Monday, January 30, 2012

What kind of spiritual person are you?

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 

The French magazine Psychologies, not to be confused with its namesakes in the US and in the UK, while aiming for the general-public, tries to keep a reasonable standard of scientific accuracy. It also tries to remain “interesting”, that is to sell copies, so in its latest issue (February 2012), it has a cover story on why our (sexual) desire comes and goes and an interview with the captivating actress Juliette Binoche. But it also has a two-page article on the more than dubious “quantum therapies”.

But I was intrigued by the quiz it ran on the various types of spiritualities that people hold today, though they may or may not be fully aware of that aspect of their personalities/personhoods.

Now, before I give you an idea of the quiz, and even let you take a short version of it, I must point out that the concept of “spirituality” has been the object of various attempts to redefine it or at least expand its meanings. Indeed, “spirituality” comes from “spirit”, which in the “technical” sense refers to “the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person” (as the Webster dictionary puts it), or more simply that dimension of humans that religious people believe makes us able to connect to God and perhaps to others. But since “spirit” can also mean “temper or disposition of mind or outlook” (another definition given by Webster), and if you take this meaning and infer some “spirituality” from it, then it no longer needs to be related to religion. And that is why there is this increasing trend of people describing themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” (just Google up "spiritual, not religious").

The Psychologies quiz begins with an introduction titled “To each, their own spirituality”, where the different facets of the concept are first explained. The reader is told that spirituality can refer to: a) a state of “completeness”, when one has integrated various dualities (light and shadow, heaven and earth); b) a feeling of being in relation with something sacred, of being connected to a higher dimension of existence; c) a “life of the spirit”, representing a kind of “secular spirituality”, as has been defined by some thinkers (the magazine refers specifically to the popular French philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville). It goes on to explain that these different types of spirituality then result in different responses in the person: giving meaning to one’s life, giving comfort, developing an ethic of living together, or solving personal problems and inner conflicts.

On this basis, the magazine produced a quiz: 48 statements are offered, and the reader is asked to the select the ones that s/he agrees more with (or represent his/her personhood); each statement is given a symbol, and the reader then counts which symbol appears most in his/her selected statements; on the next page, a description of the spiritual type represented by each symbol is given, thus describing the reader’s spiritual nature.

Since I can’t reproduce the whole quiz for you (first there are copyright limitations, and second I don’t have time to translate 48 statements), I’ve selected 16 from the four categories and labeled them A, B, C, D. Select the letter that appears more in your answers and refer to the description of each category at the end.

Here’s the mini-quiz. Have fun:
  • I often feel a need for protection. (A)
  • We are here on Earth to learn and to improve ourselves. (B)
  • As I matured, spirituality became more important for me. (B)
  • I feel connected to all that lives. (C)
  •  Solidarity and compassion are not a monopoly of spirituality. (D)
  • I cannot bear the idea of nothingness after death. (A)
  • I find meaning and values in humanistic philosophies. (D)
  • I believe in miraculous healings. (A)
  • I often get lightning and accurate intuitions. (C)
  • I meditate to calm my mind and to open up my heart. (B)
  • I ask heaven for help in difficult situations. (A)
  • Spirituality should never leave the personal sphere. (D)
  • To change the world, one must first change oneself. (B)
  • It’s in Man that I believe, first and foremost. (D)
  • Speaking to God is completely natural for me; I need no intermediary. (C)
  • I am fully convinced that hardships have a meaning, and we must accept that sometimes it escapes us. (C) 

The categories:
A describes a spirituality which seeks “refuse” in something or some being, a “parent God” who protects and heals the person. Supposedly (according to the magazine), this is closer to the traditional concept of God and spirituality.
B describes the spirituality of an evolving person, one who, through practices like yoga or zen, seeks higher and more connected ways of living. Here belief in a higher being (God) is not essential, even though there is often the belief/feeling that there is some higher intelligence that we may be part of or may be able to become part of.
C refers to the mystical type of spirituality, to seek to live in communion with the Divine/Spirit or with the Universe (in a pantheistic/panentheistic worldview).
D denotes an “atheistic ethic” (the magazine’s description), one which tries to uphold truth, goodness, and beauty without any reference to or need for God.

So, there you have them: the four types of spirituality as Psychologies sees them. Perhaps there are other types or definitions or hybrid forms…

Do you recognize yourself in any of these? Do you have a different description for your own or your parents’ spirituality?


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