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Integral (spirituality)

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Integral (spirituality)

This article is about "Integral" as a theme in spirituality. For the "Integral Theory" associated with Ken Wilber, see Integral Theory. See Integral (disambiguation) for other uses.

Integral is a term applied to a wide-ranging set of developments in philosophy, psychology, spirituality, and many other areas regarding a comprehensive synthesizing transdisciplinary framework or multidimensional perspective to a given field. The term is often combined with others such as approach,[1][2] consciousness,[3] culture,[4] paradigm,[5][6] philosophy,[7][8] society,[9] theory,[10] and worldview.[3] Major themes of this range of philosophies and teachings include a synthesis of science and religion, evolutionary spirituality, and holistic programs of development for the body, mind, soul, and spirit. In some versions of integral spirituality, integration is seen to necessarily include the three domains of self, culture, and nature.[11]

Integral thinkers draw inspiration from the work of Sri Aurobindo, Don Beck, Jean Gebser, Robert Kegan, Ken Wilber, and others. Some individuals affiliated with integral spirituality have claimed that there exists a loosely-defined "Integral movement".[12] Others, however, have disagreed.[13] Whatever its status as a "movement", there are a variety of religious organizations, think tanks, conferences, workshops, and publications in the US and internationally that use the term integral.

Integral thought is claimed to provide "a new understanding of how evolution affects the development of consciousness and culture."[3] It includes areas such as business, education, medicine, spirituality, sports,[14] psychology and psychotherapy.[15] The idea of the evolution of consciousness has also become a central theme in much of integral theory.[16] According to the Integral Transformative Practice website, integral means "dealing with the body, mind, heart, and soul."[17]

Background and historical figures

The adjective integral was first used in a spiritual context by Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) from 1914 onward to describe his own spiritual teachings, which he referred to as Purna (Skt: "Full") Yoga. It appeared in The Synthesis of Yoga, a book that first published in serial form in the journal Arya and was revised several times since.[18] Sri Aurobindo's work has been described as Integral Vedanta, and psychology,[19][20] as well as the Integral Psychology (the term coined by Indra Sen) and Psychotherapy that emerges from it.[21] His writings influenced others who used the term "integral" in more philosophical or psychological contexts.

As described by Sri Aurobindo and his co-worker The Mother (1878–1973), this spiritual teaching involves an integral divine transformation of the entire being, rather than the liberation of only a single faculty such as the intellect or the emotions or the body. According to Sri Aurobindo,
(T)he Divine is in his essence infinite and his manifestation too is multitudinously infinite. If that is so, it is not likely that our true integral perfection in being and in nature can come by one kind of realisation alone; it must combine many different strands of divine experience. It cannot be reached by the exclusive pursuit of a single line of identity till that is raised to its absolute; it must harmonise many aspects of the Infinite. An integral consciousness with a multiform dynamic experience is essential for the complete transformation of our nature. — Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 114

Important themes include: Evolution, Involution, the Integral psychology, Integral yoga, and the Supramental principle. Major works include: The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, and Savitri. The Mother continued Sri Aurobindo's work of Integral and spiritual transformation after his death, and founded Auroville, an international community dedicated to human unity, and based on their teachings.

At the same time that Sri Aurobindo was developing Integral yoga, Pitirim Sorokin (1889–1968), a Russian-born Harvard sociologist who advocated a cyclic view of history, began referring to the emergence of a future, spiritually-based integral society which will replace the current "sensate" society.[22] Writing at the same time as Sri Aurobindo, but independently, he began using phrases like "integral philosophy" and "integralist".[23]

It has also recently been noted that Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) an Austrian spiritual scientist, educator, and esotericist who founded Anthroposophy, Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophical medicine, and Eurythmy, used the term integral in a similar way to Sri Aurobindo and Gebser very early on, by 1906 comparing "integral evolution" with "Darwinian evolution."[24] Jennifer Gidley points to Steiner’s earliest use of the term integral, in reference to integral evolution in a lecture in Paris on the 26 May 1906.

