How is our lived experience of religion and spirituality changing? Where are the boundaries of religion being tested and transformed? How will scholars and practitioners define and understand religion in the future?
A multi-generational panel of scholars and practitioners at HDS explored the shifting structures of religious practice and identity, and shared insights about the emerging landscape of spiritual community.
Dr. Nancy Ammerman, Boston University
Dr. Christopher White, Vassar University
Dr. Anna Sun, Harvard Divinity School and Kenyon College
Casper Ter Kuile, Harvard Divinity School
Angie Thurston, Harvard Divinity School
CASPER TER KUILE: Hello, everyone. Hello, welcome, welcome. Welcome to Harvard Divinity School. We're so glad to have you all here. We're in for a real treat this afternoon, I hope, with four wonderful speakers and scholars.
I just want to ask, is there anyone who is here at HDS for the first time today? I just wanted to-- welcome. Well, we're was so glad to have you. Well done for finding the Sperry Room. It's a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle.
Just as a point of information, we are filming today's event-- thank you, Bridget, for being here. It's not streamed live, so if anything awful happens, we can always edit it out. So feel very free to behave-- within reason, obviously.
I want to say a big thank you to Leslie MacPherson Artinian, who has put together so many of the logistics for today. These things never work without the invisible labor behind the scenes. So big thanks to Leslie, and also to Dudley Rose, for making all our work possible. So big thank you to Dudley, who I will give round of applause, and I hope you'll join me.
So just to lay out our time together-- welcome, welcome-- to lay out our time together, I will just give a sense of kind of the big picture, as it were, of some of the major trends which have brought these scholars to our attention, and I think, hopefully, to an interesting conversation today. And then we'll hear from all four of them on some questions that I'll pose.
I'll have a few followup questions, and then I'll invite you, brave audience, to talk to one another for just a few moments of things that resonate with you, ideas that you have, before we open it up for a conversation. And the most exciting part of the afternoon is the wine and the cheese that will be served from 4:00 till 5:00 in the Center for the Study of World Religions, which is just across the road, and you can follow us in a sort of caravan there. We'd love to have you with us.
So the kind of context for this conversation comes, in part, thanks to a conference that happened here in, I think, 1994, and we're very grateful to have Professor David Hall with us, who, yes, also deserves a round of applause for his many decades of scholarship. And it was called if I'm not mistaken, Lived Religion, based on the book.
And so lived religion is this kind of idea of, how do people actually live out these things that we study as religions? And Angie and myself as Ministry Innovation Fellows here at Harvard Divinity School, came into our time as students here really with that question of looking at people's religious and spiritual practice outside of the kind of boxes that we might tick, whether it's Catholic, or Reform Jewish, or whatever it is. And so what we're looking at as kind of a big picture is these very significant changes in how people are identifying in their religious lives the language they use, perhaps even the practices they do.
Very recently, just a few weeks ago, the general social survey indicated that people who tick none of the above now outnumber Christian evangelicals. So in terms of kind of significant tipping points, this is one. Mark Chaves at Princeton estimates that 3,500 churches close every year in the United States. So it is a really significant moment of decline in some areas of institutional religion, which are reshaping how we are in community and how we make meaning.
But the story is not a simple one. There is significant complexity. Our dean here, David Hempton, talks about people braiding their identities and practices together. So whereas perhaps 50, 60 years ago, you would describe yourself simply as well, I'm a United Methodist, now there is the kind of mixing, and unbundling, and rebundling of practices.
So of those people who describe themselves as kind of none of the above or nothing in particular, one in five of them still pray every day. And 2/3 of them believe in some sort of God or higher power. So that boundary between religious and secular is, as ever, much more complicated. And in fact, of people who list themselves as nothing in particular, only 22% of them say that the reason for being nothing in particular is that they don't believe in God. So again, a much more complex picture that we are in the middle of.
In Angie and my work with the How We Gather project, where we were looking at kind of secular communities that were doing religious things-- whether it was fitness communities like CrossFit, or adult summer camps-- we often looked at communities that were more likely to be coastal, urban, a lot of them were white-- majority white, certainly more higher income, higher education. And that's often the picture that we see in the media certainly of people who are described as nothing in particular or none of the above.
And really, only about a third of nones fit into that picture. There's a whole other sector of nones that are simply unable to participate in congregational life. If you don't have a car, it's hard to get to church on a Sunday morning. If you're working shifts, you don't have the ability to show up at specific times every week, and therefore, really be part of a community in the same way. So there's a whole other picture here of people who are just generally more isolated and alienated from society that we should not lose sight of.
