual values they cherish and share. As Brother Wayne Teasdale said in The Mystic Heart, the historic shift away from this exclusivism and absolutism toward a universal spirituality will take great courage for members of any world religion or spiritual tradition. Nevertheless, he was convinced that this path is the destiny of all the world’s religions—and the one toward which we must journey, or be part of a colossal failure on the part of our species.

Indeed, many (up to 77% according to CNN) feel that “old time” religion is in certain decline. A similar 75% equate this shift not with the values and ideals of religion, but with what has become of religious institutions.[8] This trend may well reflect the prediction made by Teasdale. If “old time” religion doesn’t change, it will certainly further feed the world’s chronic pathologies of division, competition, and conflict. If so, like astrology before it (which ruled for centuries in the Middle Ages), it might simply fade away. Yet humankind’s spiritual nature appears fundamental. Hence, could it shift toward the kind of universal spirituality—interspirituality—that Teasdale and the other great pioneers identified and, with it, the structures of religion?

The Coming Interspiritual Age envisions such a shift toward a universal spirituality that’s highly personal, highly experiential, holistic, and all-embracing. If such a spirituality came of age, it’s possible its narratives would no longer be anthropomorphic—those of casts of celestial characters bringing permanent salvation or damnation. Its narratives might more likely be about how reality is structured and how it works, in both our inner and external cosmologies. Most of all, it would teach a world of the heart, where “truth” is identified with what brings everything and everyone together, and “falsehood” identified with whatever separates or parts.

The world is already full of models that reflect these kinds of visions and values. It isn’t overreaching, we think, to forecast that this kind of spirituality, and religion, might—and must—characterize the twenty-first century. Interspiritualists and interreligionists call it “The Interspiritual Age.” Integralists and developmentalists refer to it as “The Integral Age” or “Age of Evolutionary Consciousness.” Humanists speak of it as “The Ethical Manifold.” Through worldwide polls speaking not of beliefs but of ideals and values, The Coming Interspiritual Age reported some 90% of humanity supporting this holistic and egalitarian worldview[9]. If this is any indication, hope is afoot. And the deep undercurrents pushing today’s upwelling of interfaith and interspiritual activity are indeed real and working their slow but steady evolutionary magic.


[1] Words from Brother Wayne Teasdale’s The Mystic Heart (p. 4 forward) read at the founding of the Universal Order of Sannyasa, January 9, 2010 (http://www.orderofsannyasa.org/joinus.htm).

[2] The Mystic Heart [hereafter, “MH”] p 26; quotations from the book The Mystic Heart (copyright 1999 by Wayne Teasdale) reprinted in The Coming Interspiritual Age with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.

[3] Public Religion Research Institute/Religious News Survey, Religion News, 2011.

[4] The International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion unites sociobiology, sociology of religion, anthropology of religion and transpersonal and evolutionary psychology.

[5] Huffington Post (McEntee and Bucko, 5/6/13) citing data in The Los Angeles Times.

[6] Statistics from The Coming Interspiritual Age (Namaste Publishing, 2013).

[7] Statement by The International Union of Physiological Sciences (Professor Denis Noble, President) entitled “Rocking the Foundations of Biology” (5/14/13).

[8] CNN poll “America losing its religion” 5/29/13.

[9] From The Coming Interspiritual Age (“What Kind of Globalization”) p. 299f, citing data from Gallup and Pew, 2007.

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Our Planet's Interfaith and Interspirituality Development

Kurt Johnson
Kurt Johnson

Kurt Johnson has worked in science and spirituality for over forty years. Kurt is co-author of the recently published book The Coming Interspiritual Age with David Robert Ord, which debuted in Amazon’s Top Ten in Spirituality. Kurt also co-authored the best-seller Nabokov’s Blues with Steve Coates of The New York Times, which was a Top Ten Book in science in 2000. Kurt spent fourteen years as a Christian monk and founded, with Brother Wayne Teasdale and others, the InterSpiritual Dialogue Association (www.isdna.org) for discussion of contemplative experience across traditions. Ordained in three spiritual traditions, he also works with The Contemplative Alliance (www.gpiw.org) and Integral communities. Kurt holds a Ph.D. in evolution, ecology, systematics and comparative biology. In his thirty year association with the American Museum of Natural History, he published over two-hundred articles on evolution and ecology, including the 2011 Harvard DNA sequence study vindicating Vladimir Nabokov’s views of evolution. He is currently completing another book on Nabokov’s science and art for Yale University Press. Kurt’s primary interest lies in the simplicity of nondual spiritual practice.