The grandeur of Darwinian thought is not disputed, but it does not explain the integral evolution of man… So it is with all purely physical explanations, which do not recognise the spiritual essence of man's being.[25] [Italics added]

The word integral was independently suggested by Jean Gebser (1905–1973), a Swiss phenomenologist and interdisciplinary scholar, in 1939 to describe his own intuition regarding the next state of human consciousness. Gebser was the author of The Ever-Present Origin, which describes human history as a series of mutations in consciousness. he only afterwards discovered the similarity between his own ideas and those of Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin.[26]

The idea of "Integral Psychology" was first developed in the 1940s and 50s by Indra Sen (1903–1994) a psychologist, author, educator, and devotee of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. He was the first to coin the term "Integral psychology" to describe the psychological observations he found in Sri Aurobindo's writings (which he contrasted with those of Western Psychology), and developed themes of "Integral Culture" and "Integral Man".[27]

Although these basic ideas were first articulated in the early twentieth century, the movement originates with the California Institute of Integral Studies founded in 1968 by Haridas Chaudhuri (1913–1975), a Bengali philosopher and academic. Chaudhuri had been a correspondent of Sri Aurobindo, who developed his own perspective and philosophy. He established the California Institute of Integral Studies (originally the California Institute of Asian Studies), in 1968 in San Francisco (it became an independent organisation in 1974), and presented his own form of Integral psychology in the early 1970s.[28]

Again independently, in Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck and Chris Cowan use the term integral for a developmental stage which sequentially follows the pluralistic stage. The essential characteristic of this stage is that it continues the inclusive nature of the pluralistic mentality, yet extends this inclusiveness to those outside of the pluralistic mentality. In doing so, it accepts the ideas of development and hierarchy, which the pluralistic mentality finds difficult. Other ideas of Beck and Cowan include the "first tier" and "second tier", which refer to major periods of human development.

In late 1990s and 2000 Ken Wilber, who was influenced by both Aurobindo and Gebser, among many others, adopted the term Integral to refer to the latest revision of his own integral philosophy, which he called Integral Theory.[29] He also established the Integral Institute as a think-tank for further development of these ideas. In his book Integral Psychology, Wilber lists a number of pioneers of the integral approach, post hoc. These include Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, Gustav Fechner, William James, Rudolf Steiner, Alfred North Whitehead, James Mark Baldwin, Jürgen Habermas, Sri Aurobindo, and Abraham Maslow.[30]

The adjective Integral has also been applied to Spiral Dynamics, chiefly the version taught by Don Beck, who for a while collaborated with Wilber.[31]

The Integral Institute was co-founded as a non-profit "think-and-practice tank"[32] by Ken Wilber and others in 2001,[33] to promote the theory and its practice. While there is no single organization defining the nature of Integral Theory, some have claimed that a loosely-defined "Integral movement" has appeared, expressed in a variety of conferences, workshops, publications, and blogs focused on themes in integral thought, such as spiritual evolution, and in academic developmental studies programs.[12] Others, however, have denied the existence of a single Integral movement, arguing that such claims conflate radically different phenomena.[13]

In the Wilber movement "Integral" when capitalized is given a further definition, being made synonymous with Wilber's AQAL Integral theory,[34] whereas "Integral Studies" refers to the broader field including the range of integral thinkers such as Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, Ken Wilber, and Ervin Laszlo.[35]

The project of "The Integral University in Paris" was launched 28 February 2008. So far, the Integral University (“Université Intégrale” in French) in Paris refers to a cycle of conferences organized by the French chapter of the Club of Budapest(1,2) based on an idea put forward by Michel Saloff Coste. It is not an institute as such, as it is still in its developing stages.[36]

Contemporary figures

A variety of intellectuals, academics, writers, and other specialists have advanced the fields of integral thought in recent decades.

