Post-Secularity, Climate Change, and Spirit

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In January, I wrote an articleexploring what post-secular spirituality might be in our society, with yoga as an example. This is a topic that is of great interest to me not primarily in yoga or spiritual practice per se, but in the field of international development where I've worked for the past 13 years. And, there's probably no place more wanting for a way to include secular and spiritual truths than in international development...

el salvadorPsychologist, James Fowler's (1981) research showed how what humans are ultimately concerned about develops over one's life. Historical evidence of this evolving 'ultimate concern' can be seen in three broad ways that faith is expressed and engaged: faith in animism, faith in a theistic God, and faith in secularism. In the field of international development, particularly in developing countries, often these three expressions of faith are simultaneously present and intersecting. Some indigenous communities retain animistic spirituality while the majority of nationals subscribe to religions of one type or another, with most international development practitioners bringing a secular worldview for the most part stripped of spirituality altogether (which, according to Fowler, is itself another form of faith). Animistic, traditional, and post/modern values can clash, and it can get messy. My questions are: How can our understanding of faith and spirituality be more skillfully included in international development? What might be a post-secular approach to development practice, that includes both secular and spiritual truths in development work?

The relevance of these questions is three-fold, and is probably a good place to begin.

Firstly, a secularized field of international development assumes that faith is childish and must be out-grown while, at the same time, most of the beneficiary communities are made up of people of faith. The rise of modernity with rationality and industrialization as its hallmarks, resulted in a rigid separation of science and spirituality/religion, with the former rising to become the sole perspective of interpreting reality, the universe and everything else, and the latter being exiled in the name of secularity from academic discourse, the practice of life, and also, for the most part, development work.

This modern, secularizing trend can be seen in the rapid drop of church congregations in Western Europe and Canada, while, at the same time, church congregations are actually increasing in places like Africa and Latin America. "The center of gravity of Christianity moves ever southward," reports the book by Philip Jenkins, New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, and demonstrates how most people in the developing world interpret religion traditionally and identify as 'people of faith.' Which is to say: the very people who are often participants and beneficiaries of development project are usually people of faith, while the northern practitioners for the most part aren't. This isn't necessarily problematic, but it atheistic assumptions/biases may overlook important components of faith-powered resilience.

Though, this wasn't always the case in development. The religious communities worldwide had a large influence in the contours of the development field today and have moved millions of dollars of relief money to those in need. But, these faith-based forms of development were (and are) predominantly held as charity, whereas the rest of the field of international development has moved through distinguishable post/modern phases such as partnership, partage or accompaniment, to recipient-led programming. The trend moving from a firmly held us-and-them boundary towards unification. Today, the predominant discourse is set at these later post/modern expressions, gaining a sophistication of ethics and an increasing sense of interconnection amongst nations. What was gained from this shift was a secular set of ethics that informs the discourse of the field, but what was lost was a connection to spirituality, as religion was transcended but not included.


Getting back to how this lands for international development practitioners... Basically, the exported secularity from the developed world requires them to practice an approach to development practice that is shorn of spirituality (or at least public displays of spirituality). Perhaps a prayer is allowed to be included at the start of a meeting, but the core essence of spirituality is simply not welcome in the predominant secular discourse that guides this field. This is also the case for developing country practitioners, even as, in many cases, the spiritual dimension of this work is precisely what motivates them to engage in it (seen as a faith-based or a spirituality-inspired service). What would it feel like to be able to practice development without having to check their ultimate concern at the door? What aspects of human resilience, inspiration, and insight do we actually lose in cutting spirituality out? Rather than treating people of faith in developing countries like their engagement with religion is wrong, immature or outdated, we need to find a more skillful and respectful way to engage the spiritual dimension of what it means to be a human being as part of international development practice.

Secondly, while the dogma of religion is prone to complications and divisions, the essence of spirituality is often a source of insight, creativity, compassion, and love—the very things we need more of in international development, not less. By distinguishing between the exoteric and esoteric—the traditional containers of religion versus the mystical truths they elucidate—we can begin to integrate spirituality in a post-secular way that supports greater effectiveness in development. As Wilber says, we have to be careful not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," and need to find a way to retain the central core truths of spirituality while also discerningly discarding that which no longer serves, such as, religious divisiveness, ethnocentric thinking, and required conformity that stifles human imagination and innovation, and so forth.

And thirdly, specifically in times of intense difficulty and change, it is our sense of ultimate concern—our faith however we hold it—that often is where we source our strength and resilience. This third angle is one I'd like to explore in greater depth here.

With examples from our current project in El Salvador on an integral approach to climate change adaptation and community resilience, this article considers a post-secular approach to development. The view shared here is born out of respect for the many communities of faith worldwide and recognition that the spiritual dimension of humans is always present, regardless of how it might be ignored by a secular modern approach. That spiritual dimension has been, is, and can continue to be a source of great resilience in turbulent times.

More than Rain


"So, how did you get through in the refugee camp? What did you draw on to gain strength?" reiterated Bobby Caceres, my Salvadoran colleague, to a local man who'd survived the 12-year civil war in the 1980s. It had been a time of massacres, inequality, and bloodshed, not one that is easy to talk about. "What did you rely on to move through it?" Bobby asked again, and I felt my chest tighten, fearing that he was pushing too hard on a topic that is clearly traumatic and sensitive.

The man was sitting forward on his seat, looking a bit anxious by the question. There was a pause. Slowly, he sat back into his chair, his spine lifting, a calm settled around him. And in a quiet, firm and strong voice, he said, "Fe." Faith.

