A follow up post on Disruptive Spiritual Innovation

I 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 reactions to and reflections on DSI have been, and still are, not very well informed.

I was assured that DSI is not an ‘expression of consumerism or individualism’, yet I do find that the the individual in DSI holds a key place. While I understand more that it is inaccurate for me to lump it in with individualism, there seems to be a strong sense that choices are made by individuals. Practices and values may not be used or developed by being alone, but it is not as much about a meaningful society as each person having a meaningful life. The group and the individual are always difficult to separate, but I would argue that what is being described in DSI is a situation where the individual, not another body, has the legitimacy to make the choice.

Individualism has overtones of a situation where the individual makes this choice with the intention of maximising a very limited sense of personal good. In DSI the good that is seeking to be maximised has to be done on the level of the individual, but it incorporates much more than the material benefit of the individual. My impression is that the aim is around not so much change for the sake of proving a theory or gaining publicity, but the aim is rather improvement.

The disruptive innovation aspect of DSI clearly shows that they are not interested in improving practices. Disrupting the market means a radical change, so the aim in terms of improvement or the additional good is rather in terms of the values and goals that justify the consumption of religious practices in the first place. It is not that the values are divorced from the practice, in the email I received the relationship was described as, ‘Values get manifested in the efficacy of practices in improving our lives.’ Therefore I am leaning towards suggesting that existing values provide the justification and the innovation in regard to practice can result in these values being manifested in a more perfect way.

The developing, evolution and ‘more meaningful lives’ that DSI holds up as its goals are very interesting. I am not saying that they should not be goals, in fact they are things that I hold to be very important in my own life. However, they are also reflected in some of the less ‘warm and fuzzy’ aspects of our society. A major criterion of the accreditation program that where I work subscribes to is that of ‘continuous quality improvement’. Things never stand still, and it is a tautology to say that it is best to be striving for what is defined as good, but there is something about defining such change as being a continuous trajectory of improvement which unnerves me. I am heartened that I have not detected in DSI any of the ‘audit culture‘ traits that so concern me in the continuous quality improvement programs I encounter and develop at work.

While I am not an avid social Darwinist, if we use Dawkin’s concept of the meme in understanding practices, another group of issues is highlighted. Evolution relies on difference and generally difference is seen to only arise if there is some kind of isolation. While DSI brings a wider range of practices into the foreground, it breaks down the isolation. I am not suggesting that the practices will become all meshed together into a single practice, but rather as they are consumed on the same terms as each other.

The more I think about it, the more that DSI and multiculturalism share similarities on a theoretical level. Soft multiculturalism, I will consume the food of this other but I will do it at the time of day that I would eat my own food, is a valuable project but it can work to delineate what difference is acceptable and what needs to be resisted. It is not an answer for everything, but personally I prefer to live in a society with it than without it.

Returning to my own barriers to understanding DSI, I used a 5,000 word literature review assignment this year to look at the calls for an anthropology of morality. An anthropology of morality is not a description of what is right and wrong but rather accounts of different systems and the communication of systems of right, wrong, rewards and sanctions. I approach understanding the world from a perspective where George Bernard Shaw’s concept of different paths up the same mountain is not a description of all spirituality but rather describes just one spiritual system. For me to get a handle on DSI I will need to trace out exactly what the goals are and their interrelationship with practice. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I am much more comfortable pondering and reading than being an agent for change in the world.

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2 Responses to “A follow up post on Disruptive Spiritual Innovation”

  1. Jason Says:

    I wish that I could write my lit reviews like your blog! I’ve been wondering the same things you have but I could not have written it so well.

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