A new integral approach to religion


“Let us begin with Wilber’s own definitions of ‘religion.’ He distinguishes a number of different meanings of the term in his various writings and considers all of them valid. In A Sociable God, for instance, he discusses no fewer than nine different meanings of the term ‘religion.’ Later, in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, he tells us that “the core of the premodern religious worldviews is the Great Chain of Being.” Still later, in Integral Spirituality, Wilber identifies four major, legitimate ways people use the word ‘spiritual.’ There he seems to presuppose a distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality,’ but in other places he uses the terms interchangeably.
This is all very confusing. “Specify your meaning,” Wilber advises—each of these meanings is valid in its own context. Undoubtedly that is good advice, but one longs for a single definition that will anchor any kind of discussion about religion or spirituality. Wilber himself feels the need for such a definition: “…many of the specific and central claims of the world’s great religions contradict each other, but if we cannot find a common core of the world’s great religions, then we will never find an integration of science and religion” (The Marriage of Sense and Soul). I would add that without that common core, we will never fully understand religion itself.”

In three earlier posts, I set out to answer the question ‘What is religion?’ in a new, uniquely integral way. You can read my complete answer to the question, including the final Part 4 at https://cmphilosophy.blogspot.com/


@Charles_Marxer. Is your link active?


The link stated in the post has been replaced with https://cmphilosophy.blogspot.com/.
That should work. Sorry for the delay. I look forward to your comments.


Here’s a simple way to treat Spirituality and Religion:
Spirituality is all about accessing or coming closer to that “infinite” which cannot be grasped by the rational mind.
Religion is mankind’s attempts to put structure to that at various Integral altitudes.
The paper is an attempt to describe Religion from the perspective of an Orange perspective. This is fine, but Orange is Orange and runs into roadblocks trying to describe Spirituality at higher levels.

Green relativism is absolutely necessary in a understanding the nonphysical. There is no one “correct” or “true” definition of spirituality. Most of the attempts by a Christian to come to a logical understanding, for example will be insufficient in explaining how a Goddess wearing a necklace of men’s skulls is spiritual. Yet Kali under many other names around the world is a beautiful path to accessing that which you cannot logically understand.
I think that is just one example of how incredibly limiting the discussion is when looking at it through a lens of western culture. A westerner wants to see there is some kind of “path” or “progression” rather than an “existing” or even a cyclical nature to creation. I observe in these discussions that the Wester, Christian mind abhors the idea of “the void” and wants to fill it with analysis.
Understanding death as a finality rather than a gateway may be a faster path to accessing the infinite than believing one has infinite lifetimes. Or vice versa.
Often other traditions are dismissed outright as just plain invalid - such as the the traditions of Crowley or Levey. I actually see those two as part of the Christian pantheon - the suppressed shadow. The “evil” feminine (as judged by western culture) which is free to openly express and is revered in other cultures.
Or death worship
And so on.
If the discussion continues further without distractions I’ll put more thought into a post - this was all just off the top of my head.


@Charles_Marxer This is quite good and resonates as respectful, unbiased, and refreshingly non-hostile. Thank you for sharing your wonderful work.

A few thoughts to consider on first half of you paper.

  • “It follows that authentic religion cannot be found in an organization or sacred books or even in the outward behavior of worshipers. It lives primarily in the minds of individual adherents; it belongs to their interior life.” It seems a bit overstated that the communities, organizations, buildings, icons, music, and outward behaviors do not comprise part of the “authentic religion”. Brings to mind Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” as an example regarding communities/organizations.
  • Religious “Types” might better be presented as Modalities, since everyone has some of all 8 modalities
  • The Non-traditional types can provide access and do also aspire to reaching Transcendent domains.
  • “Personal Experience of the Holy” might not be completely deterministic - e.g. do this, experience that - but the more I practice, pray, surround ourselves with iconography, and enmesh myself in my religious communities the more I experience often I have “experiences”. It’s more an increase the odds and increase the depths of the experiences.

Beautiful work Charles. Thanks for sharing!