Chiming in, another woman at the meeting said, "Hope."

And another, "Positive thinking."

All of these answers point to some of the very questions we are exploring in this project (i.e. how do people get through crisis; how do they respond to disaster and be resilient in the face of change?) as well as some of the assumptions in our approach (i.e. that resilience will be both external and internal). One of our central theses in this project is that interiors matter; that the interior landscape of what it means to be human, such as our inspirations, worldviews, and values, greatly influence our ability to be resilient. However, we hadn't actually anticipated the topic of spirituality would arise in this project so soon, or so frequently.

As he said this, I mused on how in the secularized field of development, often comments like his that veer towards religion are not welcomed and actively discouraged. That simple answer, "Faith" would be explained away, in the interpretive framework of modernity or postmodernity. With an Integral approach, we are willing and open, in this project, to include this interior domain generally and spirituality and faith in particular as valid and important sources of resilience.

So, what do we mean by resilience? Salvadoran campesinos described it thus: "resistance is like a stone, whereas resilience is like a branch that bends." We need more capacity to bend like branches in the face of global issues that keep shifting the ground beneath our feet. Deaths from HIV/AIDS shift entire demographics of nations. Emerging democracies teeter in their enactment of good governance, as age-old dictatorships sway and fall. Unpredictable weather events disturb the very seasonal patterns on which agrarian livelihoods depend. How can we bend like branches, and what are our sources for resilience? Are there some common ingredients, or a deep structure, to how resilience emerges? Can we better understand this deep structure, and then create conditions more likely to give rise to resilient ways of being?

With the Canadian non-profit organization Drishti - Centre for Integral Action, I am coordinating an action research project in El Salvador on climate change adaptation and community resilience with our Salvadoran partner organization, Centro Bartolome de las Casas. Using an innovative combination of methodologies that integrate first-, second-, and third-person perspectives (which I explain more about later in this article), we are seeking to understand what are the sources of resilience and adaptation that local people draw on in times of difficulty, particularly when confronted by the realities of climate change. Some of those sources are external but many are also internal. Resilience is a term that comes from the physical sciences and then when it became incorporated into a social movement it was primarily as an ecosystem science. Yet, resilience includes more than just scientific, ecological, and technological ways to address those changes in the ecosystem. It also includes the ways in which a culture responds to dramatic changes to its inherent fabric, how a consciousness withstands psychological shocks, and how life skills and practices shift to adapt to a changed context.

In other words, it's about more than rain.


Though it includes rain. In El Salvador, the rainy season is coming later and later than expected, and is shorter and more torrential than ever before. This strikes at the very root of an agrarian livelihood, which adeptly depends on the predictability of weather patterns for planting and harvesting. This year, late, torrential rains and flooding meant that frijoles, beans, could not been harvested. Nicaragua too has shortages and will not export to El Salvador. The national food, papusas, will be in short supply and pupsarias – the small businesses that sell them - may have to close.

For anyone who's spent even a day in Central America, you'll recall how essential beans and corn are as staple foods that not only provide a complete protein but that define a culture and the self-identity of a people. This is far closer to our reality that we may like to believe. What would it be like for the Canadian west coast culture to no longer have salmon or for Quebec not to have maple syrup? All these are realistic scenarios in today's climate change context.

News stories like this abound across the world. The point perhaps less highlighted is: what impact will changes in climate have on our culture and consciousness? How do we bend like branches in the face of these disturbances? These are not hard questions to ask since, again and again in the face of hardship, people and communities are resilient. Against all odds, resilience seems to emerge, and often that resilience is sourced in one's psychology, mindset, or attitudes, including one's spirituality.

"The impacts of climate change affect and are affected by the ways that individuals and communities adapt. Adaptation includes a range of coping actions that individuals and communities can take, as well as psychological processes (e.g., appraisals and affective responses) that precede and follow behavioral responses." (Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges, p. 29,)

This has me deeply considering the many ways in which the field of international development preferences a) scientific and rational modes of engagement and b) secular and non-spiritual interpretive frames, possibly at the expense of accessing resilient, innovative, and inspired forms of action that are drawn from a practical spirituality. How can the subjective dimensions of resilience be integrated with other climate change adaptation efforts?

But before I get to that, let's look at resilience more closely.

Reflections on Resilience


While extensive definitions exist for 'resilience', the Canadian and Salvadoran team working on this project does not attempt to put forth yet another. Rather, we inquire into the deep structures of the conversation—what is shared between these different definitions and approaches, and what might that tell us about how we engage in resilience work? In other words, we are interested in the patterns for how resilience emerges, and less the concrete definitions. We are primarily looking for principles and patterns of responses to change.

The first pattern we noticed was the tendency for resilience to be defined depending on where the cause of suffering was located. If one sees that suffering arises because of inequities in the system, then they are more prone to framing resilience as that which arises to confront and resist that inequitable system (politicizing the issue, advocacy, etc). If one sees that suffering arises because of ecological collapse, they will focus their efforts on making the ecosystem more resilient (building dams, dykes, etc.) If one sees suffering to originate due to broken or inequitable relationships (i.e. men/woman, North/South, rich/poor), then the tendency is to see resilience as arising in reconciliation between factions and a leveling of the playing field. If one sees that suffering is born within the very fabric of what it means to be human (e.g. as described by the first Noble Truth in Buddhism), then resilience will be sought from an internal source within. Of course, there are many overlapping approaches and many integrations between these; they are not watertight containers. However, pointing it out helps to elucidate where and how one's understanding of suffering co-arises with one's sense of resilience.

