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Posted October 26, 2004

Book: The Spirituality Revolution: The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality
Author: David Tacey
Brunner-Routledge, New York, pp.250

An Excerpt from Jacket:

The spiritual life is no longer a specialist concern, restricted to those who belong to religious traditions. The spirituality revolution is a spontaneous movement in society, a significant new interest in the reality of spirituality and its healing effects on life, health, community and well-being.

The Spirituality Revolution: The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality recognises that we have outgrown the ideals and values of previous times and reveals an image of the spiritual situation of our era. Recent discoveries in physics, biology, psychology and ecology have begun to restore status to previously discredited spiritual visions of reality and this book illustrates the ways in which we might uncover a universal spiritual wisdom that could transform our splintered world. Topics explored include the current state of the Western experience of spirit, our need for spiritual guidance when we cannot turn to organised religion in their traditional forms, and the creative potential of spirit in education, personal experience, contemporary philosophy and popular feeling for the environment.

The Spirituality Revolution addresses a major social issue which requires immediate attention if we are to respond creatively to spiralling outbreaks of depression, suicide, addition and psychological suffering. It is a much-needed contribution to the field, of great interest to analytical psychologists, counsellors, educators and social workers, and to all those interested in spirituality and the future of religion.

An Excerpt from the Book:

In 1194, on the Isle of Capri, a group of distinguished European philosophers called together by the Italian Philosophical Yearbook. The theme of this meeting was to be the condition of ‘religion’ in society and culture today. Derrida described the candidates at this meeting in this way:

We are not priests bound by a ministry, nor theologians, nor qualified, competent representatives of religion, nor enemies of religion as such, in the sense that certain so-called Enlightenment philosophers are thought to have been.

The first issue to be discussed was what religion could mean today. Is religion a remnant or fossil from an earlier era, which contemporary philosophers should attack in the manner of Enlightenment thinkers? Clearly no, was Derrida’s response. Religion should be approached anew, with different assumptions and expectations. This meeting was particularly interested in the fact that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the collapse of state communism, the people of Eastern Europe seemed to need ‘religion.’ And in the West, although the churches continued to empty, there was an expressed need recorded in people, the arts, culture and music for ‘something more’ than material living.

It was difficult for the meeting to define what this ‘something’ was in Western Europe. But the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer ventured to suggest that the reality of death and the modern person’s dim or bright awareness of inescapable and impending mortality had brought about a new interest in the subject of eternity.

Perhaps this was turning towards ‘eternity’ for enlightened self-interest, but however one wished to name it, it seemed that the eternal questions had returned to contemporary consciousness, and were even ‘fashionable’ in the arts and music; therefore, philosophy had to engage those questions.

The Return of the Religious

Religious questions had to be grappled with anew, preferably outside the restrictions of dogma or doctrine, and always with human experience and social reality in mind. Speakers at this symposium kept stating that there was a new feeling of openness and interest about religious questions, although they similarly noted that formal religious practice was continuing to decline. It seemed that the religious and religion had parted company in their understandings, and mostly for the reasons given in Chapter 2 of this book. But unlike my own work, these philosophers refuse to speak of spirituality as such, and instead the keep referring to the idea of the ‘religious.’

Derrida’s opening paper, ‘Faith and Knowledge’, deals with the ‘return of the religious’, as he calls it. His provocative and daring claim is that the religious is returning, and this is uttered with a keen awareness of its monumental significance, not only to philosophy, but also to civilisation and to the very concept of our living in a secular society. It is ironic that Derrida should make this claim, since most universities know him as a key proponent of the idea deconstruction, namely the art or science of unravelling culture to expose its component parts and inherent assumptions.

This art is mostly practiced in a reductive mode, by taking something religious, cultural or spiritual and reducing it to social constructs, power relations or linguistic elements. Derrida has undergone a sea-change, and his deconstruction of culture has led to a deep awareness of and regard for the presence of mystery. Gadamer puts this basic intuition clearly. Philosophy, he writes, has still not been able to ‘answer . . .the fundamental question as to why there is something rather than nothing.”

Derrida performs linguistic philosophy on the word ‘religion’, and after claiming that the religious is returning, he shows why this is embedded in the very structure of the word. The letters ‘re’ at the beginning of ‘re-ligion’ ensures that this peculiar phenomenon of human nature and society will re-turn, re-vive, and re-cur. ‘Religion’, according to Derrida’s definition, is ‘what succeeds in returning.’

Returning to What?

Derrida’s announcement seemed to make the symposium nervous. ‘What are we returning to?’ cried Gadamer. Derrida indicated that we are not necessarily returning to the churches or to old religious forms, but rather that something primal and basic is returning to us. This return is philosophical and existential, and must not be seen as regressing to past forms.

Some of the philosophers seemed surprised to find themselves announcing to the world that the religious is about to return. This, to me, is what makes the Capri Dialogues all the more moving, compelling and important. We are in the presence of an inspired or even involuntary proclamation. Gadamer, with a slight hint of outrage, reflects on the idea of return (ruckkehr), and makes his own position very clear concerning religion. Although describing himself as a Protestant, and indicating that his religious foundation is in the Christian tradition, he announces:

Clearly ‘return’ cannot mean a return to mataphysics or to any sort of sort of ecclesiastical doctrine.

Philosophy and religion are still at odds, it seems, and these statements are fired like warning shots to the faith institutions that might want to find comfort or solace in the new turn to the religious in postmodern philosophy.

Just to underscore the fact that postmodern philosophy has not gone soft, lost its radical edge, or somehow becoming nostalgic about religious practice or custom, Gianni Vattimo states:

Times have doubtless changed since Hegel wrote that the basic sentiment of his time was expressed in the proposition ‘God is dead.’ But is ‘our’ time (which, like that of Hegel, begins with the birth of Christ) really so different? And is the phenomenon known rightly or wrongly as the ‘religious revival’ (though more in parliaments, terrorism and the media than in the churches, which continue to empty), really anything other than ‘the death of God’? That is the question we asked ourselves, as no doubt everyone else is doing today, and it is the question we put to the friends and colleagues we invited to collaborate with us.

Again, I would argue that these philosophers are not making clear enough distinctions between the traditional images of God, Holy Spirit or heaven, and the essential realities to which these images point, which may be expressing themselves in new and radical ways. To focus on the breakdown of images only is to end in depression, nihilism and atheism. But to look beyond the breakdown to the new potentials and possibilities is to arrive at a postmodern mysticism, a stage which does not yet seem to be evident, at least not in philosophy where it is only hinted at by Derrida and others.

The philosopher Mauizio Ferraris was even more adamant than Gadamer tht a revived Christianity is not about to appear on the cultural horizon. He declared:

Christianity as we have known it in history is disappearing. That is, the Christian religion as a faith whose defences include that of being the most rational, the most true, of a truth that has an essential relation with the truth of history and science, is in the process of dissolving. Nothing will be able to make it rise again.

I am not sure if this philosopher sees the irony of claiming that Christianity, a religion based on the mystery of resurrection, will never ‘rise again’. But if it does rise, it will clearly not be in the old form, but in a new form, closer perhaps to historical Buddhism.

Compelled to be Prophetic

What is moving about this collection of essays on religion by postmodern philosophers is their straining towards the prophetic mode. They would like to announce the shape and form of the new, but they are only able to provide a few clues. Gadamer writes, ‘Will the world, perhaps, be able to discover an answer which, as yet, can only be guessed at?’ Ferraris postulates that what is being prepared could be a ‘religion of the other’. Spanish philospher Eugenio Trias speculates that:

Perhaps it is a matter of preparing for the emergence of a new religion: the true religion of the spirit already prophesied in the 12th century by the Calabrian abbot Joachim of the Flowers and invoked afresh by Novalis and Schelling in the century of Romanticism and Idealism. Perhaps the only way to counteract the wars of religion breaking out everywhere is to lay the basis for a new foundation. But such an event does not come about by force of will alone. For it to occur, a number of different factors must come together. It is a matter, perhaps, of simply preparing the ground in order that the event at some point may come about.

At the symposium on religion on the Isle of Capri, most philosophers concurred that a new spirit of the time is expressing itself, and that some ground is being prepared for some event in the future. This is stirring stuff for philosophers generally known for their suspicion of the non-rational and their scepticism towards religion. It is as though, in spite of themselves, they are being urged to be prophetic philosophers, that is bearing witness to the revelation of spirit in contemporary times.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The spirituality revolution

Part 1 – The present situation

1. Rising waters of the spirit
2. Spirit without form

Part 2 – Youth spirituality

3. Going to the underground stream
4. Student spirituality and educational authority
5. Mind the gap: youth spirituality and religion
6. Spiritual education: a difficult kind of bliss
7. Losing my religion, recovering the sacred

Part 3 – Discernment

8. Post-religion: the return to beginnings
9. Authenticity and spirituality
10. Towards a new image of God

Part 4 – Concluding reflections

11. Youth, cultural crisis and ecospirituality
12. What can religion do?
13. The spirituality gap: credibility and supernaturalism
14. Winning back our connections