Education, Spirituality

Spirituality in Higher Education

In spite of all the difficulties and dangers in the world today,
and perhaps in response to them, a movement is underway towards
transformation in nations and institutions. This movement will lead to
an enhanced capacity for integrating different perspectives and ideas,
in contrast to the extreme fragmentation and competition currently
dominating much of our thinking. Although the times we live in are
often referred to as the Information Age or the Knowledge Age, I
believe that a better description will be –and must be — the
Integrative Age. Key to our future will be the development of more
complete human beings with a greater sense of wholeness and
connectedness, with a more developed spiritual intelligence.

Wholeness, Connection and Spiritual Intelligence

Just as the University of
Faith evolved to the
University of Reason,
the next phase will be the
Integrative University for an
Integrative Age, recognizing
the evolving human
capacity for integrative
and spiritual

Experts in many fields, ranging from education to economics, are
stressing the importance of this capacity in all of us. For example,
Alexander Astin at the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA
questions whether any of our domestic and world problems can ever be
resolved without a substantial increase in our individual and
collective self-awareness, which are essential elements of a spiritual
intelligence and which are necessary prerequisites to our ability to
understand others and to resolve conflicts. He writes, “this basic
truth — which lies at the heart of our difficulty in dealing
effectively with problems of violence, poverty, crime, divorce,
substance abuse and religious conflict that continue to plague our
country and world — was also dramatically and tragically illustrated
in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Building.”

Duane Elgin in Awakening Earth observes that we are rapidly
approaching one of the great pivotal points of human history. The
Earth is being severely wounded by humanity while, simultaneously, the
world is awakening as a conscious, global organism. These two facts
seemingly pose a paradox, but in fact are intimately related. Pushed
by a harsh reality, the human family is being challenged to realize a
new level of identity, responsibility and purpose. And Robert Fogel
notes in The Fourth Awakening, that critical spiritual assets such as
a sense of purpose, self-esteem, a sense of discipline, a vision of
opportunity, a thirst for knowledge and the struggle for
self-realization must all be transferred at a young age through
education. Yet our current models of education do not address these
challenges adequately due to the extraordinary degree of
differentiation, fragmentation and isolation. To understand this
predicament as well as the path out, we must examine the evolution of
Universities since their founding in the western world almost a
millennium ago.

An Evolutionary Perspective of the University

Our approach to knowledge evolved as society changed from an agrarian
to an industrial to an information age, and now to the Integral
Age. For the first five hundred years, Universities were embedded in
medieval culture where knowledge was largely based on faith and
religion. Scholars pursued knowledge from a mixture of motives,
combining rational and irrational, scholarly and superstitious, using
methods of empiricism and speculation. However there was an emphasis
on the integration of knowledge across diverse fields that was lost to
some extent with the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and
with the rise of modernism and the enlightenment. During the 20th
century, the fragmentation of knowledge reached its pinnacle in the
relativism of postmodern philosophy. Over the same time span, the
nature of Universities changed from the University of Faith to the
University of Reason, the dominating paradigm in the modern

This fragmented approach to knowledge derives from our interpretation
of the relationship of human beings to the universe, originating with
modern science and the enlightenment. Richard Tarnas in The Passion
of the Western Mind identifies the prime cause as “the Copernican
shift of perspective in the mid-sixteenth century which displaced the
human being to a peripheral position in a vast, impersonal universe
with the ensuing disenchantment from the natural world. The
Copernican revolution constituted the epochal shift to the modern age.
Almost a century later, Descartes woke up in the Copernican universe
and fully articulated the experience of the emerging, autonomous self
as separate from the external world it tries to master. With the
human mind distinct from the world, then the apprehended universe was
ultimately the mind’s interpretation.”

Another century passed, bringing us to the mid-eighteenth century,
when Kant drew out the epistemological consequences. He deduced that all
human knowledge is interpretive, and that the mind can draw no
mirror-like knowledge of the objective world. Here the roots of
postmodernism become visible; the world is essentially a construct and
knowledge is radically interpretive. Every act of perception and
cognition is congruent, mediated, situated, contextual, and
theory-soaked. Over a period of 200 years the cosmological
estrangement of Copernicus and the ontological estrangement of
Descartes were completed by the epistemological estrangement of Kant,
a threefold, mutually reinforcing prison of modern alienation that has
resulted in the fragmentation and relativism of knowledge prevalent
today, and a concomitant weakening of a spiritual connection to the
universe and to each other.

