Jorge Ferrer

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Jorge N. Ferrer, participatory spirituality pioneer photo

Wikipedia bio at Wikipedia: Jorge Ferrer


"Jorge N Ferrer, Ph.D., is chair of the department of East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco. Ferrer is the author of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (SUNY Press, 2002), and co-editor of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies (SUNY Press, 2008).

He is also the author of many articles and book chapters on transpersonal studies, and edited a monographic issue of ReVision on “New Horizons in Contemporary Spirituality.” His writings have appeared in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, The Journal of Transformative Education, World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution, ReVision: The Journal of Consciousness and Transformation, The Scientific and Medical Network Review, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, The Salamander Review, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Kosmos: An Integral Approach to Global Awakening, and Tikkun: Politics, Spirituality, Culture, among other publications. He currently serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, ReVision, Spirituality and Health International, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, The Journal of Transpersonal Research, and Journal of Men: Masculinites and Spirituality.

A leading scholar on Transformative Practices and Integral Epistemology at the Esalen Center for Theory and Research California, he also served as member of the Planning Committee of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's BASE (Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement).

Ferrer teaches courses on transpersonal studies, embodied spiritual inquiry, comparative mysticism, integral development, theoretical research, and spiritual perspectives on sexuality and relationships, as well as offers workshops, seminars, and presentations on integral spirituality and education both nationally and internationally. Featured in The Journal of Transformative Education, Religion & Education, and Journal of Holistic Education, his participatory integral pedagogy is the focus is the focus of Yoshiharu Nakagawa and Yoshiko Matsuda’s Transformative Inquiry: An Integral Approach (Kyoto, Japan: Institute of Human Sciences, 2010), an anthology of writings based on Ferrer’s recent teaching at Ritsumekian University, Kyoto.

In 2000, Ferrer received the received the Fetzer Institute’s Presidential Award for his seminal work on consciousness studies. Since 2003 he is an advisor to the Salamander Fund for the Advanced Study of Consciousness, and in 2009 he became an advisor to the organization Religions for Peace at the United Nations on a research project aimed at solving global interreligious conflict"

See also:


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. (


From: Rethinking the Future of World Religion: A Conversation with Jorge N. Ferrer. Integral Review. July 2012, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 22+ .

Interview conducted by Bahman A.K. Shirazi:

BS: Thank you very much for this interview! I would like to start on a personal note regarding your own background in terms of religion and spirituality. Were you brought up religious or secular? Were you ever part of a religious community?

JF: I was born in Barcelona, Spain, and was educated in a Catholic school (Maristas la Imaculada) where the object of devotion was not God, but the Virgin Mary. In retrospect, I can see how this impacted my spiritual orientation, which could be seen as more feminine, organic, and embodied than most traditional ones. Thus, I had twelve years of elementary and high school Christian education that was less rigid and more liberal than the one offered by other orders such as the Jesuits.

During my school years, I had some unusual experiences such as states of absorption or trance in the classroom. I remember that a teacher once abruptly woke me up during one of those trances and I broke up crying. I was sent to the school psychologist to see if I was epileptic—which was not the case. Then during my pre-adolescence I had numerous out-of-body experiences. These nonordinary experiences, as well as an increasing awareness of psychological wounds, impelled me to study psychology.

BS: So you were already aware of these psychological issues?

JF: I was aware of a number of energetic blocks and associated psychological neuroses by the time I was seventeen years old. I was also fascinated by those nonordinary experiences, so I went into psychology to both try to understand them, and heal myself. Mainstream psychology in Spain was then dominated by cognitive psychology and neuroscience, which provided neither answers to my questions nor any healing. Thus, I launched a personal search through autodidactic study. I read most of Freud’s Collected Works and from there I went on to read Jung and Fromm. Reading Fromm, Suzuki, and de Martino’s Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis was a turning point in my search. That was my first contact with Eastern philosophies, which in turn led me to Alan Watts and eventually to the field of transpersonal psychology. At that time, I also joined a Hindu meditation group in Barcelona called the Brahma Kumaris—do you know them?

BS: Yes, they have a center in San Francisco too.

