New book of the week: John Heron’s Farewell to Authoritarian Religion

We have admired John Heron’s work for many years now. What can be more important to life than the construction of meaning, i.e. the spiritual search for our relation with the totality of existence?

In this context, John’s pioneering work on Cooperative Inquiry, a method to undertake the spiritual search collectively without any recourse to authoritarianism, has been instrumental in creating the possibility for an open, participative, peer to peer spirituality.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our P2P Encyclopedia entry on Participatory Spirituality is the single most popular topical entry. It is in fact, a good introduction, if not to his own work, then to the broader context in which John Heron has been writing.

His book is already published under that same title at, , a conscious decision to avoid middle men and to practice autonomous publishing.

The subtitle of this book, A Farewell to Authoritarian Religion, is intended to convey a respectful departure from the traditional authoritarianism of spiritual schools ancient and modern.”

Before starting to read the selected preface of this new book, it is of interest to read John Heron’s definition of participatory spirituality:

The parties involved in a co-creative, enactive, transformative relation reciprocally and dynamically shape and reshape – in and through the process of meeting – how they understand each other, the regard they have for each other, and how they act and interact in relation with each other.

This definition is framed to apply to the central person-to-person relations. It can, with appropriate modifications, be applied to relations between ways of knowing, to relations between persons and their worlds, and, including and transcending all these, to the relation between persons and the divine.

Person-to-person relations are central because they are a precondition for setting the scene for divine self-disclosure and for persons to participate in it. In previous epochs this precondition was met by teacher-disciple hierarchical relations. Today divine self-disclosure can manifest through person-to-person peer relations, serviced from time to time by temporary hierarchical initiatives rotating among the peers.

peer relations are central, in my view, because of the intimate relation between epistemic participation and political participation. Epistemic participation is about the participative relation between the knower and the known. Political participation in this context is to do with participative decision-making among those involved about how we know and what we know. If participative knowing between persons is consummated in fully reciprocal encounter, then co-operative decision-making, both about how to engage in such reciprocal knowing and about what it reveals, is necessary for authentic interpersonal knowing – the realm of the between where divine self-disclosure can manifest.”

Spiritual practice: A primary ground for the practice of participatory-relational spirituality can be cultivated by collaborative peer-to-peer relations between persons engaged in fully embodied, multidimensional, transformative flourishing in and with their worlds.”

Here then is the Preface to his new book:

This book is a distant relative of David Hockney’s photo collages, in which he presents together many different overlapping photos of the same scene taken from different points of view and at different times. The effect is to enhance the spatiality of the scene, combined with a sense of temporal narrative within it, of movement through it and a dynamic comprehensive participation in it.

Here I have conceptually joined together a number of discrete texts each of which presents a view of human spirituality as participating co-creatively in the life divine. The diverse Perspectives of the overlapping views include passages of related or identical text, in each case set within a different frame of view. A variety of lenses are used: the manifesto; the personal story; theology; metaphysics; epistemology; pathology; psychology; practice. Some Perspectives are wide aperture views; some focus on particular segments; some are short, some are longer. Some have never been seen before, some have been on my website, and some have been published in a book or journal, which is cited at the end of the relevant chapter.

The Perspectives are numbered for ease of reference. Perspective 6 is the view toward a key co-ordinating vanishing-point, so it is a good place to start, followed by Perspectives 8 to 11 which are at the centre of the conceptual collage. But there really is no prescribed sequence for reading the text. In viewing a photo collage, you focus first on a photo which draws your attention and move in the spirit of free exploration from photo to photo while deepening your appreciation of the whole. So with this book, start with any topic that takes your fancy and move thereafter unconstrained from place to place.

In this way the book invites you to engage with it in a participatory manner, to co-create it with your own uninhibited spontaneity. To support this adventurous roaming of the actual text, I have made it index-free. An index is a list of entries devoid of context.

The book also invites you to appropriate any of its contents in any way that clarifies or contributes to your own autonomous worldview, including the presentation of your beliefs to others. To this end, I have abandoned a conventional copyright approach in favour of unrestricted rights of reproduction and use by anyone. See the disclaimer on the copyright page.”

3 Comments New book of the week: John Heron’s Farewell to Authoritarian Religion

  1. Avatar~C4Chaos

    interesting… even spirituality is beginning to sound Web 2.0-ish 🙂
    reminds me of Rebecca Blood’s Age of Participatory Culture 😉
    i’ll read up more on this… thanks!

    ~C (for Culture of participation)

  2. AvatarGregg Lahood

    I recently offered a workshop in Byron Bay Australia introducing collaborative spiritual inquiry and the reclaiming of one’s own spiritual authority. The three day initiation was fruitfully influenced by the approach affirmed in the new book by my colleague John Heron. The following is a statement from Stephen Calder, a participant in that inquiry:

    “This workshop is designed to put you in touch with your ‘healthy indigenous charismatic heart’ — the authentic divine centre of your being — as a way of re-establishing your birthright as the author of your own divine life and lights.

    “The processes, which are all collaborative, allow participants an opportunity to reclaim their spiritual authority, which in the past may have been given away to gurus, spiritual leaders,
    scriptures or ideologies, enabling them to speak with their own authority established through reconnection with the deity or divinity within.

    “As a preliminary, participants explore ways in which they might be prevented from speaking from this charismatic heart — ways in which their own charisma or ‘mana’ might be inhibited — and are encouraged to attempt a communication or expression of their healthy heart, supported by the group.

    “What follows is a series of experiments, designed in collaboration and carried out with the consent and willing participation of the group. Possible experiments are suggested by the facilitator, and any experiment may be redesigned on the spot or participants may opt out of any experiment if they wish.

    “These experiments are designed to allow access to the transcendent divine (the divine beyond the personal and beyond space and time) on the one hand, and to the immanent or inherent divine (the divine expressed in the body, in nature and within space-time) on the other.”

    For further reading see the paper by John Heron and Gregg Lahood, ‘Charismatic Inquiry In Concert: Action Research in the Realm of the Between’, to be published in the second edition of the Handbook of Action Research, eds. P. Reason & H. Bradbury, Sage, London, 2008.

    To read a pre-publication version of this paper see

    For information about 3-5 day Transformative Collaborative Inquiry Workshops email me at [email protected]

  3. Avatarjheron

    John Heron
    [email protected]

    I think it is valuable for us to have faith in the spiritual authority within, a faith which develops with regard to: (1) the accessibility to us of spiritual and subtle states no matter how apparently arcane; (2) our own know-how, our competence to open to such states; (3) our ability to make sense of our experiences according to our own lights; (4) our own implicit spiritual maps, and our ability to make such maps explicit; (5) our ability to heal from past spiritual oppression and wounding.

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