This also helps us resolve an age-old debate between genetics and evolution, namely, does resilience emerge through growth and thus can be taught, or is resilience something one is simply born with. We acknowledge that the latter is possible; that there may be something inherent that predisposes one towards resilience—and yet WHAT that exactly is is not discoverable (and if we tired to name it we'd only fall into metaphysics). So for our purposes it remains acknowledged but not defined, as a beautiful part of the Mystery of life. The former is the aspect of resilience that we can and do engage with, the form that does evolve, can be learned, or can be incorporated into a system. This is a key assumption for this research project: resilience can and does evolve. Our questions concern how it does so (through learning, reflection, action, time?) and how to then link it with adaptive strategies for climate change.

Secondly, we began to wonder about the practice of building resiliency. The Global Resiliency Network lists three components in the process of building resiliency:

  • Resiliency is like a muscle that resides within all individuals and organizations, a muscle that must be developed in advance and consistently exercised.
  • This muscle must be both strong enough to withstand severe challenges and flexible enough to handle a wide range of unpredictable forces.
  • Being resilient requires us to embrace and practice paradoxical qualities - both for individuals as well as organizations.

(Retrieved, July 4,


The northern department of El Salvador, Chalatenango, is renowned for its community resilience during the armed conflict. Those communities have practiced resilience for over 20 years, developing the ‘muscle’ of resilience. They withstood severe challenges with an unforeseen strength. Being practically at the whim of other forces and decisions elsewhere, these communities had to be flexible to navigate a changing, unpredictable landscape politically, socially and emotionally. One can only imagine the extent to which embracing paradox was required for survival. Can the resilience built during these experiences be drawn upon and transferred to meeting today’s challenges of climate change?

Finally, we began to shift our understanding of resilience from 'resilience is' to 'resilience as' and found that it assisted us in keeping the inquiry open. Resilience as response patterns,... resilience as relationships to one's context,... resilience as learning,... resilience as self- and social-coherence.

In this ongoing inquiry, we are using quadrants, stages, and states of the Integral approach in a particular way. I'll share a bit about this here, but watch for more on these details all in a later piece of writing. Wilber describes in Integral Theory, how I, We and It (expanded as the quadrants of experience (I), culture, (we), behaviour (it) and systems (its)) as irreducible dimensions of reality that are important for any comprehensive approach. They reflect the first-person, second-person, and third-person perspectives on reality. We are including these perspectives in our research methodology, using photo voice as a way to engage first-person perspectives in exploring climate change adaptation. With community discussions and focus groups we are engaging second-person perspectives to interpret the meanings of the photos, to discern a collective message from the photos, and to engage policymakers. And, we are drawing on third-person perspectives through researching climatological data and creating draft community strategic plans for adaptation to climate change.


In terms of stages, we aren't so much taking a developmental approach to resilience, but rather we are allowing and including an understanding of psychological development into our understanding of how resilience arises. By using photo voice, participants are examining climate change through their own experience, peering through their own lenses, via the camera. Photo voice mines deeper shafts into a different part of human consciousness than do words-alone interviews. And, it allows the photographers to make meaning of climate change in their own mental models and worldviews. This is compared to the more usual approach whereby the community is told about climate change in complex, foreign scientific terms that not only risk being misaligned with the meaning-making frames of local people and thus misunderstood but may also prove to be disempowering for local people. We selected this methodology so to be more connected to people's lived reality and consciousness, as well as to evoke resilience in the process.

In considering states of consciousness, we are curious about how certain states help people access uplifting emotions, like positivity or hope, that enable a person to be more resilient. Perhaps 'being resilient' itself is a state of consciousness; and if so, how can it be fostered? The claim made by long-time meditation practitioners is that as meditation deepens, one's sense of fear radically drops away. How does one's spiritual practice of moving through deeper states of consciousness then bolster one's ability to be resilient to change? These are important patterns in responses to change—there might be states of consciousness that support our ability to be resilient—as the answers, "faith", "hope", and "positive thinking" suggested above.

This is some of the thinking behind this project, keeping us intrigued, open, explorative. We anticipated interiority would play some type of role in resilience, but we didn't realize that the spiritual themes would arise as quickly and frequently as they have.

Faith as Resilience


We visited another senora at her house behind the convent in the center of town. At first, she was preparing papusas and tending the fire. Her hands moved with an unpresuming agility; quickly, firmly shaping the corn paste into round disks to put onto the curved flat pan resting over the fire. She came over to talk with us, once the cooking was complete.

Asking us a little bit about us, she then dropped into a reflective space about the war... how it had been such a hard time, with unspeakable atrocities, so hard that it is difficult to talk about it...and yet, she said, what was even harder was to be criticized by others in society after so much suffering. Her energy became heavy, sunken into her memory of the experience.

The armed conflict in El Salvador was about justice and democracy. Prior to that point, the country was run by the infamous "14 families" who owned most of the land, with the vast majority of the population living on the remaining fragments. In the 1970s, the people organized to demand that the country be run more justly. Due to the fear of communism spreading in that region so close to home, the Salvadoran military was supported by the United States by the tune of a million dollars a day in arms. While the left-wing resistance was armed too, it was to a much lesser extent. Anyone asking for a more just, democratic governance was considered an enemy, and so thousands of people were killed or 'disappeared' throughout those long, hard years. When the dust cleared, 75,000 were dead on both sides of the conflict, hundreds of thousands fled as refugees to other parts of the world, and the country's infrastructure was devastated.