At the same time as this massive decrease in affiliation, we're seeing a rise in loneliness. And you will, I'm sure, be familiar with this by now, but the kind of very striking statistics from epidemiologists in the field of public health is now suggesting that being lonely is more dangerous to your well-being, in fact, to your survival than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese.
And so loneliness is really a killer at this point, whether it's through suicide, through addiction, we're hearing more and more about these depths of despair. So there's an urgency to this question of community and of connectedness as we see 1 in 4 Americans describe themselves as they never feel like they have people who really understand them, including family members-- 25%.
And indeed, when we are not connected to a congregation, there's all sorts of prosocial behaviors that we see decline. The amount of money that we give, the amount of volunteering that we do. So there's a significant kind of social capital loss as congregations decline.
So we're in an interesting moment. The App Store has never been more full of things like Headspace and Calm. I just downloaded one that gives me nature sounds whenever I need them, which I'm not complaining about. But nonetheless, we're seeing a trend towards isolation and individualism in how we make meaning, and how we perhaps live our spirituality and religion.
So with all that said, let me introduce you to our wonderful panel, starting with Nancy Ammerman-- welcome, Nancy. Nancy is the professor of Sociology of Religion in the Sociology Department at the College of Arts and Sciences and in the School of Theology at Boston University. She has a PhD from Yale, and is a prolific author of articles, books.
And her research has really shaped the field, I would say, for a generation. Particularly, I have always loved reading how Nancy explores congregational life. There's so much insight and wisdom there. So if you're leading a congregation or interested in them, definitely read Nancy's work.
And there's always a deep empathy, I feel, in Nancy's work. Whoever she is learning about or studying, there's never a kind of cold, outsider gaze. There's always a warmth of understanding. And her book, Sacred Stories and Spiritual Tribes, Finding Religion in Everyday Life from Oxford University Press is just a fabulous book, if you haven't read it. I highly recommend it. So welcome, Nancy.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Thank you.
CASPER TER KUILE: We also have Anna Sun with us. Welcome, Anna. Anna this year is a visiting associate professor of Women's Studies and East Asian Religions here at HDS. But when she's not at HDS, she is an associate professor of Sociology and Asian Studies at Kenyon College, and chair of the Department of Sociology there.
She's written a wonderful book called Confucianism as a World Religion, Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities from Princeton, which is a fabulous exploration of Confucianism through a global context. And so if you're interested in Confucianism in America, this is a wonderful text to explore as well. And what I found so fascinating-- I'm looking forward to hearing today is how Anna's kind of models and scholarship of religion in China really offers some interesting analytical tools to understand religion in America as well. So very grateful to have you.
We also have Christopher White-- welcome, Chris. Chris is the professor and chair of Religion at Vassar College. And he is not unfamiliar with this very room because he got his PhD in Religious Studies here at Harvard, where he studied with David. He is the author of Other Worlds, Spirituality and the Search for Invisible Dimensions from Harvard University Press, and is fascinated by exploring kind of a cultural history of ideas that the universe has hidden dimensions, spaces, and worlds.
I told him earlier, it's one of the most pleasant book covers that I've ever seen as well. So if nothing else, if you want to show off just from your bookshelf, I highly recommend getting Chris's book-- also, for its contents, clearly.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: It's available on Amazon.
CASPER TER KUILE: There you go, exactly. As they say, download on iTunes.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah. On your phone.
CASPER TER KUILE: And finally, we have my dear friend and colleague, Angie Thurston. Angie has her MDiv from HDS, and is creating spiritual formation experiences for the 21st century. She is dedicated to connecting the inner life of spirit to the outer life of action, and is convinced that we need one another to become who we are meant to be.
Angie is the co-author of "How we Gather" and "Care of Souls," but what I want you to know for this context is that she also used to be a playwright and wrote musicals about garden lawns and adventures on the moon. So it comes with a fascinating history of looking for spirituality in all sorts of different unexpected places, including the arts.
So that was a long introduction, thank you for bearing with me. What I will ask the panel now-- and they'll each speak to these questions in turn-- are three questions that we'll spend our afternoon on. First, how is our lived experience of religion and spirituality changing?
Where are the boundaries of religion being tested and transformed-- what counts as religion? And then how will scholars and practitioners define and understand religion in the future as we look forward? So we'll start with Nancy and then turned to Anna after that.
NANCY AMMERMAN: And I'm going to do one question at a time?
CASPER TER KUILE: No, you're going to do them all at once.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Oh my goodness.
CASPER TER KUILE: I know. A brave new world.
NANCY AMMERMAN: And 10 minutes for the whole thing?
CASPER TER KUILE: I'll keep you to time.
NANCY AMMERMAN: OK.
CASPER TER KUILE: Yeah. Thank you.
NANCY AMMERMAN: OK. Here we go. So how are things changing? Fortunately, Casper has already hinted at a lot of what I would want to say. I'm going to make two primary points here. One is about that growth of the no-preference, the nones. As that segment of the population grows, part of what we see, of course, is that it becomes more normal to not have a religious preference, and that has real consequences.
But I do want to emphasize two caveats around that growth of the nonreligious segment of the population. One is one that Casper already hinted at, which is that the people who aren't the well-educated Sunday brunch community are very different from that well-educated, well-off segment of the no-preference population.
So when we think about the people who are disconnected from religious affiliation, we really need to keep in mind that there are very different kinds-- different reasons for people being disconnected. One other little interesting caveat about that population and the growth of it is that the growth is a little less clear among the-- OK-- got to get all the qualifiers here-- married, straight couples with school-age kids, OK?
That segment of the population is still more likely to be affiliated with the religious community than other demographic segments. And at least until fairly recently, almost as likely to be affiliated as that segment of the population was like back in the 1950s. It's just that there aren't very many of them anymore.
So again, our picture of what's going on and what's changing, I think, needs a lot of nuance. The other thing-- other big point I want to make about how things are changing that is really important, I think, and that is that our religious preferences are, in fact, increasingly tied to our politics. That simply was not the case a generation ago in the same way that it is now. And it's both a matter of which religious preference and whether religious preference being tied to how we understand ourselves in the American political scene.
So how are the boundaries being tested and transformed? They're being transformed, at least in part, by the increasing diversity of the American religious scene. Both from this growth of the no-preference sector, but also from the way immigration has changed our overall religious landscape.
And putting all of that together, one of the things you also see is that we've become increasingly timid about talking about our religion in public because we're afraid we're going to insult somebody-- because we're aware of the degree to which we can't simply assume that the people around us are of the same religious persuasion or not persuasion.
Now again, a caveat, the nuance of this observation is that the majority of the immigrants who have come to the US in the post-1965 immigration are actually Christian. So what's happened mostly is the diversification of Christianity itself, rather than so much a diversification of the overall spectrum of religious affiliations.
How is it being tested and-- How is religion being tested and transformed? I think the other primary point I would want to make here is that it has been transformed by our wholesale appropriation of what I will call a neoliberal emphasis on individual choice.
And that emphasis on individual choice when it comes to everything about our religion and our spirituality means that as we disconnect ourselves from religious communities, we're also disconnecting ourselves from the kind of potential for critique that is present in those religious traditions, and in the power of those gathered communities-- something of the social capital question that Casper pointed to.
So as much as we may have questions and critique to bring to bear about the religious communities and traditions themselves, there are tools within those traditions and communities that we're losing in our disconnecting. That's especially true, as it turns, out for people from within the Black church tradition. And I can talk some more about that later if you want to.
So how are we going to define and understand religion in the future? Now here, I'm going to put on my scholar hat in terms of the-- how do we study religion? First of all, I think we are increasingly aware that to really understand religion, we need to expand the range of the kinds of settings in which we are paying attention to religion.
That's part of what the lived religion tradition has given us. It's part of what people like Anna have brought to us, is a recognition that just looking at religion defined the way-- from within a kind of Western Protestant way of thinking about what religion is, where it's belief, and belonging, and membership, and attending church on Sunday morning, that that doesn't give us the kind of full picture we need.
And that once we start looking at lots of different settings, we're also going to recognize the degree to which those settings are really different, not just because the cultures and the religious traditions are different in them, but also because the history of how religion is understood and regulated is different in those places. And that, in turn, makes us think differently about our own system. How is government and the state involved in our understanding of what's proper and what's not proper, what's permitted and not permitted?
And the second thing about studying religion in addition to expanding the settings is a focus, increasingly, I think, on practices. This is where my own work is at the moment, on really trying to understand religion as a social practice, and looking at those social practices in terms of a range of the dimensions of experience that are a part of a practice.