Thanks for your kind words, FA, and for your comments on my essay. To your first point, you have in effect pointed out that religion manifests in all 4 quadrants, that religious buildings, icons, communities, etc., are “parts” of authentic religion. I agree that any religious holon (sincere practitioner) has 4 quadrants, but I chose the word “authentic” carefully. Imagine, if you will, a person who is a member of a religious community (LL), who takes part in the ritual acts of the community (behavior-UR), and obeys the rules of the religious organization (LR) but believes none of the church’s doctrines, shares none of the community’s attitudes, and obeys the rules but does not acknowledge their legitimacy. Would we not have to say that such a person exhibits some important characteristics of religiosity but lacks a sincere religious consciousness (UL) and is therefore not authentically religious?

Re religious types: Streng Theory holds that there can be some overlap among the 8 Ways, e.g. a person who has had a personal encounter with the Holy can also profess adherence to cosmic law as a means of ultimate transformation. However, some of the types are simply incompatible as to what counts as an ultimate concern and what the means of transformation are. For example, someone professing a mythic/ritual religious commitment, say to the God of Christianity, would reject all four of the non-traditional Ways on the ground that none of them acknowledges the existence of God or any other notion of a transcendent, sacred realm.

Question: do you think my definition of religion contributes anything important to Integral Theory?

Best regards.


Hello, Ray. You wrote: " The paper is an attempt to describe Religion from the perspective of an Orange perspective. This is fine, but Orange is Orange and runs into roadblocks trying to describe Spirituality at higher levels." If you are referring to my essay, it is written from a Turquoise/Integral perspective, as the title suggests.


I’m only to page 13 (it’s pretty deep), but so far I think a wonderful view on religion. My comments are from my liberal conservative practicing happy with Christianity perspective. You have put forth a very non adversarial inclusive view .
Is it Integral? Absolutely. But doesn’t share the Leftist orthodoxy that predominates in the Integral communities that I’ve found. You aren’t following the playbook of Critical Theory (it’s all messed up, like evil) so therefor must be destroyed so we can recreate a weakly formulated “perfect” Spirituality. Integralists might not enjoy it so much without snapping into the line of orthodoxy.

If your interested in considering a viewpoint such as mine I could review and comment in more depth. My goal would be to help create a “big tent” including Righties.


“But doesn’t share the Leftist orthodoxy that predominates in the Integral communities that I’ve found. You aren’t following the playbook of Critical Theory (it’s all messed up, like evil) so therefor must be destroyed so we can recreate a weakly formulated “perfect” Spirituality. Integralists might not enjoy it so much without snapping into the line of orthodoxy.”

Are you familiar enough with the integral spiritual model to make a comment like this? How in your mind do we apply “evil critical theory” to the spiritual domain? And why are you politicizing every topic?


Just chalk it up to my Cultism for all things Trump @corey-devos

My reading of Charles work left me with both a feeling of and intellectual understanding that he is not applying CT to deconstruct religion in order to supplant with a new “religion”.

Did you have any thoughts on the paper?


“My reading of Charles work left me with both a feeling of and intellectual understanding that he is not applying CT to deconstruct religion in order to supplant with a new “religion”.”

Right, and I am just wondering where in the integral space you have seen folks “applying CT to deconstruct religion and supplant with a new religion”. Once again I am inviting you to substantiate your claims, since you are taking yet another opportunity to disparage the community. I’m not sure it’s being “pro-Trump” as much as “aggressively anti-left”, and I see you again trying to claim that integral is subservient to the left and would therefore relish in applying an “evil” lens like critical theory to all domains, including the spiritual.

Critical theory is a methodology, one of many. Integral does not privilege any singular methodology, but rather situates all available methodologies into a post-methodological pluralism. The integral claim is that no methodology is “evil”, that the majority of these methodologies have value, and disclose some important aspect or dimension or zone of reality that other methodologies cannot disclose — but that each of these methodologies is also essentially limited to a particular zone of reality, and get in trouble when they overreach into other zones they are not equipped to disclose. Which is why integral says things like “everyone is right” and “everything in its right place” while simultaneously saying, “but stay in your zone.”

Critical theory is a lens that people can use to disclose how power moves in the world, the sorts of structures it creates, and how those structures can be challenged. It can be useful for seeing certain dynamics in zones 4, 7, and 8. It is not an “evil” lens, it is simply partial. The “evil”, as it were, is when people only enact reality through this single lens, which then creates an exaggerated and distorted perception of reality, as EVERYTHING gets reduced to power structures.

