Emotion and Transformation in the Relational Spirituality Paradigm Part 3. a Moral Motive Analysis

By Leffel, G. Michael | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Emotion and Transformation in the Relational Spirituality Paradigm Part 3. a Moral Motive Analysis


Leffel, G. Michael, Journal of Psychology and Theology


Meaning-system analyses presently dominate the literature on religious conversion and spiritual transformation (Paloutzian & Park, 2005). To complement (not contradict) meaning-system analyses this three-article series proposes the construction of a new approach to the study of the affective basis of spiritual transformation, moral motive analysis. The objective of this final article is to outline a specific moral motive analysis of transformation, a "social intuitionist" (Haidt, 2001) approach that both complements and elaborates the theological tradition of orthokardia (Runyon, 1998). This article first summarizes the central hermeneutic and defining features of orthodardia, and then relates them to concepts in contemporary moral motivation theory. Second, following the Murphy-MacIntyrean framework (telos, problem, purpose), it proposes three core postulates concerning the role of moral emotions in spiritual transformation: moral telos as emerging love and the capable character, moral problem as the duplicitous heart and diminished capacity to love; and moral process as implicit relational transformation. Collectively, these postulates delineate an approach to relational affect transformation (virtue-acquisition and vice-diminishment) that is consistent with the sensibilities of Aristotelean virtue ethics (MacIntyre, 1984), contemporary moral motive theory (Emmons & McCullough, 2004), and the apophatic approach to change (Jones, 2002), thus providing a metapsychology of implicit relational spirituality for theory, research, and practice.

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Enormous confusion is bred when purity of intention (love of God, love
of the Good) is demanded of man without a compassionate and workable
psychological knowledge of everything in the individual human being
that resists or covers over such purity of heart.
--Jacob Needleman, On the Way to Self-Knowledge

Recent reviews of the psychological literature concerned with the affective basis of spirituality (Emmons, 2005; Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Hill, 2002) suggest that while the role of emotion in spiritual transformation has long been acknowledged in religion and psychology, the scientific and interdisciplinary study of emotional processes that mediate spiritual transformation is still in a fledgling state. Hill (1995, 2002) has suggested a number of times and places that "there are no general overarching theories of affect guiding research on religious experience" (1995, p. 355). The objective of this article is to suggest a trajectory for the development of a certain type of approach, a moral motive analysis that gives theoretical and methodological priority to motivational factors related to prosocial (loving) action.

One of the problems in the study of affective processes has been definitional, both with respect to the terms emotion and spiritual transformation. Concerning emotion, as the meaning and measurement of emotions (or affects) has improved considerably in recent years, particularly the class of emotions we are most concerned with here, the "moral emotions" (Haidt, 2003), researchers are now in a better position to study the role of emotions in personality change and spiritual transformation. Recent reviews suggest that such research might profitably focus on the role of positive (Fredrickson, 2002) and moral emotions both as "motivators of and consequences of" spiritual transformation (Emmons, 2005, p. 247). A first objective of this article is to respond to this call, offering a preliminary analysis of how moral emotions might be related to spiritual transformation.

A second question of importance in formulating theory and research in this area is the issue of specifying why moral emotions are believed to be important, to what end. Hill (2002) has encouraged investigators to avoid the tendency to "decontextualize" the study of human meaning and value, to theorize without some explicit philosophical or religious ethos that helps define the significance the emotions. …

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