JF: I was with them for about half a year and had beautiful meditative experiences, but some aspects of the group’s philosophy, such as apocalyptic thinking and the belief that “they would be the only ones who would be saved”, didn’t sit well with me. Since I appreciated Zen, I moved on to study with the female Korean Zen teacher Ji Kwang Dae Poep Sa Nim for a couple of years in Barcelona.

BS: Were you in college at this time?

JF: Yes, I was at the university studying psychology. Korean Zen is influenced by both Taoism and shamanism and the practice involved not only meditation, but also energy work, mantras, and magic. I was still nineteen when my teacher proposed to me to move to her center and become celibate for three years. At that time, however, what I actually needed was to explore and heal my sexuality. It was obvious that my Zen teacher, who was supposed to be a psychic reader, ‘did not get it’. I left her school, entered psychotherapy, and eventually attended workshops to explore my sexuality, which were deeply healing and liberating. This event is at the root of my valuing my internal spiritual authority over external sources such as scriptures, doctrines, or spiritual teachers. Interestingly, much later I naturally entered a period of almost three years of celibacy that was both effortless and profoundly transformative. All this led me to conclude that a healthy celibacy cannot emerge from a mental or even spiritual imposition upon our primary world, but should rather organically flow from the inner dynamics of our sexual energy.

During this time I also had some very formative experiences with psychedelics. I experimented with combining psychedelics and meditation and continued psychotherapy. When I arrived in the U.S. in 1993, I attended individual and group psychotherapy, and immersed myself in meditation practices such as vipassana at Spirit Rock center and Zen practice with Joan Halifax (who is ordained in Thich Nhat Hahn’s Order of Interbeing). For a time, Joan became the closest to having a traditional spiritual teacher I have ever had. At that time, she used to teach at CIIS and I also went to her center ‘Upaya’ in New Mexico to do a vision quest under her guidance.

Later on, I connected with Donald Rothberg and became a member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s (BPF) Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) for a few years, doing volunteering service with homeless Latino women in the Mission district of San Francisco. Thus, for about 10-12 years I was affiliated with various kinds of Buddhist practice from Korean Zen to Thich Nhat Hahn’s Zen to Theravadin vipassana and to socially engaged Buddhism. I also attended many talks by Tibetan Buddhist teachers and regularly practiced tonglen (giving and taking suffering) and other Tibetan practices, but never studied Tibetan Buddhism formally.

I should add here that right before coming to the U.S. I had my first encounter with the body of work called Holistic Sexuality, co-created by Ramon V. Albareda and Marina T. Romero. I was doing a personality study with Ramon when he invited me to a Holistic Sexuality workshop. The workshop was so powerful that for a few years I would go back for more in the summers, sometimes with other CIIS students. This work has been very important for me and provided essential experiential seeds for my participatory approach to spiritual growth. Eventually, I invited Marina to the States and for a few years I became involved in the facilitation of this work at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), Esalen Institute, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP), and other institutions. Although Buddhist practice had given me a lot, I experienced a lack of vitality in Buddhist circles that was not nourishing my soul. Holistic Sexuality was the perfect remedy and provided the right balance for my integral practice.

Finally, shamanism has also been very influential in my spiritual practice. Starting from intensive reading on the topic in Spain, I then studied it with Joan Halifax (whose teachings combine Buddhism and shamanism), and worked with Mexican mushrooms and ayahuasca for many years in both the United States and South America. About five years ago, I came across San Pedro (Wachuma) in Peru and felt a deeper calling I had never felt with other plants. Since then, San Pedro has become a very important plant teacher for me.

BS: In what way is the future of religion important to your worldview and current work?

JF: Well, whether in my approach to intimate relations or the way I live by, I have always been naturally attuned to what is next—what is unfolding. I do not get too excited about what has already happened, but more about what is emerging and is new. Thus I am interested in the evolutionary spirituality that Sri Aurobindo, Haridas Chaudhuri, Ken Wilber, and many others talk about—which gives a sense of adventure to both being alive and spiritual inquiry. It is in this context that I am interested in the future of religion."

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