The Role of Transpersonal Psychology in a Postsecular Society Mike King, Centre for Postsecular Studies, London Metropolitan University



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Evidence: 7 Postsecular Contexts

What though is the broader evidence for the postsecular, other than wishful thinking on the part of those who find the secular world something of a materialist desert? In searching for this evidence we need to bear in mind the particular quality of the postsecular, that it involves a spirituality born out of a secular substratum. Hence we are not principally looking at mainstream religion, which can be regarded as a somewhat beleaguered survival of the presecular into the postsecular era. Instead we are examining contexts where the spiritual emerges or re-emerges through discoveries and modes of thought peculiar to the secular world. In searching across Western culture today the following seven postsecular contexts emerge:




  1. the 'new' sciences of quantum mechanics, relativity and chaos (complexity) theory, which challenge the deterministic, mechanistic and reductionist worldview

  2. the emerging field of consciousness studies

  3. transpersonal psychology from its origins in James, Jung, Assagioli, through Maslow and Grof, to Wilber and beyond

  4. sections of Postmodern thinking and its precursors, including Heidegger and Levinas, and sections of Christian theology, in particular the 'Radical Orthodoxy', inspired by Postmodernism, including Don Cuppit

  5. the creative arts in the 20th C, for example artists from Brancusi to Bill Viola who have explored a wide range of conventional and unconventional spiritualities in their art

  6. Deep ecology and ‘ecosophy,’ mystical approaches to Nature, from Thoreau to Dillard; the neo-shamanism

  7. New Age and new religious movements

The new physics of quantum theory and relativity, emerging in the early 20th century, has had a radical effect in halting the progress of the reductionist worldview. We can suggest that a hundred years intervened between Laplace’s famous remark to Napoleon on being asked why God did not appear in his scientific work (‘Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis’) and Einstein’s discovery of the photoelectric effect in 1905. As a cornerstone of quantum theory, it led many scientists to suggest that we do indeed need ‘that hypothesis’, or something like it. However it was not until 1975 that Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physic brought the parallels between physics and mysticism to a broad readership (over a million copies have been sold in many languages). Many more books followed, bringing into mainstream culture the idea that not just quantum theory, but also relativity and chaos theory, challenged mechanistic notions of the Universe.


Quantum theory has been one, but not the only, impetus behind an emerging science of consciousness. This field of study has grown up in the last decades of the 20th century and draws on a wide variety of disciplines. It is divided however between a reductionist brain science approach, and a more mystical and philosophical endeavour, characterised by Michael Chalmer’s proposed distinction between the ‘hard problem’ and the ‘easy problem’ (Chalmers 1995). The so-called easy problem comprises the conventionally scientific investigation of the brain. The hard problem is how to account for subjective experience, including the ‘qualia’ – that is the redness of red, the painfulness of pain and so on.



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