Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


I have been talking about the “spiritual revolution” as described by religious scholars Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, philosopher Charles Taylor, and psychoanalyst David Tacey.  The question raised in last Sunday’s post was: Is the current turn toward inner experience expressive of anything more than self-indulgent individualism?

Heelas and Woodhead argue that the individualism that marked modernity is giving way to a new form of autonomous selfhood that is deeply relational and interdependent.  They describe, therefore, a spectrum between individuated subjectivism and relational subjectivism.  They also note that more women are on the cutting edge of developing relational or interdependent models of subjectivity, while more men continue to emphasize the individuated or distinct variant.

Both Tacey and Heelas-Woodhead, then, see the potential for spiritualities of self-transformation to be also spiritualities that transform society.  New Testament scholar Marcus Borg echoes this sentiment when he speaks of the shift from a “belief-centered paradigm” to a “transformation-centered paradigm” with a focus on personal, but not private, spiritual experience and its potential to transform both individuals and societies.  Whether such shifts are felt as a threat or an opportunity, they seem to represent the perspective of a growing number of people in many communities and churches.

The claim to relational subjectivism is not without its challengers.  Perhaps the most damning detraction aimed at inner-life spiritualities is that such subjective pursuits are simply part of the self-indulgence of our consumer society.  While the holistic milieu has certainly found its way into the marketplace, its character of self-awareness, self-transformation, and its relational, environmental, and universal concerns suggest something more than simple self-indulgence.

In fact, part of the motivation of the subjective-life perspective is its ability to effect change in both the self and the larger context.  There is a strong sense in the subjective-life approach that each person, in community with others, is able to contribute something positive to the world and to an “ethic of authenticity” that reaches far beyond the individual.

Can you identify with either of the categories of individuated or relational subjectivism?  Do you see the shift from belief-centered to transformation-centered paradigms as a threat or opportunity to faith and spirituality?  Do you consider inner-life spiritualities to be an expression of consumerism?  Do you think that subjective-life approaches are able to contribute to both personal transformation and social transformation?  I welcome your responses and your participation in the conversation.

1 Comment
  • Cat Hoffman
    Posted at 09:08h, 19 March

    It is not surprising to me that women, more so than men, embrace relational or interdependent spiritual connections. But, rather than pitting individual frames of reference against private modalities, I find it more helpful to see how the interconnected differences play off each other to keep the momentum of our individual and societal spiritual growth moving forward. I think of it as the ebb and flow of life…like spiritual breath.