Disruptive Spiritual Innovation at The Parliament of World Religions

I hope to get around to posting about some of the claims I made in my honours thesis (The significance of belief: an account of truth, evaluation and understanding in a Christian welfare organisation and the implications for anthropological inquiry) and a short version of the last essay I wrote (An account of the recovery approach in Victoria, and its relation to the culturally available defences against anxiety), but first I want to post about how I spent my weekend. Thanks to one of my fellow honours students (thanks Nur!), I volunteered with a project called ‘Disruptive Spiritual Innovation’ (DSI) [http://www.googlingtheshema.com/googling-the-shema/2009/2/14/disruptors-versus-sustainers-part-1.html]. The idea of running around an international event with an excuse to talk to people immediately appealed to me. That the interviews would be recorded with no need for note taking made is sound a lot more like fun than work and the timing seemed perfect.

DSI approaches people as consumers and seeks to provide an alternative to religion as an option for consuming practices to ‘get a job done’. While I understand that the word ‘consumer’ does not necessarily have negative connotations, I cringe at the project’s starting point of a splice between radical individualism and universal goals. It is the individual who is being called to draw on the practices. The practice will then be consumed (or chosen) based on the criteria of what it does for this individual. It does not mean that the goals can only be individualistic, but jobs are seen as being done by individuals. Rabbi Irwin Kula frequently refers to the reason that people would then draw on these collected practices as to ‘get the job done’. Efficacy is the underpinning value. Does he really want to facilitate the possibility for all ‘jobs’ to get done? Does changing the way you go about doing something alter what gets done? Do we have a right to take practices out of their context so they can be applied for a different purpose?

The experience of gathering the accounts of practices through interviews did cause me to develop a greater appreciation for the project. The defensiveness of some people was far outweighed by the excitement of being involved of others. After all, we were speaking to people who had come to the Parliament of World Religions so they must be at least interested in inter-faith dialogue. It seemed that people were genuinely interested in sharing what they do, but they are reluctant to break it down into steps. I regret not pushing more of my interlocutors for a step-by-step account of their practice and even more not asking why it is that they did not unpack what they mean by ‘mediate’, ‘pray’ or ‘be still’. I am left only able to guess that the answer could be connected to the concerns expressed by those who were defensive and declined to be interviewed, the concern that what they said would be taken out of context. DSI does take practices out of context, but it does not seem to be so much about portraying these practices as exotic, bizarre or irrational. Rather the assumptions underpinning DSI is that these practices are interesting because they might be useful when it comes to tasks that we all have to get done in our lives.

To finish with, I guess DSI is about putting something out there and seeing what people choose to do with it. I think it is interesting that the focus is on the utility of practices rather than on ‘values’, which has been a long standing justification for religious education and the starting point of a lot of inter-faith dialogue. On a personal note, I have shown to myself once again just how much difficulty I have when it comes to ‘applied’ research. I see a lot of value in the collection of accounts of practices, but it will be even more interesting to see what value other people find in the collection.

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3 Responses to “Disruptive Spiritual Innovation at The Parliament of World Religions”

  1. A follow up post on Disruptive Spiritual Innovation « Another student blog Says:

    […] included my post about Disruptive Spiritual Innovation in an email to one of the organisers and very quickly received a detailed reply. I must say that my […]

  2. Jason Says:

    I too thought it was different to be asking them about their practices so as not to make fun. Not that that’s what I would intend to do with them in any case. What we were doing was actually quite affirming. It made me wish others were as curious about me as I was them. It would be nice to do, alas it takes a lot of energy to do all the time.

  3. Ritual efficacy is not my kettle of fish but | Another student blog Says:

    […] I say this is not my ‘thing’, but I read this article because I recognised Lurhmann’s name (from an undergraduate subject in witchcraft plus my honours research in the area of the Anthropology of Christianity), a belief free ‘religion’ (with a ritual life clearly influenced by my familiarity with Catholicism) is exactly a topic I spent many a conversation at high school considering and I even volunteered for a project that sought to capture and disseminate ritual practices for use (DSI -Disruptive Spiritual Innovation – which I discussed in earlier posts on this blog). […]

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