This senora, as she cooks over the fire, surely holds in her memory the events that transpired in her community. In the nearby River Sumpul, the 600-person massacre of mainly women and children, the families who fled to live in caves in the mountains a mere walk from her house, the ominous 'white hand' that Death Squads would paint at night on the doors of those who'd be 'disappeared' the following day if they didn't flee the country immediately (one such painted hand remains to this day on a neighbor's door). There's a tendency to focus on these exterior aspects of suffering, and thus to focus reconciliation and resilience there. And yet that evening, as she spoke to us, her heart became heavy at how difficult it was to be judged after the events themselves—judged from the vantage point of a now-democratized state with no connection to the difficult decisions made during a time of conflict. There was honour and justice in the acts of those times—it was, in a sense, the 'most appropriate next thing to do'—and yet, in the comforts of today, in which there are democratic rights for all Salvadorans, it is all to easy to judge the events of the past.

In that moment, it came across like what had really deeply hurt her may have been less the bombs, the fleeing, the hunger, and perhaps as much or more to have lived through that and then been criticized by others. The acidic feeling of criticism added on top of hardship, the lack of human understanding, the breaking of relationship, the tearing of the relational field of community... who knows exactly what aspect of this had so hurt her, but it sounded like the interior dimensions had lingered in her mind more acutely, less the actual aspects of a broken, unjust system. It expanded me to consider how one characterizes 'suffering' depends on one's own consciousness, which then directly relates with how one characterizes adaptation and resilience.

Our research is seeking to include all these forms of how suffering arises, because they then point to diverse sources of resilience residing in these various dimensions of being. That is, resilience is not just about ecosystems and social systems that can adapt and 'bend like branches' in the face of rapid change. It can also be about the cultural and community resilience to be collaborate and be creative together. And it can also be about the very personal forms of resilience that are often sourced inside and supported by whatever 'ultimate concern' we hold dear.

on site

As the dusk settled around us, this woman gave voice to this theory... She rested for just a breath—remembering people's criticism of the form their resilience had taken during the war—before then lifting herself out of it by remembering a saying that the much-loved priest in the local church used to say, "even if someone breaks your morra (the husk of a squash made into a container for water), you still continue." This saying reflects the biblical teaching that if Jesus not only survived pain and ridicule, but also transcended it, then surely, as a follower of him, you can do the same in a circumstance of lesser intensity. "Jesus se cayo, y se levanto", Jesus died and rose again, meaning that even if you suffer, you too can rise up out of suffering. It seemed that these phrases provided her a way to make meaning of the suffering in the larger view of what she was ultimately concerned about, showing us how profoundly her faith had been her resilience.

With this story in mind, I start this piece as I began: with great regard for the ways that our sense of ultimate concern can be a source of great resilience, and wondering how the field of international development can make space for these deep dimensions of what it means to be human. My sense is that it'll need to move beyond its secularity-over-spirituality, towards a secularity-and-spirituality—a post-secularity—which is what we are experimenting with in such a project. Sure, it'll be hard to work it out practically, with great care not to undo the many hard-won secular truths, with many difficult questions to answer, new ethical spaces to delineate, and more freedom from the stranglehold of our own preferences and cultural assumptions. But, definitely worth doing. This interior domain of the self, including our spirituality, is already a well to which people draw water in times of difficulty, and the field of international development would do well to recognize that and make room for it.


I'd like to acknowledge and thank the entire team of researchers and practitioners working on this project in El Salvador, including Roberto Cáceres, Monica Flores, Larry José Madrigal, Walberto Tejeda, Héctor Núñez González, Rutilio Delgado, Hanna Kvamsås, Lauren Tenney and Dr. Karen O'Brien. We express appreciation to Canada's International Development Research Centre for their financial support.

Three Salvadorans from this project will visit BC, Canada in September—two women from the communities of Chalatenango, and one of the field researchers. We hope that the program coordinator will be able to travel too. Watch for announcements about events to hear more about this project and share your own stories about community resilience from an integral perspective on the Drishti site. Please consider supporting their visit through a sponsorship donation using the Contribute button on the website, or be in touch to volunteer while they are here ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).



American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change: Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges. Retrieved, August 8th, 2011:

Fowler, James W. (1981). Stages of Faith, Harper & Row

Wilber, Ken. (1998, reprint ed. 1999) The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. Boston: Shambhala

Wilber, Ken (2000). Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Boston: Shambhala

Wilber, Ken (2006). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World.

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  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Wednesday, 31 August 2011 16:36 posted by TJ Dawe

    This piece brings up something very important about the integral model, namely: it's a way to help people understand each other. It's easy to plunge into the minutiae of the theory and pepper one's speech and thoughts with the terminology - or, conversely, for a person to be scared off the whole subject because of the density of most of the writing on it.

    But ultimately, quadrants, levels, lines, states and stages - all of these things map out aspects of people's experience, and give the opportunity to include them in the picture when dealing with an individual or a culture. Anyone working in international development would do well to factor in a people's religious beliefs as part of their experience of the world, which effects their political actions, their social motivations and so much else. To fail to factor these things in, whether you hold the same beliefs or not, even if you have blatant disdain for those beliefs, is to blind yourself, to focus on how you want people to be as opposed to how they actually are.

