By Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord
At this juncture in the history of our species, when our planet faces a plethora of critical challenges, a movement toward global oneness is underway. Dubbed the “Interspiritual” movement, surprisingly it has emerged from the world’s religious communities—traditionally some of the most divided groups on earth.
This initiative was identified and set on a solid footing in 1999 with the release of a book by the visionary interfaith and sacred activist pioneer Brother Wayne Teasdale, whose influential The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions boldly declared, “The only viable religion for the Third Millennium is spirituality itself.”
It was Teasdale who coined the now popular term “interspirituality” that has become the hallmark of the rapidly growing movement he identified. Today, a visit to search engines turns up over 200,000 references to “interspirituality” and “interspiritual,” including a wealth of discussions of the unfolding vision on YouTube.
The interspirituality movement marks the emergence in our critical Third Millennium of an awareness among the world’s religions of shared values and universal ethical principles. It’s especially grounded in an awareness of a commonality among our species that’s particularly evident in the contemplative experience of people of many diverse paths—a sense that nothing is separate, and that everything in our universe is profoundly and inextricably interconnected.
A recent book, The Coming Interspiritual Age, expands and elaborates on this emerging global interspiritual vision. The book describes the strong and deep global forces that are driving the rapid growth of world interfaith exchange and understanding, as well as trans-traditional practice and belief, along with a growing sense of a shared universal spirituality—the latter having especially emerged during just the last decade.
Two powerful undercurrents are particularly emphasized: (1) the world’s inevitable movement toward globalization and multiculturalism across all arenas of human endeavor; and (2) the overall direction of cognitive brain-mind development demonstrated by modern science, pointing toward deeper appreciations of unity and profound interconnectedness—a significant departure from the parochialisms of the past. For far too long, the latter sustained a lens of fragmentation, competition, and even conflict between worldviews stuck in myriad traditional “boxes” across our planet’s highly divergent cultures.
A Global Oneness Unfolding
The emergence of interspirituality represents the culmination of decades of international interfaith and ecumenical exchanges. Such 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.
Globally, this recognition occurred hand in hand with the wider universal sense of unity that underpins the world’s other currently advancing ideals of holism. These include the drive toward true economic egalitarianism, the abandonment of militant nationalism, nuclear disarmament, and other ethical gold standards advanced by the secular voices of globalization and multiculturalism. Not only do such ideals propel the defining edge of human development, but they have the support of vast numbers of people on the street. For instance, when polled about these ideals, some 80% of Americans felt them to be both important and achievable.
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 also converge as coherent aspects of an emerging cosmology. Such a cosmology needs to be one 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, of which nearly fifty 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 in achieving this mature global civilization. He saw it as critical that the religions don’t become a liability by aiding and abetting the worldwide problem of competing ethnocentric and nationalistic allegiances.
All of the interspiritual pioneers believed that the primary vector of our species’ ultimate spiritual and ethical development wasn’t any one of the world’s countless spiritual paths, but the shared direction of all of them. Teasdale put forward the view that, in the deepest existential sense, the historical development of humanity’s spiritual unfolding has been a single experience on behalf of all humankind—a convergence that continues to this day and defines the leading edge of the maturation of our species. As he put it:
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 [MH, p. 4f].
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 [MH p. 26].
Today there are parallel discussions concerning globalization in all fields of human discourse: governance, economics, science, culture, and more. Interfaith and interspirituality are simply the religions’ part of this potential evolutionary leap.
Teasdale predicted that institutions and structures that could support achieving this historic anthropological threshold in human development would develop rapidly. The book The Coming Interspiritual Age reviews this ongoing emergence. The success of this interspiritual vision in inspiring many others has to a great degree resulted in the upwelling of the current growing global interspiritual movement. The essence of the vision is the sense that a “Mystic Heart” undergirds all the world’s spiritual paths. Since this heart connects us to the very core of reality itself, it is able to inspire and empower us to unconditionally embrace all beings with the love and compassion central to the world’s spiritual teachings.
A New Axial Age?
The interspiritual pioneers envisioned nothing less than the emergence of a new Axial Age that can lift all humanity, enabling the human family to transcend the differences and disagreements that have plagued us thus far. Such a global shift in consciousness would nurture a spiritual alignment based on the universal elements that are shared by all the religious, spiritual, wisdom, and philosophical traditions. These include: (1) the possibility of a common unifying core to human mystic experience, (2) fundamental teachings held in common by all the world’s religions, (3) the shared ethical implications of the teachings of all the great traditions, and (4) the inevitable mutuality across the religions regarding commitment to social and economic justice.
In the last decade, these directions have emerged universally to usher humanity toward the kind of maturation predicted by global visionaries such as Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, and the many other spiritual champions of holism that are recounted in detail in The Coming Interspiritual Age. This vision also framed the “foundationalist theologians” after Vatican II, who envisioned the possibility of a global religious pluralism ultimately joined in heart and consciousness in an emerging Interspiritual Age. 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.
Today, we are witnessing a significant shift throughout the global community toward an emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things. This is reflected in an expanding popular literature and increasing media coverage regarding the experience of a global collective or gestalt of “We.” It’s also reflected in what have become known as the current “springs” that have been occurring in the world, such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and the now-emerging Catholic Spring.
The coming decades will prove pivotal, for it remains to be seen whether a new global gestalt, with a new cosmology for the person on the street, can emerge—and what this might look like. The interspiritual movement envisions a shift toward a universal spirituality that is highly personal, deeply experiential, holistic, and all-embracing. The longing in all our hearts is for such a spirituality to come of age. And as The Coming Interspiritual Age reveals, hope is afoot! The deep undercurrents pushing today’s upwelling of interfaith and interspiritual activity appear indeed to be working their slow but steady evolutionary magic.
 PRRI/RNS Religion News, 2011.
Kurt Johnson is well known internationally as a scientist, comparative religionist, social activist and former monastic. With a PhD in evolution, ecology, systematics, and comparative biology, plus extensive training in comparative religion and philosophy, he was associated professionally for twenty years with the American Museum of Natural History and also the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City. Ordained in three spiritual traditions, he is widely regarded as the closest associate of Brother Wayne Teasdale, the founder of the modern “interspiritual movement,” and works also with the international Contemplative Alliance and Father Thomas Keating, founder of the Centering Prayer Movement. In science, Dr. Johnson has published over 200 professional articles and seven books on evolution and ecology. His popular book Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius (co-authored with New York Times journalist Steve Coates) was a “ten best” book in science in 2000 at Booklist, Library Journal, the Washington Post and HMS Beagle and “Editor’s Choice for 1999” at The Seattle Times. Johnson and Teasdale cofounded the international Interspiritual Dialogue association in 2002, which presented at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions and then expanded to become the virtual Interspiritual Multiplex web resource
See also Wikipedia at: Kurt Johnson (entomologist)
For Kurt Johnson at Namaste see: https://www.namastepublishing.com/people/kurt-johnson
David Robert Ord
David Robert Ord is a former Presbyterian (USA) minister and Graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Coauthor with Dr Robert B. Coote of The Bible’s First History—From Eden to the Court of David with the Yahwist, In the Beginning—Creation and the Priestly History, and Is the Bible True? Understanding the Bible Today, he is also author of the Namaste Publishing book Your Forgotten Self: Mirrored in Jesus the Christ. He is currently Editorial Director for Namaste Publishing.
For David Robert Ord at Namaste see: https://www.namastepublishing.com/people/david-robert-ord
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This article appears in:
2013 Catalyst - Issue 18