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Spiritual elements of the world's problems are 'not adequately addressed'

02 January 2015


A NEW report has called for spirituality to play a greater part in tackling the problems of "post-secular society", such as climate change, inequality, and widespread political alienation.

The report, Spiritualise: Revitalising spirituality to address 21st century challenges, was published this week by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which describes itself as "an enlightenment organisation". The study was part-funded by the Templeton Foundation.

The author of the report, Dr Jonathan Rowson, a social scientist and a chess grandmaster, argues that "many of society's problems risk going unaddressed as we struggle to 'do depth' in public - it's historically sidestepped by governments and deferred to religions - but, at a time of political alienation and democratic stress, it is no surprise that politicians and the public are now seeking to reconnect with their forgotten spiritual roots."

He said that many people "seem to recognise that the world's major problems have 'spiritual' elements that are not adequately acknowledged or addressed, partly because we don't seem to know how to conduct the debate at that kind of fundamental level."

The report lists examples of modern-day problems with spiritual solutions, including climate-change denial and "the epidemic of loneliness in big cities".

"Love has lost its way," Dr Rowson argues. "We are all surrounded by strangers who could so easily be friends, but we appear to lack cultural permission not merely to 'connect' - the opium of cyberspace - but to deeply empathise and care."

The report calls for a revitalisation of spirituality, but, it says, this might not come from organised religion. "As things stand, without the forms of tradition and institutional support afforded by religion, it is hard to see how the spiritual could be anything other than a private matter.

"With only a shallow engagement in the subject, we risk 'branding' the spiritual as something insubstantial and completely distinct from religion rather than something important that stands in critical relation to it. Our collective understanding of spirituality is oblique, nebulous, and fissiparous when we need it to be fundamental, robust, and centripetal.

"It feels implausible to imagine we will return to religion in its current form en masse; so we are in this curious post-secular state where, socially and politically, we need the emphasis on solidarity, practice, and experience previously found in religion to defend the integrity of the public realm, but culturally and intellectually we can't go back if the condition of entry is adhering to beliefs that we don't identify with."

Commenting on the report, the chief executive of the RSA, Matthew Taylor, who was previously the chief strategic policy-adviser to Tony Blair, in Downing Street, said: "The fact that the RSA - known for its work on policy issues like city growth, self-employment, and public-service reform - undertook this project is a sign of the growing importance being attached to spirituality as a source of motivation, meaning and creativity.

"Spirituality is coming into the mainstream. It could powerfully affect the way we approach major 21st-century possibilities and challenges."

The report can be read in full at www.thersa.org
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