Due to its still ambiguous nature, definitions of Integral psychology and philosophy differ, and lists of Integral philosophers and visionaries also differ, although there are some common themes. While Wilber was the first to nominate Integral philosophers, thinkers and visionaries, similar lists have later been proposed by others. According to John Bothwell and David Geier, among the top thinkers in the integral movement are Stanislav Grof, Fred Kofman, George Leonard, Michael Murphy, Jenny Wade, Roger Walsh, Ken Wilber, and Michael E. Zimmerman.[37] Australian academic Alex Burns mentions among integral theorists Jean Gebser, Clare W. Graves, Jane Loevinger and Ken Wilber.[38] In 2007, Steve McIntosh added Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin.[39] While in the same year, the editors of What Is Enlightenment? listed as contemporary Integralists Don Beck, Allan Combs, Robert Godwin, Sally Goerner, George Leonard, Michael Murphy, William Irwin Thompson, and Wilber.[40]

Gary Hampson suggested that there are six intertwined genealogical branches of Integral, based on those who first used the term: those aligned with Aurobindo, Gebser, Wilber, Gangadean, László and Steiner (noting that the Steiner branch is via the conduit of Gidley).[41]

Integral psychology

Main article: Integral psychology

Integral psychology is psychology that presents an all-encompassing holistic rather than an exclusivist or reductive approach. It includes both lower, ordinary, and spiritual or transcendent states of consciousness. It originally is based on the Yoga psychology of Sri Aurobindo. Other important writers in the field of Integral Psychology are Indra Sen,[42] Haridas Chaudhuri,[43] Ken Wilber,[44] and Brant Cortright.[45]

Integral practice

Integral practice is primarily an outgrowth of different integral theories and philosophies as they intersect with various spiritual practices, holistic health modalities, and transformative regimens associated with the New Paradigm and human potential movement. Some ways to describe integral practice are the experiential application of integral theory,[46] the "holistic disciplines we consciously employ to nurture ourselves and others, and most specifically those practices that both inspire and sustain growth in many dimensions at once,"[47] and to "address and support each aspect of life with the goal of fully realizing all levels of human potential...."[48] These self-care practices target different areas of personal development, such as physical, emotional, creative, and psychosocial, in a combined, synergistic fashion. They may have different emphases depending on the theory that supports each approach, but most include a spiritual, introspective or meditative component as a major feature. The objectives of integral practice could be loosely defined as well-being and wholeness, with, in most cases, an underlying imperative of personal and even societal transformation and evolution.[49][50]

There is also the question of how to provide necessary customization and individualization of practice, while avoiding a "cafeteria model" that encourages practitioners to choose components according to their own strengths, rather than what is necessary for integral growth and development.[51]

The following can be considered examples of different modalities of integral practice, listed in approximate order of inception: Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga; Integral Transformative Practice (ITP), created by George Leonard and Michael Murphy;[52] Holistic Integration, created by Ramon Albarada and Marina Romero;[53] Integral Lifework, created by T. Collins Logan;[54] and Integral Life Practice (ILP), based on Ken Wilber's AQAL framework.

See also


External links

Academic programs

  • California Institute of Integral Studies, offers programs in integral studies.
  • Fielding Graduate University, offers programs in integral studies.
  • John F. Kennedy University, MA in Integral Theory an accredited online Master of Arts degree in Integral Theory.


  • Integral Theory Conference the official site for the biennial Integral Theory Conference held at JFK University.
  • Integral Leadership in Action the official site for the 4th annual conference on integral conscious leadership.


  • Integral Institute a non-profit academic think tank.
  • Integral Research Center a grant giving mixed-methods research center based on Integral Methodological Pluralism.


  • Conscious Evolution, essays and articles about the multidisciplinary, integral study of consciousness and the Kosmos.
  • Integral Leadership Review, the site of the online publications Integral Leadership Review and Leading Digest
  • Integral Life online community website that is the sponsoring organization of Integral Institute, a non-profit academic think tank.
  • Integral Review Journal, an online peer reviewed journal.
  • Integral World website and online resource maintained by Frank Visser.
  • Journal of Integral Theory and Practice a peer-reviewed academic journal founded in 2003 with its first issue appearing in 2006.
  • Kosmos Journal, founded in 2001, a leading international journal for planetary citizens committed to the birth and emergence of a new planetary culture and civilization.
  • World Futures: Journal of General Evolution. An academic journal devoted to promoting evolutionary models, theories and approaches within and among the natural and the socialИнтегрално Движение
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