Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 February 2020


Abstract and Keywords

This introductory article starts by defining psychology and discussing the importance of psychology and how it relates to spirituality. The contributors to this book see spirituality as being fundamental to the human constitution and foundational to the nature of the surrounding world. By deeply integrating spirituality into the existing landscape of psychology, this book hopes to reveal an entirely new formulation of psyche. In this book, spirituality is understood as ontologically real. Psyche connects us with the greater spirit, or consciousness, that is in us, through us and around us. This book defines an emerging field within a spiritual psychological framework, that of postmaterialism, a science beyond the limitations of exclusive ontological materialism and mechanism.

Keywords: psychology, spirituality, psyche, consciousness, postmaterialism, materialism, mechanism

Psychology is a vital expeditionary among the disciplines of academia—eager to grow and attuned to the moment and culture in which we live. We are flexible, adaptable and alert. We reflect the partially veiled yet most compelling and necessary concerns of contemporary people. Our language is understood by a broad range of people, our innovations rapidly absorbed by surrounding culture, and thereby we co-create our contemporary zeitgeist.

Psychology consistently dialogs with the times: hysteria in the 1900s, IQ testing in the 1940s, groupthink in the 1950s, stereotyping in the 1960s and 1970s, depression in the 1980s and 1990s, and positive psychology in the 2000s. Psychology lives in this way along the edge of cultural history and is propelled by each new generation. Our research rapidly informs cultural advancement and methods of healing, together forging our contribution.

Science is particularly exciting on this temporal edge. To my graduate students, I liken psychological research to the journey in Gulliver's Travels—our inquiry reveals magnificent and varied sites, shocking and awe inspiring. Stepping back, we have actually stayed home, but we crafted a new lens through which to perceive humans and our place in the world. In our current era, we now rise as a culture in our awareness of spirituality. The language, operative concepts and assumptions of our culture increasingly hinge on spiritual ways of seeing, knowing, and living, such as: non-attachment, attunement, synchronicity, and handing-over to a Higher Power. Spiritual psychology as a scientific discipline, taken seriously, authentically, and with academic freedom, naturally brings forth a reexamination of psychology's core ontological assumptions—perhaps our greatest opportunity for contribution to the field.

This handbook highlights the cutting edge of an expanded psychology, encouraged by a subfield of psychology that directly addresses a broadened ontology. At the dynamic edge of the field of psychology and spirituality exists a body of work that works from a broadened set of ontological assumptions.

The authors of the forty chapters in this handbook see spirituality as being fundamental to the human constitution and foundational to the nature of our surrounding world. By deeply integrating spirituality into the existing landscape of psychology, they collectively reveal an entirely new formulation of psyche. In this handbook, spirituality is understood as ontologically real. Psyche connects us with the greater spirit, or consciousness, that is in us, through us and around us.

The research outlined in this volume picks up a lost thread to the social sciences—one extending from the ideals of the Socratic dialogs, suspended in psychology in the 20th century due to an exclusive vogue of secular materialism (except, of course, the unbridled and honest inquiry into spiritual psychology of William James). This formulation of psyche—in which the human mind is part and parcel of living spiritual reality—expands psychology by a Copernican magnitude. It demands that we move beyond the exclusive mechanistic and materialist view of the human mind as atomistic—authorized as the maker of meaning upon an inert world—to that of the human mind as dialectical. The dialectical human mind is in dialog with a conscious and sacred world and emanates from the same source as the world around us.

In this handbook, we define an emerging field within a spiritual psychological framework, that of postmaterialism, a science beyond the limitations of exclusive ontological materialism and mechanism. For some of the scholars herein, this radical shift is quite explicit; for others it is implicit or the ground (p. 2) on which they work, and yet others are silent on issues of ontology. In all cases, the science in this handbook forms a pastiche of different view of human psyche in the surrounding world than found in 20th Century psychology. Postmaterialist spiritual psychology includes the view that consciousness is the fundamental strata of all surrounding reality, of which our human mind is part and parcel. Consciousness as the fabric of the reality allows for a universe with guiding intention that is inherently teleological and in which all ground is sacred.