    Thanks so much for this vivid picture of these ideals applied in a very concrete situation.

  • Comment Link Scott Payne Thursday, 01 September 2011 05:18 posted by Scott Payne

    Playing and building off of TJ's comment in a sort of way, I'm a bit hesitant around the suggestion that we can easily tease dogma and insight apart.

    Full disclosure: I've been having a rough time with religion of late. Not that I inherently dislike religion. I don't. I'm probably more religious now than I've been in more than a decade.

    But I look around the world and it feels like I see more examples of religion playing a divisive and counter-productive role in the sort of broad parameters and contexts we're dealing with in international development than of it playing a positive role. So it's not so much that I think religious belief is something that is silly or childish and that people need to grow out of. Rather, it is that I'm having a hard time experientially coming up with reasons to be very optimistic about the role that religion might play in these circumstances.

    We can say things like "transcend and include" and we can project our post-secular vision on these peoples and their beliefs. But our own worldview is not necessarily where those with whom we're interacting are themselves located. For many religious people, the dogma is the truth. And so you can try to tease what you think are the valuable spiritual insights out of that dogma. But in so doing, you wind up challenging the very foundation of that persons perspective on the world. Doing so is likely to generate defensiveness, divisiveness, and possibly even hostility -- perhaps even no matter the degree of skillful means we employ.

    This is the world as we find it and I worry about looking for ways not to deal with that world on its own terms. I think it becomes all too easy to want to deal with the world in our own idealized terms.

    So while I understand the desire not to cut people's religion out of the picture, I also wonder if there isn't a certain different skillful means at play, here. If it isn't a useful pivot to try steering away from that potential divisiveness in order to achieve what good one can in a particular arena.

    As I've often heard Ken suggest, integral efforts needn't be a Wagnerian AQAL nightmare, but merely be integrally informed. And so, there is perhaps some intelligence at play in understanding that a certain quadrant isn't going to yield us a lot of fruit. We therefore focus on those areas/quadrants where we can expect to cultivate some positive and meaningful results.

    Ultimately, Gail, you are much more familiar with this area of work and experience than I am. So I don't soubt there is a substantial degree of truth to what you present here. But I wonder how you might respond to such feedback.

    Thanks much.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Thursday, 01 September 2011 21:36 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Hello Scott,

    I agree with much of what you are saying here. As this article was published the UN offices in Abuja, Nigeria (another country we work in) were bombed by religious terrorists. So, yes, there is great risk in bringing religion back into the discourse when this is its track record.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine likes to say, "science has wrought more violence than religion ever has," considering certain technologies, chemical pollutants, military arms, etc. Which has a certain degree of truth to it too....

    So in pondering this, I realized that it isn't religion (or science) per se that is the problem, but the ethnocentric consciousness that 'uses' those implements. Religion in and of itself doesn't mean ethnocentrism. It just happens those have aligned an awful lot through human history (mostly b/c that mythic, ethnocentric stage of development co-arose with the establishment of religion). I admit I don't get a lot out of how religion is portrayed and practiced today, since it does still have a lot of ethnocentric baggage. But, I do question the assumption that religion and ethnocentrism are one and the same.

    And, I truly don't think we have to leave spirituality altogether because of religion's historical linkage with ethnocentrism. Rather than try to avoid religion altogether (when evidently 70% of the planet still gains inspiration from its practices), what we are doing is participating and literally negotiating how it might look to be spiritual at a higher kosmic address than ethnocentrism. I don't feel this is "projecting post-secularity onto people" as you say, but it feels more like meeting people fully and holding a post-secular frame to engage in frank discussion.

    In Nigeria we've had more time to engage these discussions. You see, people go to their churches or mosques to be inspired and fulfilled, but they often also get a huge dose of ethnocentrism in the process. (This happens in the West and North too, of course.) Many of our colleagues in Nigeria 'live' in a worldcentric space in most other areas of their life (certainly professionally). So, we've been engaging in extremely interesting conversations with the participants involved in our project in which they are working out a way to be spiritual and worldcentric at the same time. Post-secular in the sense that we need to be careful not to roll back the important secular truths, but also careful not to disregard the spiritual frames of reference which are most meaningful to people. The response with the Nigerians has been positive...almost like they too are wanting to unite these severed parts of their lives--the worldcentric professionalism and the ethnocentrically-informed religion--and to do so requires directly addressing it. Literally, working out a new social discourse.

    So, that's just the way we are going about it, and I am suggesting there may be some value in it. Other ways to do this are to disregard religion for the reasons you say above, and try to move people away from it altogether. And, perhaps that would actually work IF religion was the actual root of the problem. I just don't think it sense is that it's unhealthy ethnocentrism that's the problem... And to address that is a whole other complicated story, though central to integral development work.

    Nevertheless, you raise some very good, important and serious points here. I appreciated reading them. It helped me balance my take on this, and also clarify it further. I wonder if what I've said lands for you at all, and would love to hear your further reflections.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 02 September 2011 19:03 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Really appreciating the discussion.

    I hope this doesn't seem like it's coming out of left field, but Scott's comment sparked a thought that's been half-formed rattling around in my brain for awhile.

    I wonder how amenable worldviews are to be worked on? Or put another way, I wonder about the link often made between (in integral-ese) structures/levels and worldviews?

    I've been thinking a great deal about Tim Winton's idea of Pattern Dynamics:

    He's using ecological patterns as types--rather than individual psychological types--and thereby essentially imagining levels as certain enduring ecological systemic patterns. And then working to create cultures that incorporate these patterns.

