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