Jorge Ferrer

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Jorge N. Ferrer, participatory spirituality pioneer

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Ferrer, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the East-West Psychology Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, where he teaches courses on transpersonal studies, comparative mysticism, embodied spiritual inquiry, and spiritual perspectives on sexuality and relationships. He is the author of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (SUNY Press 2002), a landmark book that established the new epistemological requirements needed to develop an open and participative spirituality. Within the specific tradition of transpersonal psychology, this book is an argument to go beyond the dominating influence of Ken Wilber.

He is currently co-editing (with Jacob Sherman] an anthology of original writings on participatory spirituality, The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies. He is also the editor of a monograph of the journal ReVision on "New Horizons in Contemporary Spirituality" (Fall 2001). In 2000 he received the Fetzer Institute’s Presidential Award for his seminal work on consciousness studies. He is on the editorial board of Journal of Transpersonal Psychology: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation.

Excerpt on The Participatory Nature of Spiritual Knowing

Spiritual knowing is a participatory process. What do I mean by "participatory"? First, "participatory" alludes to the fact that spiritual knowing is not objective, neutral, or merely cognitive. On the contrary, spiritual knowing engages us in a connected, often passionate, activity that can involve not only the opening of the mind, but also of the body, the heart, and the soul. Although particular spiritual events may involve only certain dimensions of our nature, all of them can potentially come into play in the act of spiritual knowing, from somatic transfiguration to the awakening of the heart, from erotic communion to visionary co-creation, and from contemplative knowing to moral insight, to mention only a few (see also Ferrer, 2000a, 2002).

Second, the participatory nature of spiritual knowing refers to the role that our individual consciousness plays during most spiritual and transpersonal events. This relation is not one of appropriation, possession, or passive representation of knowledge, but of communion and co-creative participation.

Finally, "participatory" also refers to the fundamental ontological predicament of human beings in relation to spiritual energies and realities. Human beings are - whether we know it or not - always participating in the self-disclosure of Spirit. This participatory predicament is not only the ontological foundation of the other forms of participation, but also the epistemic anchor of spiritual knowledge claims and the moral source of responsible action.

Spiritual phenomena involve participatory ways of knowing that are presential, enactive, and transformative:

1. Spiritual knowing is presential: Spiritual knowing is knowing by presence or by identity. In other words, in most spiritual events, knowing occurs by virtue of being. Spiritual knowing can be lived as the emergence of an embodied presence pregnant with meaning that transforms both self and world. Subject and object, knowing and being, epistemology and ontology are brought together in the very act of spiritual knowing.

2. Spiritual knowing is enactive: Following the groundbreaking work of Varela, Thompson, and Rosch (1991), my understanding of spiritual knowing embraces an enactive paradigm of cognition: Spiritual knowing is not a mental representation of pregiven, independent spiritual objects, but an enaction, the bringing forth of a world or domain of distinctions co-created by the different elements involved in the participatory event. Some central elements of spiritual participatory events include individual intentions and dispositions; cultural, religious, and historical horizons; archetypal and subtle energies; and, most importantly, a dynamic and indeterminate spiritual power of inexhaustible creativity.

3. Spiritual knowing is transformative: Participatory knowing is transformative at least in the following two senses. First, the participation in a spiritual event brings forth the transformation of self and world. Second, a transformation of self is usually necessary to be able to participate in spiritual knowing, and this knowing, in turn, draws forth the self through its transformative process in order to make possible this participation. (

External link

  • review of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory by Richard Tarnas
  • [1], An introduction to Participatory Spirituality
  • [2], Essay on "Integral Transformative Practice: A Participatory Perspective" (Journal of Transpersonal Psychology)
  • [3]

Essay on "Embodied Participation in the Mystery: Implications for the Individual, Interpersonal Relationships, and Society" (ReVision)