Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Spectrum of Spiritual Experience

This is an idea I am chewing on.  It came from a class discussion of the rise of the "spiritual, but not religious" category recently, especially among young people.

There is a spectrum of spiritual experiences.  At one end are mystics, who experience full oneness with a (the) spiritual entity.  At the other end are rationalists (maybe autistics?) who never experience it at all.

This may correspond with William James' categories of the twice born, one-and-a-half born, and once born.

Religious institutions exist to shape spiritual experience into ritual, and to form people who share ritualized spiritual experiences into a community.

Most people are in the middle of the curve, with a normal frequency and intensity of spiritual experience. If they trust religious institutions, they say they are "religious." If they do not, they say they are "spiritual, but not religious" or "nothing" because they lack the language to describe their experience.

This would mean that the increase in religious "nones" does not really mean a decline in the underlying experience that we read as religious, but a change in how we institutionalize that experience.