Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World

By Forman, Mark | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World


Forman, Mark, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


WILBER, KEN. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston: Integral Books. xii+318 pp. ISBN 10 1-59030-346-6, hardbound, $22.95. Reviewed by Mark Forman.

In his recently published Integral Spirituality, Ken Wilber (2006) asks this overarching question: What is the role of religion in the world today and what are the implications of Integral theory for that role? In order to answer this question, Wilber covers much familiar ground-the relationship between quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types in his Integral model-in addition to presenting a number of refinements and updates to the model (only several of which will be mentioned here).

Wilber begins the text with an update to his Four Quadrant model. For readers unfamiliar with this model, it is the central frame around which other aspects of Wilber's thought and argumentation currently rest. According to Wilber, the Four Quadrants represent the four major perspectives with which we perceive reality. These include the 1st-person subjective, the 2nd-person intersubjective, the 3rd-person objective, and the 3rd-person interobjective. The subjective view is represented by the Upper Left (UL) Quadrant, the intersubjective by the Lower Left (LL) Quadrant, the objective by the Upper Right (UR) quadrant, and interobjective by the Lower Right (LR) quadrant.

To illustrate the model further, we might use the example of a single thought that Wilber (1997) himself has given in the past. From the UL perspective, the thought has a certain subjective meaning and feeling that is known directly only by the thinker. From the UR perspective, the thought is reflected objectively in brain neurochemistry and brain wave activity. From the LL perspective, the thought is set within a cultural context and intersubjective value system. Finally, from the LR perspective, the thought can seen to be supported by a set of interobjective systems-a natural ecosystem and economic and political systems. It is a key tenet of Wilber's work that the history of intellectual discourse is replete with attempts to reduce one quadrant perspective to another. Common examples would include the idea that our subjective mental experience is simply a product of neurological activity (e.g., epiphenomenalism) or that it can be understood entirely as a product of cultural learning (e.g., social constructivism). Wilber has long argued that these four basic perspectives are irreducible and that a comprehensive philosophy or epistemology needs to hold them all as valid.

In the significant update to his model presented in Integral Spirituality, Wilber suggests that the Four Quadrants can be subdivided into what calls the "eight primordial perspectives" or eight "zones" (p. 34). This addition rests on the argument that each quadrant by itself can be seen from the inside or outside, or subjectively and objectively. Furthermore, each of these eight zones relates to a major research methodology. He refers to this application of the eight zones as "Integral Methodological Pluralism" (p. 33).

For example, in the UL, subjective quadrant he argues that we find two major methodologies: phenomenology (zone #1) and structuralism (zone #2). Phenomenology explores individual experience in a direct and subjective manner. Structuralism looks in an objective manner for the patterns and structures shaping that intrapsychic experience. Wilber uses this division to make one of the central arguments of the text: That the esoteric spiritual traditions excel in zone #1 spiritual phenomenology but have not registered the importance of either zone #1 psychodynamic experience nor zone #2 structures. By zone #2 structures, Wilber means the stages of development he has historically labeled archaic (now "infrared"), magic (now "red"), mythic (now "amber"), rational (now "orange"), pluralistic (now "green"), integral (now "turquoise"), psychic (now "indigo") and so on, the colors being a reincorporation of his early spectrum metaphor of consciousness. …

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