Postmaterialist spiritual psychology can live alongside and cross-fertilize work conducted from a materialist perspective; the two are not exclusive, and both are true. Materialist science merely needs to make its assumptions clearer as it sustains a vital place abreast work conducted from other ontological contexts. Materialism, however, in light of the past two decades of science, can no longer suffice as the exclusive rubric through which we view the human psyche. From a postmaterialist perspective, the conscious universe reifies sometimes as matter. Consciousness contributes towards the unfolding of material events. For instance, William Bengston in chapter 35 experimentally shows the effects of consciousness in the context of a rigorous controlled trial on the healing of cancerous tumors in mice. The consciousness of the lab technician and the preintervention “bondedness” of consciousness between mice in the treatment condition and control condition, yield in the control mice a response to the treatment they did not directly receive. Findings of a blind so-called placebo effect in mice, suggest that materialist experimental design might benefit from regard for postmaterial scientific consideration.

Scientists in this handbook view the brain in multiple new ways, including as an antenna, as a materialization or material representation of energy or consciousness, and as an expression of superposition of consciousness. Direct experience is understood as a way of knowing from the greater consciousness. The human brain is not exclusively a thought-making machine, but rather an innate channel for dialog with a conscious, surrounding reality. In other words, the brain is not more real than thoughts simply because it is tangible, and it is no longer endowed as the sole source of consciousness. This view of the human mind allows for the wisdom and information that surround us to touch our lives, inform our decisions, heal us, and guide our collective human activities. We are free from an egocentric prison of ontological centrality. From this perspective, it can be asked: is putting the human brain in the center of consciousness analogues to putting the earth at the center of the cosmos?

This postmaterialist ontology resonates as profoundly true for the rising generation of university students. This paradigm speaks to the lived reality of our current day students. On November 19, 2010, some of the contributors from this handbook traveled to Columbia University to share with our graduate students the ideas represented in this volume. These eminent researchers shared the new expanded psychological science, emphasizing the gains brought through postmaterialist understanding of spirituality, such as the oneness of consciousness, existence of a sacredness of source, and a teleology of development that inherently carries purpose.

As intellectual forerunners whose academic rigor is matched by their innovations, these senior scholars have persevered at points in their careers beyond material biases and professional obstacles, echoing those encountered by fellow revolutionaries in thought. It was therefore with great delight, and foremost surprise, that these eminent scholars entered the Columbia University Teachers College auditorium to discover hundreds of student interested in their work. These intellectual heroes were welcomed with tremendous enthusiasm into our largest auditorium—filled to capacity, standing room only, students leaning on the back walls, sitting on the banisters and lining the stairwells. The groundswell of students representing a historical cultural and intellectual transition away from 20th century strict materialism towards 21st century views that a greater consciousness, or spirit, exists throughout all reality.

Research studies presented in the conference and reported in this handbook validate a way of healing through use of our psyche to engage the greater consciousness that exists in us, through us and around us. Schwartz and Dossey (Chapter 34) solidly support the phenomena of spiritual healing, nonlocally and nonmechanistically, through assembling elegant scientific studies on spiritual healers such as that by landmark study Jeanne Achterberg and colleagues (2005). Achterberg put both patients and practiced indigenous healers in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. At specific and irregular time intervals, the experimenter asked the healer to work. As the healer started to use the customary method of intention, prayer or invoking the spiritual presence, the MRI showed distinct changes in brain function of the healer. Separated by distance and any sensory connection, the patient at these very same moments started to show the same changes (p. 3) in brain function as detected by MRI. This elegant experimental design shows that consciousness heals through nonlocal means, when an ultimate source of life or healing was invoked. This is a remarkable notion, but it is not entirely surprising- or really surprising at all- to many within the new generation of students. The 21st century students generally consider this study confirmatory of their sense or direct experience of the healing. As one student listener explained, “Everyone has their own healing story, and this is science confirming that it is true for everyone—this is reality.”

Students, most in their twenties and thirties, responded to contributors of this handbook with verve saying, “This is the education that we want; the old scientific models feel dead to us. These ideas make sense to us.” And “I need to know this way of working if I am to become a healer.” Several students echoed, “I already assume a spiritual reality. Most of us do. So now what? We want to learn from this perspective.”