But this is true for every methodology in existence, if it becomes the only lens we use to enact reality. This is as true for phenomenology in the upper left (everything is subjective!) as it is for hermeneutics in the lower left (everything is a social construct!) or behaviorism and empiricism in the upper right (everything is dead matter!). And of course there are factions of people who insist that all of reality can be reduced to any of these four quadrants (or more specifically, any of the eight zones), and they can make that claim from any stage of development (for example, emphasizing the LL from Amber, the UR from orange, the LR from green, etc.)

Could critical theory disclose anything useful about religion? Sure, it could look at how various religions amass and exercise and protect their power. It might be able to show us how certain beliefs were enforced over others in order to maintain power. It can probably say something important about matters such as the Catholic coverup of pedophila in the church and how such an obvious evil was sustained for so long.

But can it tell us anything about our actual spiritual experiences and states of consciousness in Zone 1, or the structures of consciousness in Zone 2 we use to interpret those experiences? No it can not.

Can it show us our own 1st-person Original Face, the face we had before the Big Bang? No it cannot.

Can it tell us anything about our intimate 2nd-person connection with God, Spirit, the Universe, etc.? No it cannot.

Can it say anything about our 3rd-person perception of the sacred, the self-evident beauty of sunsets and rainbows and galaxies and every day acts of kindness? No it cannot.

Critical theory, properly applied, MIGHT help us understand why we have some of the symbols and reference points for these experiences that we do, and maybe how these symbols became selected and institutionalized and passed down through the centuries. It can probably say something about how certain states of consciousness have been politicized and regulated and often banished by religions over history. But it can’t say anything about the actual experience itself.

Integral resists methodological fundamentalism, and makes room for all stages This is known as the principle of nonexclusion. Integral also understands how these methodologies fit together, and that higher stages bring greater resolution and more granular methodologies to be integrated. This is related to the principle of enfoldment. So critical theory is in no way a primary lens for the integral approach, but it’s a valid one if applied appropriately and supplemented/integrated with other lenses.

And I am again suggesting you may have a serious misreading of integral and it’s application to things like spirituality, that your own primary lens you are using in this community seems to be politically adversarial, and that you should familiarize yourself more with the approach before making the strong claims and criticisms that you make.

“Did you have any thoughts on the paper?”

I think it’s great from what I’ve read so far, but it would take me much longer than I have right now to offer a substantial review to see whether it is adding to the integral spiritual model, or if perhaps it is another in a series of much-needed non-Wilber translations of the model that can speak to new audiences in new ways.


@corey-devos. I see much in the world that is Integral and at much higher developmental levels than you and perhaps others.
I think this MIGHT be that I don’t try to deconstruct (ct) first but at least attempt to look at results in the world. I also do think that massive human development should be acknowledged and honored. Just a speck of gratitude for what those before us accomplished and developed might make the constant criticisms more palatable.
I don’t understand how an intellectual endeavor can so selectively apply scathing critique and sweeping benefit of the doubt seemingly so arbitrarily. IT itself may not have this baked in theoritically but all of the practitioners do it with glee.


I think that’s fair. We all enact reality in our own ways, according to our kosmic address. At the same time, after working here for the last 20 years, I have often seen a sort of “halo effect” where people who have some working familiarity with integral (capable of seeing it as an object) then begin identifying things they like as “integral”, just because they like them. “I’m integral, and I like this, therefore it is integral too.”

At which point, I like to talk about two different enactments of “integral”. One I call “emergent integral” – the new ideas, new strategies, new kinds of self-organization that become available at teal/turquoise altitudes. The other I call “universal donor integral”, which is more about integrating and calibrating previous stages of development and putting things “in their proper place” so that the conveyor belt of growth and awakening can function properly. These can be seen in a way as the “progressive” and “conservative” poles, which Integral attempts to manage and integrate. I don’t see it as a political choice between one or the other, but rather two poles that should be enacted simultaneously.


