Tag Archives: William Irwin Thompson

Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XXII

Academics — Do they mean us??

This is just an afterword to the series now.

In researching I perceived a before-and-after effect when I’d grasped some of the history of SBNR. It’s a damn interesting history, especially if you have a good teller. Nevill Drury is great, an SBNR himself, with many books to his name on subjects like shamanism and sound healing. Also an MA in anthropology who has written good history books on the New Age, which is close enough to be very useful. Here’s a very watchable video of his lecture outlining the basics of his history:

The New Age Movement – Swedenborg Centre, Sydney

… and illustrating that all-important many-stranded nature of SBNR. If you want more I do recommend his book:

The New Age

… which you can get for a penny now as you can see. Drury covers Swedenborg, Mesmer, Theosophy, William James, the psychoanalysts including Jung, Maslow and Perls, psychedelia including Watts and Leary, Grof, acupuncture and other alternative medicine, Krishnamurti, Joseph Campbell, Castaneda and neoshamanism, quantum mysticism and many other things we need to know, from a very readable popular standpoint, quite reliable and with good illos. Knowing this gets you into play on the multi-levelled, multimythic nature of SBNR.

In researching this series partly I thought my duty should be to read some academic sociologists. If you want to do the same, note that anyone can peruse The Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies (JASANAS), a project of the Open University which has put its 5 issues up online for free consultation. That’s a genuinely impressive academic publication with a lot of useful facts and some interesting theories if you want them. Academicese is often in full effect.

Of the in-print professors, if you must, the one who to my mind is most in tune with aspects of SBNR thought is Christopher Partridge:

The Re-Enchantment of the West: Volume 1: Understanding Popular Occulture
The Re-Enchantment of the West, Vol II: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture

This is a guy who takes SBNR seriously as thought as well as culture. He knows about pop-cultural aspects too.

Paul Heelas is the other known UK academic defender of SBNR:

The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality Heelas and Woodhead
Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism

The first volume, co-written with Linda Woodhead, is a good research effort on SBNR in the UK. The second answers the occasional need for a “defence of SBNR” against Christopher Lasch or similar tomfoolery — Partridge and this volume of Heelas together will certainly do the job. Heelas mentions Durkheim a lot, which is apparently what some folks want, and I think most readers will find his arguments cogent. But he doesn’t cover the thinking of SBNRs themselves very well — they are mostly assumed to be quite mute creatures.

This book tackles the US:

Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America

… well if a little briefly. Again, good basic historical perspective.

On the other hand I’d also recommend something with a truly SBNR perspective and some real imagination. William Irwin Thompson’s five-line dismissal of Lasch in:

Reimagination of the World: Critique of the New Age, Science and Popular Culture, Spangler and Thompson

… is probably sufficient in itself unto that task.:) This is a real book by real thinking SBNRs (Thompson’s a professor too don’t forget, and his friend David Spangler is no slouch either) about SBNR, science, all sorts of things — including critiques. I probably disagree with half of it, but these are the kinds of thoughts I wish more SBNRs were able to have. Shows how you can be historically imaginative rather than defaulting to commonplaces. The book is transcripts of spontaneous talks and conversations which gives it a naturalness I find useful.

After writing this series I discovered a four-part Thompson online series on the same subject called “THINKING OTHERWISE – From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality”, but you’ll have to google it as the site seems down right this sec.

Finally, also from the SBNR camp itself I should mention Robert Forman’s Grassroots Spirituality:

Grassroots Spirituality: What it is, Why it is Here, Where it is Going

… which was a wider concept and an attempt at “gathering the tribes” for democratic purposes. I’m not sure how well he pulled it off — he wanted to do it by harmonising belief systems into more singular linguistic statements, eeeeesh — and he casts the net a little wide for my liking.

But he’s pushing ahead with it as you see from his “Forge Institute”



That’s the end of this series — hope it was interesting, and thanks for reading!

If anyone has any questions jogged by it, don’t hesitate to comment.

This series hasn’t included anything “inner”. We’ll now be moving on from exoteric history and the next series of this kind will be completely different and much deeper, to get to the juicy stuff — what SBNR is really about, believes, and so on. Looking at the history really helped me understand all that, but next we’ll need to combine it with other stuff such as the nature of spiritual progress and “enlightenment” etc. That stuff will probably be much more sustainedly intense than anything I’ve yet posted on the ‘Box.

The next series will be about Carl Rogers and psychology, which will also set up themes for what follows.


Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XIV

William Irwin Thompson could have been an Andrew Cohen or a Ken Wilber, but like Glenn Morris, chose to dedicate himself to a scientific and artistic view of SBNR, and to eschew guruhood and religion in favour of co-operative collegiality, the pure SBNR “fellower not follower” spirituality.

It’s not that SBNR doesn’t produce charisma, of a different kind to that of religion, but still charisma:

… after a few lectures, something peculiar happened. I began to feel a different presence inside myself; actually, I began to feel a whole new sense of self. A larger kind of mind took over the field of my consciousness, and I would begin to say things I didn’t know, or didn’t realize I knew. I can remember the first time it happened, when I said to myself as I was lecturing, “Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that.”

Along with the shift in my sense of self, came a shift in the general feeling-tone of the audience. Restless students became listeners … Undoubtedly, the kriya yoga I was doing for three and a half hours each day aided this process of ego/Daimon restructuring…

MEMOIR – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island

That is the power of a preacher. But Thompson wanted to synergise with people, not fascinate them. He didn’t go on Dick Cavett and become a celebrity when his book hit big in the NY Times. The big vistas he limned in print (and vistas don’t come much bigger) were the visions of a Europhile poet-prophet-historian who paints the world around the reader, illuminating its patterns rather than laying down a concrete highway through it. The kind of visions that leave it up to the reader what to do and who to be, in other words.

The story he ended up telling, couched in terms of systems theory conversations in the collegial atmosphere of Lindisfarne, describes much of the situation we are actually living in now (although few realise it.) This kind of thing, breaking through to a truth that makes sense of the world, is more powerful than big promises and destinies that never actually come off — and certainly much more powerful than the piddling little promises of The Secret, so soon broken. “Your own villa in the Seychelles, by the powerful methods of the Buddha!”

Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – VII

The major contributors to SBNR are very numerous. No-one has yet identified them all. Summarising their contribution would be practically impossible.

And there is no definite “product” of their endeavours, no nice Nicene “result”. One could spend days trying to give the gist of Gebser, Yogananda, Jung, or Huxley. Their modern heirs Stanislav Grof, Lawrence LeShan, William Irwin Thompson, or Glenn Morris would require just as long.

Anyone can wander the SBNR canon and pull out a personal conversation, a particular mind. With no official version, no orthodoxy. With no orthodoxy, no borders. SBNR is what you make it, not what it makes you.

Still, SBNR is no longer as directly indebted to Romanticism. It is leaner, and it has learned the difference between posturing and effectiveness. It has passed through existential crises and been tempered by them. What we have now is a settled growth of many intertwining plants — and a definite opportunity.