My beloved mentor from my days as a doctoral student, Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, always took an interest and was visibly curious about the ideas of students. At a dinner table full of accomplished scholars, Seligman almost always sat near a student, and would listen with intensity and an open mind to the ideas of students. Although students still need training in method and form, Seligman advocated that the new generation of scholars already knows something important, which is not immediately apparent looking only retrospectively. Who are this generation of students but the emerging guides for our evolving field?

This Oxford handbook answers the demands of the students by introducing an expanded psychology in which spirituality is taken as ontologically real. The authors apply postmaterialism to topics such as mental health and wellness, how to heal, and development. To a generation of students, many of whom meditate and speak overtly and casually of synchronicity and karma, postmaterialism is a natural understanding from which they search, but often cannot find, scholarship in the social and healing sciences. The students I have taught at Columbia for about a decade have been living implicitly or explicitly beyond this Copernican leap. This is why students listened in the hundreds with wide eyes to guest scholars for four hours on a Friday night, asking for a different education. This handbook provides some of the finest work that scientists and healers have discovered to respond to the forward-thinking, curious and hungry seeker.

The rigid traditional boundaries of academic departments may be a relic of strict materialism—whereas here we study humans, there we study animals, and there we study atoms or machines. This handbook starts with consciousness as the root of the human experience, and psychology as the human relationship to consciousness. The handbook constitutes a living think tank, diligently prepared over the past decade through rigorous research by leading academic researchers and healers, endemically crossing boundaries of so-called subfields. Into this exciting movement of intellectual history, I invite our reader to meet 63 leading intellectuals. As you pull up a seat at the round table, know that the opinions are as rigorous, forward thinking, and empirically supported as any in our era. Together, these scholars offer an augmented scientific language and a set of models and methods for inquiry toward a more knowing and more healing psychology.

I honor the distinct and lucid voices in this handbook so dearly that I will not paraphrase but rather introduce our shared endeavor. My contribution to the handbook has been that of editor, which I interpreted as a charge to hold an honest intellectual space free from the censor of intellectual vogue, and only to edit any given chapters in the direction of clarity and fullness (which rarely was needed).

At this juncture in history, there is radical climate change, multiple wars, epidemics of new diseases, and volatile economies across the world. Right now, the danger is immanent, and we must learn to live in dialog with the greater consciousness that is in us, through us, and around us. The dialog formed through the psychotherapeutic models in this handbook, such as awakening to the daily sacredness of living in spiritual awareness psychotherapy (American Psychological Association, 2004), are generalizable models for living with what Wayne Jonas and colleagues (Chapter 23) call our three pressing areas of need: recognition of the global village, awareness of the environment, and deep understanding of health. The innovation of science in the past 10 years pushes us, right on time, past the 20th-century models of mind, affording us a new opportunity to keep up with our surrounding reality.

We live in a postmaterialist era, through which at the moment perhaps we are being pushed, even led, by wisdom in our young students to build upon this cutting edge of the postmaterialist spiritual psychology (Miller, 2010). Psychology, in our century of history, has always evolved propelled by the wisdom of the people. I hope that through the science in this (p. 4) volume we collectively contribute toward an intellectual shift that can face up to the worldly dangers unexplained and unresolved by an exclusively 20th century materialist perspective. The scholars herein offer an updated intellectual and scientific frame through which to perceive a highly volatile and transitional world—to gird a bright new way of thinking and to sustain a new way of living. Evidence, language, and new models refine the inchoate awareness expressed by our young students. Taken to heart this awareness can spawn spiritual activism, as suggested in chapter 38 by quantum physicist Amit Goswami. Perhaps spiritual activism is a foundational intellectual quantum perspective to undergurd the world-wide movement for social and political change spearheaded by young adults.

The science in is Oxford University Press Handbook, entered fully and with an open mind, shows our universe to be alive, guiding and so very sacred. The scientific perspective that all consciousness is one and sacred may reawaken our appreciation of living beings around us, all life.


Achterberg, J., Cooke, K., Richards, T., Standish, L. J., Kozak, L, & Lake, J. (2005). Evidence for correlations between distant intention and brain function in recipients: A functional magnetic resonance imaging analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11, 965–971.Find this resource:

American Psychological Association (Producer). (2004). Spiritual awareness psychotherapy [video/DVD] by Lisa Miller with Jon Carlson. Available from http://www.

Miller, L. (2010). Watching for light: Spiritual psychology beyond materialism. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2(1), 35–36.Find this resource: