We present the two first hypotheses presented by Jorge Ferrer in this interesting conversation:
* Article/Interview: : Rethinking the Future of World Religion: A Conversation with Jorge N. Ferrer. Integral Review. July 2012, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 22+ .
Fron the Introduction by Bahman A.K. Shirazi:
“When it comes to religious consciousness, the turn of the 21st century presents an unprecedented and challenging time in human history. On the one hand, the long-standing chasm between premodern theocentric religious traditions, and the modern anthropocentric, scientistic, and materialistic worldviews is widening. On the other hand, unlike what some may have anticipated, not only religion and spirituality are not on the decline, they are as strong as they have ever been.
Hundreds of new religions, cults, sects, and spiritual communities have emerged in recent decades. These new religious movements, along with globalization of religion, multiple-religion explorations, ecumenical services, religious syncretism, and secular spiritual orientations are among the many trends that shape today’s religious landscape. Despite the widespread materialism in a technology-dominated world, we live in times of rich spiritual diversity, experimentation, and innovation. Our postmodern world seems to be evolving at an increasingly accelerated rate. While some are very comfortable moving along at such a fast pace, others, unable to cope with this rapid change, have either resorted back to religious fundamentalism, or have become profoundly confused and disenchanted.
Jorge Ferrer is one of few thinkers who have tried to map out the current landscape: He reflects on whether humanity will ultimately converge into one single religion, or will it continue to diversify into numerous forms of spiritual expression? Or perhaps, a middle path capable of reconciling the human longing for spiritual unity, on the one hand, and the developmental and evolutionary gravitation toward spiritual individuation and differentiation, on the other hand, is more likely?
In this interview he discusses four possible scenarios for the future of religion:
mutual transformation of religions;
interspiritual wisdom; and
spirituality without religion
— as well as discussing his own participatory vision.”
Excerpted from the conversation on the first two hypotheses:
The Global Religion hypothesis
“BS: In the first scenario you talked about the emergence of a global religion or a single world faith for humankind — the possibility of a global religion where either one religion will come to dominate others, or a synthesis of many or most traditions will emerge realizing the dream of a global spirituality; and you said that this scenario is not likely. Is this just a hypothetical possibility or is there more to this beyond a desire on the part of some religion for it to prevail over others?
JF: I think that most religious traditions explicitly or implicitly aspire to have their creed prevail over the rest, because they genuinely believe that it is the best; that is, it represents the highest truth and is good for everybody. In some cases, this attitude (which I have called “spiritual narcissism”) manifests as problematic fanaticism, in others simply as a candid belief. Spiritual narcissism is pandemic and not necessarily associated with a narcissistic personality.
For example, the Dalai Lama is very likely among the least personally narcissistic, but he firmly believes that his particular school of Tibetan Buddhism holds a higher truth than any other Buddhist school or religion. He supports a diversity of religions on psychological grounds (i.e., on the basis that people have different psychological dispositions), but he still believes that it is a temporary situation, and that, after the necessary reincarnations people will come to realize the superior truth maintained by his school.
BS: Also for example, in Islam there is a belief that it is the last religion and the last word!
JF: Exactly. I believe this situation invites us to wake up to the possibility that there might be another way to hold the plurality of religions beyond believing that one must own the highest truth. I don’t believe that any of the existing religions will become global, in part because there is tremendous spiritual diversification, even within each religion. For example, which particular kind of Buddhism would prevail, as they are fighting internally over doctrinal issues? And the same is true with other religions.
In my view, the evolutionary move towards differentiation is positive and a sign of spiritual creativity. If spiritual diversification is a good thing, then the whole dream of a global religion becomes both illusory and misleading. If there is anything that might become global, it may take the form of a number of interreligious principles that all goodhearted people might agree upon.”
The Mutual Transformations of Religion hypothesis
BS: You refer to the second scenario as the mutual transformation of religions, where religious traditions conserve their identity but are deeply and perpetually transformed through a variety of interreligious exchanges. The distinctive feature here is that religious cross-pollination will lead to spiritual creative unions in which diversity is not erased, but rather intensified. You maintain that this vision is consistent with not only the adoption of practices from other traditions by members of different faith communities, but also with the deepening or re-envisioning of one’s own tradition in light of other religious perspective. You have given examples of this type of religious syncretism: the Haitian Vodou’s blending of Christianity and African traditions or the Brazilian Santo Daime Church’s incorporation of the indigenous use of ayahuasca into a Christian container. You maintain that currently this religious cross-fertilization is visibly taking place in interfaith dialogue, the New Age movement, and a number of eclectic and integrative spiritual groups. You have also included in this category the growing phenomenon of “multiple religious participation,” in which an individual partakes in the practices and belief systems of more than one tradition, which can potentially result in the renewal of existing religious traditions through cross-cultural encounters. So, this seems to be the next natural reaction to, or movement from, the first scenario. You mentioned that interreligious dialogues are a part of this trend. Many people say that the interreligious dialogues that they have seen are more about stating your case, honoring or acknowledging the other, but sticking to your own truth and boundaries. I was wondering if you were inspired by certain kinds of interreligious dialogues that go further than that and the parties are really mutually interested in one another?
JF: I have read a lot about interreligious dialogue and attended a number of interreligious encounters, including the Parliament of the World Religions and others organized by Religions for Peace at the United Nations.
There are a variety of attitudes within the interfaith movement. What you described is a kind of tolerant dialogue in which people have an interest in each other but there are clear limits regarding how deeply transformative the dialogue can be. In some circles interreligious dialogue moved beyond that. In many cases, for example, Christians not only gain a deep understanding of say Buddhism, but also state that such understanding helped them to recognize aspects of Christianity that they would have otherwise overlooked. In addition, there are increasing numbers of interfaith experiments that move beyond verbal dialogue to include exchange of spiritual practices.
Interestingly, perhaps because of their self-critical postcolonial awareness, Christians seem to be the ones more open to these kinds of deeply transformative exchanges. What I see in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue is that many Christian theologians are ready to transform Christian doctrine through engagement of Buddhist teachings, but this is not always the case in the other direction. In any event, this is the direction I would like to see the dialogue move forward—toward mutual transformations not just at the level of doctrine, but also of spiritual practice. The reason for that is that I believe that different traditions have stressed, cultivated, and developed different human potentials.
BS: Exactly, each tradition seems to have mastered a certain aspect of reality or a part of the larger whole.
JF: And this cross-pollination can allow different traditions to remain in their identities and simultaneously be enriched by contact with other religions. One phenomenon that fascinates me is cross-fertilization at the visionary level. There are the levels of doctrine and practice, but what about the visionary, ontological, or metaphysical levels? In some contemporary ayahuasca ceremonies, for example, people access visionary worlds that combine indigenous and Christian motifs. I think we are going to see more of that in years to come. What people bring with them to these dialogs is key, and many involved in interreligious dialogues are practicing more than one tradition.
BS: Do you think practicing more than one religion is just a temporary phase? Or is it really possible to continue with multiple traditions?
JF: I think it’s perfectly possible. It is well documented in individual biographical cases, but also in the case of entire societies, such as contemporary Japan. Many Japanese people practice a combination of Shintoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism side by side.
They tend to compartmentalize it; for example, Shintoism for nature, Buddhism for the self, and Confucianism for politics. On an individual level, Raimon Panikkar’s case comes quickly to mind. He was both a Christian priest and Hindu sanyasin, and his influential approach to interreligious dialogue emerged from his own intra-religious dialogue.
BS: This has also been true in the past, for example, in Southeast Asia the animistic and indigenous traditions are just part of the Buddhist religion today. Buddhism has not washed over them and somehow has incorporated the older traditions into its religious practice, so it’s possible that this will continue.
JF: The phenomenon of “multiple religious participation” is increasing and has been well documented sociologically. For example, Judaism and Buddhism seem to somehow easily go together; many Buddhist teachers in the United States were Jewish by birth and there are many Jewish people who practice Buddhism.
BS: One individual explained the reason for this being that in Judaic theology there is not enough explicit acknowledgement of human suffering; and that Judaism tends to be a life-celebratory and God-glorifying tradition. So there is little acknowledgment of personal suffering in Judaism—and thus attraction to Buddhism.
JF: I do believe that many people have the psychospiritual capability to hold different beliefs and practices in their lives. What we don’t know is whether the phenomenon we are seeing now will eventually lead to syncretic religions or more to situations like the one in Japan.