But the lesson of Kant is that the locus of the communication problem
— the problem of human knowledge in the world — must be viewed as
centered in the human mind. Therefore, as Tarnas goes on to say, it
is theoretically possible that the human mind has more cards than it
has been playing. The pivot of the modern predicament is
epistemological, and it is here that we should look for an
opening. The opening lies in the realization that postmodernism is a
transitory phase; education must move towards a transmodern philosophy
which will overcome the postmodern worldview, not by eliminating it,
but by constructing a new worldview through a revision of modern
premises and traditional concepts.

In Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern
World, David Orr suggests that this constructive postmodernism, or
transmodernism, demands a new integration of scientific, ethical,
aesthetic, and religious intuitions. It rejects not science as such
but scientism in which the data of the modern natural sciences are
alone allowed to contribute to the construction of our worldview. In
spite of its fragmented approach, the postmodern movement has
nevertheless created the necessary ingredients for a new intellectual
vision, which I call transmodernism.

Emerging Integral Consciousness

Just as the University of Faith evolved to the University of Reason,
the next phase will be the Integrative University for an Integrative
Age, recognizing the evolving human capacity for integrative and
spiritual consciousness. The philosopher Ken Wilber sees this emerging
capacity as the next stage in human development from the archaic and
mythic eras of primal cultures to the “truth-force” and “strive-drive”
levels of scientific rationalism and materialism, and now to the
greater integral- holonic consciousness of the future. Of course there
is no simple linear progression from one level to the next; the
different levels are all necessary if we are to survive well in the
complexity of the modern world. In earlier times a survival sense
based on sharpened instinct and innate senses was crucial — and
sometimes still is. More important for the future will be the
holistic mind.

A significant 20th century step along this evolution is the
consciousness associated with the “human bond” reflecting
greater awareness of ecological issues, explorations of the self and
the capacity for integrating and aligning systems. The enhancement of
this capacity in human consciousness must increasingly become the
focus of educational systems — not by a return to the simpler unitive
cosmologies of the past, but through the ability to integrate at a
different level from the insights we have gained in the
differentiation of areas of knowledge since the birth of modern
science and the enlightenment.

Although it was modern science, from the seventeenth century onwards,
that led to our dominant, rational, analytical worldview, the science
of the twentieth century has now shown the way to a different model of
the universe as a web of connections, even as a holographic universe
in which information about the whole is contained in each and every
component. Let us hope that this interpretation of reality will find
its way into our epistemology and approach to learning. There does
seem to be a pattern for increasingly rapid transformation in human
history. While the earlier hunter-gatherer and agrarian phases
spanned thousands of years, only a few hundred years separated the
industrial age and the information age. We might anticipate a more
rapid transition to integral, holonic thinking, particularly if our
educational institutions make it a priority.

A Global Blueprint for Education

Perhaps humanity is gathering on-stage for the next enlightenment. We
have experienced the Enlightenment of the East and the Enlightenment
of the West. The next enlightenment should combine the best of these
forerunners. On a grand scale we might think of the future as the
integration of the great insights of the world’s spiritual traditions
with the discoveries of modern science. Some of the ideas in modern
science have been implicit in the world’s religions for thousands of

As we design education for the future we need a world philosophy. An
attempt at developing this global blueprint for the future of
education can be found in the Report to UNESCO of the International
Commission on Education for the 21st Century, titled Learning: The
Treasure Within. It defines four pillars for education: Learning to
Know; Learning to Do; Learning to Live Together; Learning to Be. This
structure can now be understood as the natural consequence of the
evolution of knowledge and education outlined in this essay.
Traditional educational models focus on Knowing and Doing in the
University of Reason, with little attention to Living and
Being. Knowing and Doing represent the exterior and material aspects
of our lives, while Living and Being are more connected to the
interior aspects, to our self-awareness and spirituality. They
constitute aspects of the Integrative University.

Quoting from the UNESCO Report: “The problem will then no longer be so
much to prepare children for a given society as to continuously
provide everyone with the power and intellectual reference they need
for understanding the world around them and behaving responsibly and
fairly. More than ever education’s essential role seems to be to give
people the freedom of thought, judgment, feeling and imagination they
need in order to develop their talents and remain as much as possible
in control of their lives.”. Our aim must be the complete fulfillment
of the human being in all the richness of personality and the
complexity of its forms of expression as producer, inventor and
creative dreamer and with all their various commitments as individual
members of a family, of a community, and of the world.

This goal for education is no less than a spiritual quest for the
times we live in.