I'm naming embodiment, materiality, emotion, aesthetics, moral judgment, spirituality, and narrative as the dimensions of lived religious practice that I'm pointing to as ways to sort of orient our study of what people are doing when they do religion. And I think those are perhaps important dimensions, not just for scholars of religion, but also for people who are leaders of religious communities-- of gatherings of various sorts, who are thinking about, what is a practice that has a kind of resonance and staying power.
That multi-dimensional aspect of what's going on, I think, can be useful as a way of thinking about what leaders are up to. How'd I do?
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Wow.
CASPER TER KUILE: Not only a great scholar, but also great at timing. Thank you, Nancy. Anna, how about you? Same three questions.
ANNA SUN: I will try. I just have to say that it is such a great privilege and honor to be in the same room with Professor Hall and Professor Ammerman. Really pioneers in this important field of the study of lived religion. So I'm truly honored, and thank you, Casper and Angie for making this happen.
And I think Chris and I-- if I may speak for both of us-- we're the next generation of scholars taking this approach in to new fields, new frontiers. So thank you for having made this possible for us. And I'm glad to see a couple of students from my seminar this semester. Students in my--
NANCY AMMERMAN: And you didn't even offer them extra credit?
ANNA SUN: --from my women and lived religion class, so glad you're here. So let me say first that-- how much I appreciate Nancy's opening comments, because you're citing the rise of the American nones in a political context. We're sociologists, we have to think contextually. We have to think about society as a whole. So if I were to tell you about religiosity-- or lived religion in China today, I have to set the political context first.
So many of you know the history of contemporary China. From 1949 to 1976, those were the years of strict socialist rule in China. After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, China gradually opened up culturally, socially, economically, and politically to a certain degree. And religion really saw a kind of revival starting in the 1980s and '90s. And by the year 2000, we are seeing a full scale revival of ritual life in Chinese society.
So many of you here are in your 20s or 30s, and I can just try to imagine a generation in China who are in their 20s. They were born in the 1990s-- is that right? I feel very old. But if you were born in the 1990s in China, you don't think of religion as something that you have to do underground. You don't have to hide your religious activities, for the most part.
Many young people found Christian churches as a great place to think about religion and spirituality in the 1980s and '90s, in urban China, especially. So although there is still, of course, really rigorous religious regulation in China today, what we think of as repression really is targeted. So the so-called evil cults, such as Falun Gong, is very strictly regulated. Islam in the Xinjiang region is strictly monitored and controlled. And of course, Tibetan Buddhism has been under a lot of strain as well.
But other than those targeted regions and cases, if you look at Chinese population as a whole, based on two surveys I have been fortunate to be part of, about 75% to 80% of the Chinese conduct rituals regularly in recent years. So in the latest survey about-- this was conducted in 2016, about 80% of the Chinese conducted ancestral rituals in the past year.
So I think it is safe to say that we are seeing a great revival of ritual life. Neoliberalism has indeed taken hold in China as well. So we really think about China as part of this global religious and political landscape. So I've been thinking about this notion of the Chinese habits of the heart-- for those of you who have read Bellah and his team's work on the habits of the heart in America, you know he speaks of four moral languages that are dear to our hearts in American society.
There is civic republicanism, there is a biblical language of morality. There is the language of expressive individualism, kind of a therapeutic language of the self. And there is the language of neoliberal utilitarian individualism. I think one can model on those four dimensions, and say China has its own moral languages-- today, more discourses.
So I would say, yes, there is the neoliberal utilitarian individualism as well. In fact, it is on the rise. And that is partly what people speak of when they speak of the spiritual crisis in China today. So after 1976, the kind of socialist ideology of morality has really lost its hold on the Chinese-- on Chinese society.
So very few people believe in communist values anymore. So that's where the vacuum-- people speak of as a spiritual vacuum started. And the neoliberal utilitarian individualism isn't-- is not a language of morality or ethical behavior. At least, not the way it is used in China today.
So we also have the socialist language of the common good. It is still there, but it is not really taken into-- it is not really something that people feel as a natural expression of morality and ethical values. So it is a kind of official discourse of the common good and people pay lip service to it, but not many people follow that in their everyday life.
So we have the neoliberal discourse, have the socialist language of the common good, we also have the Confucian ethical frame that emphasizes a kind of unity of Confucian virtues, of benevolence, of kindness, of filial piety, or filial love, of justice and courage. So that Confucian ethical discourse-- from my interviews, I can see that it has never gone away, even during the harshest years of the socialist rule. And it is very much what people want to hold on to today when the center no longer holds, when everything seems to be falling apart ethically in China.
