Transpersonal psychology needs no introduction here, apart from to say that it is possibly the secular context with the greatest hospitality to the spiritual, as we will explore later.
Postmodernism, defined by Lyotard (1984) as ‘incredulity towards metanarratives,’ is a site of mixed hospitality to the spiritual. On the one hand, its desire to attack the modernist agenda allows for space to reconsider the atheist assumptions of modernism, but on the other hand the incredulity towards metanarratives means that conventional (presecular) religion is one of its prime targets. An interesting exchange between Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas points to the tension between the philosophical and the theological. Levinas (1969), in grand postmodern style, attacks the absolutism of presecular religion as a ‘totalising’ force in his great book, Totality and Infinity, which is at the same time an intensely spiritual text. Derrida (1978), though sympathetic both to the attack on absolutism, and to some forms of spirituality – in particular the ‘negative theology’ or apophatic Christian tradition – critically responds with his famous essay ‘Violence and Metaphysics.’ Derrida senses that Levinas, while following the formof philosophy, is actually doing theology, and fights to retain the crown, as it were, for philosophy. Levinas (1987) responds in turn with a later essay, ‘God and Philosophy’, where he defends his right to be unphilosophical in a philosophical essay, to ‘reserve a domain from the authority of philosophy,’ i.e. the domain of religion.
Some contemporary Christian theologians have seized upon postmodernist thinking, often that of Derrida, to invigorate theology. Examples include Don Cupitt, founder of the Sea of Faith movement, and Britain’s current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. There are a number of good essay collections containing the writings of these two theologians and many others in this genre, including Ward (1997), Blonde (1988) and Berry and Wernick (1992).Given that some find theology and postmodernism somewhat abstruse singly, it may not be surprising to find a meeting of the two even more obscure. However a perusal of these texts reveal a number of interesting features of the contemporary relationship between the spiritual life and the philosophical life. At the same time the writings can reveal an agenda that is more presecular than postsecular.