Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Inner-Life Spirituality Workshop - Colin's Paper

After heading off to Ambleside for fish and chips, we returned for a paper by Colin Campbell, 'Inner-Life Spirituality: World-Affirming or World-Rejecting? Ascetic or Mystic?'

  • Colin hoped to address a possibile criticism of his recent publication The Easternization of the West, in which he advances his easternization thesis - though I have not read it yet! He began by characterizing Western civilization as having an active value orientation and Eastern civilization as having a contemplative value orientation. The West seeks to change the world through activism, whilst the East accepts the world as it is and seeks to discover the 'real' nature of the world through contemplation. Colin then posed the possible criticism of TEOFW: if easternization is taking place, then asceticism should be more prominent than is suggested by data about the religious landscape of the West.

Colin used Roy Wallis' distinction between world-affirming and world-rejecting, noting that Wallis' categorisation of the New Age Movement as world-affirming depends upon an analysis of how the movement advertises itself. Colin argued that a world-affirming orientation is used by Western new religious movements to advertise themselves because this is the way in which all religious movements recruit followers. Very few religious movements appeal to the benefits it brings in the after life (i.e. very few are world-rejecting in their self-presentation), and those that do have to simultaneously convince people that this world is about to end (e.g. various forms of millenarianism).

There is within new religious movements a strand of world-rejecting, despite their self-presentation as world-affirming, but there is also a difference here between Western and Eastern reasons for rejecting the world: Western world-rejection is based upon the world being constructed as evil; Eastern world-rejection is based upon the world being constructed as material. In the latter, there is not exactly an opposition between materiality and spirituality (the 'true' nature of existence needs to be understood). Here, experience of the world is rejected (rather than the world itself). Experience of the world is rejected because it is not what an enlightened people should be experiencing. It is illusion, maya. Only by rejecting the world as it is experienced can enlightenment be achieved through which the 'proper' experience of reality is gained.

So, back to the possible criticism of Colin's book. If the easternization thesis is correct, there should be an increase in the rejection of the world as it is experienced and a decrease in the Western value orientation of 'instrumental activism' (Talcott Parsons). An active mastery of the world, of doing, of getting things done, of what Cora du Bois calls 'effort optimism,' should be on the decrease... but is there evidence of this?

Colin notes the growing disatisfaction with the production ethic, a movement away from maximizing production capacity, a drawing back from the aggressive intervention in nature, and a greater stress upon non-intervention. He notes that an interesting linguistic movement has occured in which if you are an activist today you are more likely to be acting in the interests of non-action, of human non-intervention - for example, acting for the preservation of rainforests and other natural habitats.

Colin therefore adds to the activism and contemplation modes of action a third: being in becoming, in which there is activity coupled with the development of the self as an integrated whole. Success isn't measured by changes made to the world, but by changes made to the self. Activism is still observable in the West, and humans are understood as agents of change, but due to easternization a shift has occured through which humans are no longer agents changing an external world but agents changing themselves. It is a mentalized or psychologized activism. I thought Colin would add (but he didn't at this particular point) that it is an easternized activism.

The ascetic response to the tension between your hopes of experiencing the world and your actual experienc of the world is to change the world, but the mystic response is to change the self. A shift has occured from 1) activism > 2) having the right attitude helps achieve activist goals > 3) attitude is sufficient to effect the change sought. So the West has become easternized in this sense: there is still an activist value orientation (classic West), it is still about the self and what the self achieves (modernism), but it is an internal change rather than an external change that will achieve it (classic East).

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