    In that sense, I really appreciate Gail's description of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd persons modes of practice in this work, as well as consciousness formation around the quadrants (dimensions of being), and states of consciousness as a source of resilience.

    Those to me, are expressive of these enduring traits.

    Still I wonder if approaching the levels through the filter of worldviews is potentially quite sticky and really slow going. I guess I'm unclear as to how much behavioral change correlates with worldview change? i.e. If my worldview becomes more complex/nuanced, does my behavior change? If so, how much? In other words, I'm not sure it makes sense to parallel worldview development with individual psychological stages of growth.

    I hope something of that makes I said these aren't fully formed thoughts in my head. I'm exploring them.

    great piece Gail.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Sunday, 04 September 2011 18:49 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Hi Scott and Chris,

    Scott, another thought occurred to me the other day on all this... Not only are the atrocities committed in the name of religion traumatizing in a collective sense, but also in a personal sense many practitioners working in development have been wounded by religion, in one form or another, through their life. And so as that trauma becomes shadowed, it can then inhibit connection with people of faith and the religions they hail from. We've found that there's a good deal of shadow work and healing needed to directly engage this topic (regardless of where one then goes with it). I think that's a key point to bring in here, and I regret not having raised in in the text itself.

    Chris, I'm not sure I totally follow where you are going with your comment and question... When writing for this site, I feel confused on how to best represent the structure-stages and worldviews, because I understand that this site doesn't want to directly raise the topic of 'altitude colours' of the integral model in discussion. In fact, you told me to refer to 'traditional', 'modern', 'postmodern' and 'post-postmodern' or 'integral' in lieu of altitudes, when I did my first piece. As I mentioned to you via email, this remains an area of confusion for me, since cultural worldviews are not synonymous with individual structure-stages or altitudes. If you are asking how I would unpack that in regards to this piece, first I'd have to get clearer on what you want or don't want in terms of the use of these terms on this site, and then I'd probably have to re-write it, since that adds a layer of complexity (which I'd love to do, of course, but am wanting to stay aligned with your social discourse on this site.) If I could tread that ground, this would be a great topic to do so, since there are at least two or three developmental lines at play, plus the individual's experience of the cultural worldviews, and those cultural worldviews themselves all overlapping in this issue. We've had some great, rip-roaringly fun discussions on all this with Ken Wilber and others on our Advisory Committee regarding our Nigeria project. Sorry I can't respond to you more fully in the bounds of the discourse here. Thanks for your comment and for publishing this piece.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 05 September 2011 01:54 posted by Chris Dierkes


    I would be really interested to hear how you see & work with cultural lines of development--I think that's a totally undertheorized element of integral. What Ken calls the sociograph.

    I'm reading a book now entitled Why the West Rules--For Now by Ian Morris. He creates a Social Development Index throughout human history. His criteria to run the numbers are on the index are: energy capture, war making capacity, information technology, and political organization. It's a fascinating read and I think he's really onto something.

    More broadly then, in reflecting on your thoughtful comment...I don't have a problem (as such) with lines and levels, either in individuals or collectives. In fact I think they have much to offer--so long as the lines are clearly specified for context and people using them understand what they reveal and don't reveal.

    My concern is more with the idea of altitudes. It seems to me based on the attempt to create for the individual an idea of a 'center of gravity.' Center of gravity comes from societal or collective studies and I think doesn't apply to individuals. I think it's a poor metaphor or lens for individual development. At most, I would say center of gravity has a very vague value for individual assessments, if any at all.

    As a general concept, a center of gravity for say a nation I think works. My sense (not speaking for other writers on the site) is that's why I prefer the use of traditional, modern, postmodern, post-postmodern. It speaks to an individual or perhaps a group advocating views or perspectives representative of those cultural waves. Rather than saying person A is at such and such an altitude.

    I get the sense in the integral discourse that individual altitudes are too often conflated with self-identity. The altitudes, in particular, have an almost ontological quality sometimes in integral discourse. I see the idea of lines and levels as a very helpful human categorization or mapping. As Ken says in the post-metaphysics, they are "probability waves." I think they are pointing to real things, but it seems to me what really exists are cognitive processes, emotions, interpretations, attitudes, behaviors, and so on.

    If we want, I think it makes sense to put a number of individual or collective lines parallel to one another and then study the levels in those lines. And in framing it that way, if scholars notice structural similarities at various corresponding levels across the lines, then I'm fine drawing a horizontal line across them and talking, more generally, about certain similar structural components. I think those structural parallels are real.

    But I don't see the need to then create a color scheme to indicate those parallels or to equate "where a person's at" with those structural parallels.

    That anyway is what I take from Zak S. and Katie H's writings and research on levels & lines.

    e.g. I really like this one by Zak, where he discusses levels of understanding lines and levels.

    When Zak and Katie spoke at the last Integral Theory Conference, the one element of integral theory that showed no complexifying tendencies was the colors. Their (to be tested) hypothesis was that 1 or both of 2 things was going on:

    1. it was being used as shorthand
    2. it was covering up lack of complexified thinking.

    I would guess it's both, depending on the person. My takeaway from that (if true), is that both rationales suggest the use of the colors as altitude markers is problematic. #2 for obvious reasons. And #1, while potentially valid, I think requires those with a little more knowledge to do the hard work of not using shorthand.