That’s a mature way of looking at things. I’m sure there is some of both going on in each of us. :rofl:

I’m still scratching my head as to how the “emergent integral” elites once empowered to push down “universal donor integral” to the ignorant masses will not fall into horrific corruption that we’ve seen every other time it’s been tried.

Is there any chance the Integral Community could start out with a really in-need nation like Venezuela or Myanmar or Lebanon or Syria or Yemen? Are there efforts underway to make Integral Theory available to the peoples of Venezuela or Myanmar or Lebanon or Syria or Yemen where “greater good” should be in such amazing demand?


We see “corruption” at every stage, not just the higher stages. In fact, the very definition of “corruption” is higher stages being hijacked by lower stages, based on incentives of greed, lust, power, etc. Integral stages understand this dynamic better than anyone, and so would presumably bake anti-corruption safeguards in their new strategies of self-organization.

We’ve seen corruption at Amber, with the Catholic Church protecting and enabling pedophiles for decades. We’ve seen corruption at Orange in pursuit of limitless profit. We’ve seen corruption at Green, with passive-aggressive power plays that simultaneously criticize the very notion of power. The GOP is currently engaged in corruption by lying to the electorate about stolen elections and abusing the court system (which is why those attorneys are facing consequences for their corruption). The document I shared in the other thread from January 5th was literally a plan to exercise corruption.

There is no point in history where we have not had corruption. There is no stage of development or political party that is immune to corruption. The very best we can do is hold ourselves to the highest moral and ethical standards available at a given time — which, at the point in history, is integral – and to apply those ethics to the political machinery itself. Which means we need to get “big money” out of our politics and re-establish government as the essential barrier between the public and the plutocrats.

“Is there any chance the Integral Community could start out with a really in-need nation like Venezuela or Myanmar or Lebanon or Syria or Yemen? Are there efforts underway to make Integral Theory available to the peoples of Venezuela or Myanmar or Lebanon or Syria or Yemen where “greater good” should be in such amazing demand?”

Look into Integral Without Borders, which has worked closely with populations in many developing nations around the world.


Hello, Corey -
I’m pleased you have joined the conversation. I very much like your definition of corruption in terms of stage theory. I can see already how I can use it to interpret the apparently endless news stories I’m following that document, almost daily, new varieties of corruption in US politics and culture.

I hope you will find time to finish reading my paper on defining religion, which I believe goes beyond KW’s definitions in his various works. If you think it has merit, could you advise me on how to submit it for publication in the “Perspectives” domain of Integral Life?

Best regards.


Yeah, I can see where me just typing off what was on the of of my head needs to be refined.

I think the limitation here is the structure of modern academic discourse in general, not specifically your expression of it. In very broad terms we have “thesis - supporting points - conclusion”. All very proper in modern academic discourse. But I think there are aspects that fall through the cracks or are ignored in this structure of communication specifically with this topic.


I’m curious to know what those aspects might be.


Thank you for he invitation to challenge and put to pen my own thoughts.
But before that, one question that keeps coming up for me as I read your paper is Spirituality vs Religion. This is a kind of roadblock I have at the start of part 1. It was kind of in the background in earlier parts, but at the start of Part 1 there is a claim that I really need to understand the perspective of before moving forward.

“[Religion] consists of attitudes, beliefs, understandings and emotions that belong to the private, inner world of an individual human being. When a person organizes his life with sincerity and commitment around these interior apprehensions, they can be said to be living an authentic religious life.”

I added bold to the words I would replace with spirituality and spiritual. In my understanding of religion and spirituality, the two overlap in some areas but are also very different in even more areas. The quote you give to me actually just sounds like someone who is “well balanced” and may not even have a spiritual practice nor be a member of any religion. I’m reminded of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who wrote in his book Emile that this is man’s natural state and if you just let a boy explore nature he will naturally transform into this.
Do you see spirituality as synonymous with religion? Where is spirituality separate from religion?

I have more after that’s established, but I want to be clear on what the paper’s perspective is on religion vs spirituality.


Here’s an interesting experiment that would be fun to do:

  • Group A attends a religious worship ceremony / revival for 12 days.
  • Group B sits completely alone in a bare undecorated room without any making any sound or other communication for 12 days and only drinks water and a soup of 500 calories a day. (fasting)

Which group experiences a more lasting transformation?