Three Primary Influences on 21st Century “Spirituality”

In Christianity Today (2005) edition there is an article interviewing Eugene Peterson about spiritual meaHegel's tombstone in Berlinning in modern times.  In the interview, the question asked of him was, “What is the most misunderstood aspect of spirituality” (Galli, p. 43)?  I thought this is really a ill defined question, since the term ” spiritual” has such a broad range of meaning to so many people today. Nevertheless, as I was reading his response to the question something that stood out as one of the core issues in spiritual thought today is the profound misunderstanding about what it means  to be a spiritual person from a Christian perspective and have a relationship to God.  Another question important to the matter of “spirituality” is why do people believe the way they do and what are the primary influences upon modern beliefs and practices about spirituality?

The Shift in the Approach to Reason

To find answers to these questions, my research takes me to one source of understanding by Warren S. Goldstein (2009),  who cites a  landmark article written by R. Stephen Warner in 1993 in The American Journal of Sociology.  The  article by Warner argues that a new paradigm is emerging in the sociology of religion within American culture. His article marked a paradigm shift in sociology of religion between the old and the new, between those who advocate the theory of secularization and those who reject it (p. 157).  These findings draw attention to conflicting ideologies, which are important to the field of psychology, sociology, and theology in how the philosophical approach to modern research are applied findings. Therefore by discussing the way, “A dialectical understanding helps make sense of how secularization and sacralization can occur at the same time” (p.157), the writer demonstrates links between the sociological effects of relativity and  change in the locus truth among 21st century theorist about “spirituality”.  Whether or not there is uniform agreement with the approach, what is evident is the approach to reason and resulting conclusions are having a profound influence upon the way modern people think about spiritual concepts that formulate a spiritual point of view.

Major Themes Included in Arguments for a Theories of Spirituality in Modern Culture?

In consideration of the current problem solving approaches and ideological shifts away from the ideals or recent times and social history the present problems in meaning attribution must be exegeted with an understanding of the thinking processes used to make decisions in the 21sts Century. One apparent truth about spirituality is that there are profound areas of disagreement that stem from the way people have come think and attribute meaning to things, ides, and people.  In addition,  point of view is deeply rooted in methods of reason used that are not a new influence, but at the same time have become popular in influencing ways spirituality is defined in modern times for various reasons. The point that is evident from a brief analysis is links to at least four philosophical influences —approaches or ways that people organize thinking into assumptions that are impacting the way “spirituality” as a concept in modern culture is practices associated with religious beliefs, moral constructs, and ethical systems affecting culture.

Dialectical Processing of Spiritual Ideals: In the field of psychology and sociology this is a common approach used to understand an issue and synthesizing a point of view. The term, dialectic, was first used by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to describe the development of changing historical periods and social revolutions.

A dialectic process involves three stages: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. In the first stage, a particular idea or set of ideas (thesis) exists that is commonly accepted by most people. In the second stage, a new idea or set of ideas that is contrary to the first (an antithesis) is introduced. The introduction of the antithesis causes conflict as the thesis and antithesis are debated. In the final stage, the thesis and antithesis are synthesized to produce a new idea or set of ideas (the synthesis) that then becomes the commonly accepted thesis (Dialectic, 2001).  This process of reasoning describes understanding in a progression of thought—where new, better supported, contextually relative ideals replace older ideals, which demonstrate a progression of thought.

This approach demonstrates the process of how a shift in thinking within religious-spiritual thought occurs.  The shift, which takes the original hypothesis using collective reasoning from different understandings and beliefs about spirituality utilizes empiricism.  As a result, science, and induction from  culture synthesizes a point of view as the new norm that is accepted as truth.

Cultural relativism: which is based upon the assumptions that “people acquire most of their personal values from their culture and that values from their culture and normative behavioral expectations vary from one culture to the next” (Ford, 2006, p. p. 70).  Cultural relativism indicates a shift in where truth, definition of concepts, principles of reasoning, and sources of authority are located.  Cultural relativism determines what constitutes a “norm” within a culture, group, or  ingroup individuals that is relative to the context of a contextual group of people.

This phenomenon can be observed in the way particular groups form a understanding of spirituality and attempt to superimpose it upon the masses using culture group experience, i.e., relativity to a group of people for rationalizing the a basis for authority.

Logical Positivism: a method of reasoning –its distinctive feature is an attempt to develop and systematize empiricism with the aid of the conceptual equipment furnished by modern research methodology. The emphasis is upon the “verifiability principle”, i.e., any procedure carried out to determine whether a statement is true or false or verified by the method of scientific research used.  The meaning of  a hypothesis trying to be proved is contained in the method of its verification, that is, in whatever observations or experiences may show about whether or not it is true or false. If the method used ads up and the logical processes used are consistent with all observations; they are admitted as meaningful or as verifiable by method of research.

Logical positivism is an approach–explaining the meanings of terms, but telling us nothing about how things are in the real world. Therefore, what is unverifiable using the empiricism methodology is deemed unverifiable by any observation and is ipso-facto devoid of meaning.

This verifiability principle is the basis of the logical positivists’ attack on theology and metaphysics: its characteristic propositions (about the creation of the world, the nature of reality as a whole, etc.) being thus unverifiable, are neither true nor false, but simply meaningless.

Therefore, all arguments either for or against them are equally pointless. At best, the pseudo-propositions of metaphysics, like those of ethics or aesthetics, can be allowed to function as expressions of emotional attitudes, as slogans or exclamations rather than statements of fact (Logical, 2002).  This is demonstrated in a movement away from defining terminology and meaning within spirituality through the use of theology, philosophy, or through finding meaning in exegesis, which makes a systematized empirical method the superior locus of verifiability as opposed to biblical texts, linguistics, philosophy, or historical data about theology.

Therefore, matters that are spiritual are verifiable through experience as the methodology, not in an absolute truth of Biblical study, philosophy, or historical, exegetical study—which is devoid of meaning to logical positivism.

Post Modernism: refers to the crisis of authority of modern culture from the 1960s. Post-modernism, as a way of thinking and points to the culture of a media-saturated consumer society where media images have become more real than lived reality. In philosophy and social science, post-modernism, is associated with the collapse of grand narratives of historical progress, scientific rationality, universal ethics and individual identity.  Post-modern social science presents multiple ethical viewpoints and humans with multiple shifting identities. Post-modernism may be a shallow consumer culture or the possibility of new identities and new politics  (post-modernism, 2002).

A conclusion drawn at this point is that there is great misunderstanding about spirituality.  In the present culture there is clear evidence that spirituality is under construction, modification and syntheses by an evolving culture and changing perspectives.  However, more needs to be written and understood that addresses specific issues in greater detail.  The personal question for every person interested in a spiritual life and a relationship to God is what is shaping your understanding of spirituality and how do you explain the the basis for what you believe to be true about spirituality?


Dialectic. (2001). In World of Sociology, Gale. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from Credo Reference: Retrieved from

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

Galli, M. (2005, March). Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons. Christianity Today , 49 (3), pp. 42-48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Goldstein, W. S. (2009). Secularization Patterns in the Old Paradigm. [electronic version]. Sociology of Religion , 70 (2), 157-178. Retrieved from EBSCOhost March 25, 2011.

Logical, p. (2002). In A Dictionary of Philosophy, Mcmillan. Retrieved 30 2011, March, from Credo reference:

post-modernism. (2002). In International Encyclopedia of Environmental Politics. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from Credo Reference: Retrieved from


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