    That anyway is my view of it--somebody might have a different perspective on their hypothesis.

    I hope that helps clarify how I see the issue in relation to this site. The other Beams writers may feel differently. What this does raise, is we need to get seriously thinking about the forum on individual, collective development, levels/lines, altitudes, etc. that we had talked about once before. I think it would be a fantastic set of exchanges between a number of us.

  • Comment Link Scott Payne Monday, 05 September 2011 02:24 posted by Scott Payne


    Some great thoughts in your response. What strikes me is that what I'm really hearing in your response (and also in your piece) is allowing space for individuals to engage one another more authentically. The touching on of religious and spiritual belief is coming from a place of personal feeling and commitment. And that all sounds great to me. I can't believe that everyone (or even most people) who engages in international development is devoid of some sort of religious and/or spiritual belief. And so ensuring there is a way of for everyone so engaged to tap that place within themselves makes perfect sense.

    What I was perhaps shying away from was the idea (whether I read this rightly or wrongly) of codifying or formalizing a place for religious belief in the practice of international development. This sort of idea seems overly rigid and quite insincere.

    If these sorts of beliefs are going to play a role in our efforts around international development, it strikes me that they have to do so from a sincerely and, in some senses, purely spontaneous place. The moment for religious/spiritual connection needs I think to arise authentically from the individuals so engaged.

    The notion that you can find a better space for spiritual belief from the sort of processes and protocols I've experienced with other NGOs (albeit not int'l development orgs) just seems to miss the point and likely only plays into its own form of dogma and rigidity.

    In that sense, I think such NGOs would be well advised to stay away from religious belief in terms of formal protocols. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster and likely to result in worse outcomes than avoiding it altogether.

    Perhaps I read more into those concerns than you were offering in your piece. But what would your thoughts on that sort of conundrum be?

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Monday, 05 September 2011 23:52 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Yes, yes. Not to formalize this or codify it in NGO policy! that sounds dangerous. Rather, for us as practitioners to be open and available to connecting with others and their perspectives that might differ from our own. There is a particular resistance to religious perspectives in the development discourse, and it shows up in all sorts of ways. So I'm asking us to practice being open to, respectful of, and integrative of these perspectives in our praxis. But not to codify it, as you say.

    I really have been touched by your comments, Scott, and have contemplated them over the week. I realized this morning, that in addition to the above, I am ALSO saying (and hoping!) that religion needs to grow up and evolve too... That is, we really do need religions to become like conveyor belts (a la Wilber). Not holding people to mythic dogma and ethnocentrism, but enabling development (of faith and of self-identity) to universalist values and worldcentric care. This already is happening in international development. For example, practitioners working on HIV/AIDS have worked to educate priests, imams, and other religious leaders about the need to include in their sermons and teachings awareness about the epidemic, as a way to shift behaviours. It's been very effective. And I just heard last week that the local priest in the community where we are working in El Salvador is now including the topic of climate change in his sermons each Sunday! We need more of this. Since these leaders have hundreds sometimes thousands of followers in their congregations, they have great capacity to spread a worldcentric message that is still in relationship to their faith and religious beliefs.

    But again, to do this work with religious leaders, we as practitioners have to be open to religion as a valid perspective out there. I know people who'd be too allergic to even begin working collaboratively in such a way. So, how can we do our shadow work enough to be able to face it directly, and engage these intense discussions that are part of up-shifting.

    Interesting topic. But very complicated. and I feel new to it all, hardly scratching the surface, but excited by the possibilities. Thank you again.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Monday, 05 September 2011 23:55 posted by Gail Hochachka

    All sounds good! Sounds like you are working out how you want the site to work with these distinctions. Whatever your contemplations and discussions settle on, just be crystal clear with it, and all will be well. I wish you all the best with it.

    And thanks for the Morris reference. It does sound interesting.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 07 September 2011 05:39 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Hi all, I want to pick up on the thread between Scott and Gail.

    Broadly speaking I agree with Scott's point that: "I look around the world and it feels like I see more examples of religion playing a divisive and counter-productive role in the sort of broad parameters and contexts we're dealing with in international development than of it playing a positive role." But I think it's also good try to be nuanced here.

    A lot of what we see and read about religion is divisive because that's what makes the news (especially in a secular media majority). We may have "a hard time experientially coming up with reasons to be optimistic about the role" of religion, but I'd argue that that feeling itself is coming from secular cultural context. Nothing wrong with a secular cultural context, of course, but from this frame of reference seeing the value of religion is damn difficult. It all looks like bombs, and dogma, and inter-religious strife.

    I actually think it's very important to reintroduce religion into the secular discourse of international development. Gail asks a pertinent question when she wonders "how the field of international development can make space for these deep [inner] dimensions of what it means to be human". As a student of ID I can say that there is literally *no* inclusion of religion or its many meanings in common discourse. Religion is either regarded with quaint anthropological interest or as a backward relic of a bygone era. I'd say that this essay is more a call to *practitioners* of ID than its recipients.

    We practitioners of ID, in my estimation, need to examine the differences between exoteric and esoteric religion. As Gail puts it, "the traditional containers of religion versus the mystical truths they elucidate". In my mind this helps resolve the problem Scott poses. If practitioners are only seeing the dogma of exoteric religion, they'll miss the source of insight, creativity, compassion and love that are often revealed through mystical insights of the esoteric. We're looking at religion through a secular lens, and thus only see the exoteric parts that are visible to the secular eye. We miss deeper aspects that are immaterial and helpful to community cohesion and development in unexpected ways (like resilience). This kind of reorientation will be a leap for the ID community (how can you measure it??!), but that's the point.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 08 September 2011 00:37 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Howdy all, I just wanted to briefly mention a couple things that came up for me while reading this piece and sitting with it since. I also particularly want to respond to Chris' comments/concerns in this thread.

    In regards to the potential issues surrounding stages/structures etc. that Chris raised, I'd highly recommend a thorough article on this topic by integral scholar Tom Murray, called "Provisos from a Users Guide to Integral Developmental Theories". He parses through in detail many of the concerns raised by Chris, concerns I do not similarly hold I may add. In fact, quite the opposite, but I'll speak to that in a moment.

    In this article he makes the distinction between "wide-line" theories of development (Kegan, Greuter-Torbert, SD) that have a wide scope and include many elements, and "narrow-line" developmental theories/research that focus on a more specific and granular topic (Fowler on faith stages, Fisher, the work of Zak Stein). Murray concludes:

    "Both wide and narrow theories have their benefits, and my goal here is to clarify the difference rather than endorse one or the other type. Much more could be said about types of validity and reliability, but it seems that the most overarching difference is one of “ecological” validity vs. reliability, in which wider lines can be used to offer more general and life-ranging guidance to subjects, at the expense of being less precise and more error-prone, in comparison to narrow-lined constructs". He also says, "wide-lined theories, though more unwieldy, will always have enough value to be used".

    This is precisely the point Juma made in his response to some critiques of Bonnitta Roy's that were similar to Chris'. Juma writes, "No doubt her complex understanding of evolution and development is miles ahead of the simplistic generalizations that get bandied about when people speak broadly in colours or stages. But there is a context - a time, a place and a people - where those generalizations are effective, drive home a point, deepen someone’s understanding, or even dramatically alter a worldview/perspective".

    Juma was speaking to his experience teaching doing consulting/development work in the business world in Korea. The models he was using (explicitly and implicitly)- the "wide line" ones- were working in that context, they were getting traction, they were enabling transformation. Why? In my view, because they were pointing to something that is real, that has ontological status in both the Korean culture and the Korean folks doing his workshops. So while I appreciate the nuance and importance of the findings of "narrow-line" research, I think we need to be careful before throwing out the "wide-line" stuff altogether, or at least throwing its intelligence and (imo valid) offering into confusion, which is what Chris' comments did for me personally; I felt the water muddy, so I felt compelled to come in here and make these points to hopefully bring a bit of balance and possibly clarity to these particular (and important) theoretical issue(s).

    Now, I don't think the comment section of Gail's piece is necessarily an appropriate place to start a long debate on these topics. I feel there's too much of importance in her essay to risk burying that under a long debate/discussion of that kind here. And believe me, I'm chompin at the bit to have a go of it. However, not too long ago Bonnitta and I agreed to enter into a formal discussion/debate on this topic. She's writing a critical piece, and then I'll respond back to her, and so on (and we agreed to be humorous and have fun, so I look forward to that!). So when that happens- and Bonnitta has many important irons in the fire, so whenever it eventually happens is great- then perhaps that can serve as the place that we all finally dive into this topic, and investigate it in light of the findings as of 2011.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 08 September 2011 01:38 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Now, just a few comments about the content of the essay. Like Bergen, I also really felt the point you were making towards the ID practitioners in particular (to include spirituality as a valid context). That was the angle that really stuck out for me, and I also think it's a really important point.

    I've been thinking a lot about the first story you told about the guy being asked how he made it through the 12 year period. His answer of "faith" has been haunting me a little. For myself, Spirit or Source or whatever you want to call it, is real. It's a real connection we have (or can have), the most fundamental and important in my view. And to either sever folks from that, or not actively support it/work with it/cultivate it, seems to me to be wasting a giant and important resource. His answer is heartbreaking, but also beautiful in its own way. A connection to Source, a trust in that lived connection, was what helped him pull through. And he's not alone in that experience in the rough history of the world.

    This past weekend I was listening to the Steve Earle show on Sirius XM satellite radio, and he did a theme hour on Hard Times, in light of the economic depression hitting the US at the moment. As he started to go through all these historical songs that were dealing with hard times, your essay started to spring to mind. I started to think about all the songs I was hearing, and the deeply spiritual heart of these songs (some from the gospel tradition), and it seemed to me that these were the sounds of resilience, and that they were drawing from somewhere deep down. I just wanted to share that with you as another possible angle on this topic of resilience and spirit, the cultural artifact of songs, poetry, literature etcetera. I thought I should throw it out in case it was useful to your project.

    Here's a version of one of my favorite cuts from that Steve Earle show:

    Thanks for sharing your work Gail, it's inspiring stuff.

  • Comment Link Scott Payne Thursday, 08 September 2011 21:06 posted by Scott Payne

    Ah, me. Late to the party as always. It's like Bono once wrote, "running to stand still."

    Anyhow, enough lamentation. Not much to add from my end. I just wanted to thank you for a great piece and an enjoyable engagement, Gail.

    Look forward to your next contribution!

  • Comment Link Barrett C. Brown Friday, 11 November 2011 22:35 posted by Barrett C. Brown

    Absolutely beautiful piece, Gail. Thank you for your profound offering. I am so grateful to be learning from you all these years. Please keep writing and sharing your experience and insights. It is an elixir for many of us, I'm sure.
    Warmly, Barrett

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