The last moral discourse is what I call the religious reason to be. So this refers to the kind of religious discourse people refer to, especially the ones who practice rituals from various religious traditions, be they Confucian, or Buddhist, or even Daoist. So people speak of this religious reason to be as a way to give their lives meaning.
So this set of moral languages, I really discovered through my interviews in China. So I've been doing research in China for about 15 years, at least, really starting from 2000. And I've conducted many interviews, ethnographic observations. I've seen a lot of changes in the past 15 years.
So I want to then conclude by speaking of the changes as in the rise of ritual life is also, in some ways, connected to the return to an ethical discourse drawing on traditional Chinese cultural sources. Most of it is Confucian, but a lot of this is Buddhist as well. And in fact, I've also heard a lot of Christian discourses in my interviews, and Islamic discourses.
So I want you to think of China as a place of great cultural and ritual diversity. If I can give you a breakdown in terms of religious distribution, 80% of the Chinese do ancestral rites, which I call Confucian rights. But about 25% of the Chinese today have a religious identity. And I would say about 5% of them are Christians, Protestants and as was Catholics, 2% or so Muslims, 15% to 18% Buddhists.
But if you think about the Chinese population, 25% is a very small percentage. The majority of the Chinese are the ones who practice ritual life, who make use of and really rely on a religious ethical framework for meaning in their everyday life, yet they do not have a religious identity. So now I'm going into the next set of questions about how we should think about the Chinese case as lived religion.
So we really have to expand the definition of religion. We have to look beyond the definition of religion as self-avowed identity or self-avowed belief. So for the Chinese who practice rituals, who follow ethical frameworks related to specific religious traditions-- when they don't have a clear religious identity, we have to be able to say it is not that they are not religious. But we have to expand what we mean by religion or someone living a religious life.
So Casper mentioned Dean Hempton's phrase, braided-- I actually didn't know that, it's really wonderful. I'm working on an article right now that talks about a new way of thinking about identity-- religious identity in China, not as either/or, but as and/and. So it has to be a composite identity.
So the Chinese person is a Confucian, and they're often a Buddhist, and sometimes a Confucian and a Christian, or a Catholic and a Confucian, or a Confucian and Daoist and Buddhist. We were reading this book about a Chinese empress, Empress Wu Zetian, in the seventh century in our seminar. And she makes use of Confucian, and Buddhist, and Daoist mythologies to construct her own religious identity.
It is a long tradition in China not to make those clear distinctions between religions. So instead of saying, are you a Confucian? Are you a Buddhist? Which, let me tell you, people often say to me, what do you mean? That doesn't make sense. That's not how we think about such things.
Then if we go beyond those kind of ur religions separate from another religion, if we think about religions as ecological system-- kind of a ecological interactive set of practices, then the kind of Chinese fluid form of religious life really allows us to see better. And I'm thinking this may be used for our case in America today, as well.
In other words, we may begin by thinking of the Chinese case as an abnormal case, an outlier, an exceptional case. But if you open up our definition of what it means to be religious, then the Chinese case may no longer be that exceptional. We may be finding a lot of affinities. And this is why I've benefited so much from Professor Ammerman's work--
NANCY AMMERMAN: And it's mutual.
ANNA SUN: It's really true, because then we can see-- I love how you're using ancestral rites in your analysis of religious practice. So we're just talking about this just now. Because these analytical categories in fact are deeply comparative.
CASPER TER KUILE: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Anna. Yes. And this is exactly the crux-- because when we have done interviews with all sorts of communities that might look secular or nonreligious in some way, I think we've learned to talk in slashes. So rather than saying, do you believe in God? Asking questions like, well, do you experience the transcendent, slash, the sacred, slash, something bigger than yourself? Because there's this kind of bigger reality that we miss if we just hone in on those categories. So thank you so much. Chris, how about you?
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah. OK. I don't want to be too subversive, but I'm going to make four points. And I think they speak to your three questions.
CASPER TER KUILE: Great.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: And then the future of religion in America, I have no idea about that. I'm a historian, right? I don't talk about the future, just the past. The past is hard enough to figure out.
So I like the ecological set of practices. And I guess with my work, I would also add an ecological set of practices, and ways of being, and ways of thinking, and ways of imagining. I try to think a lot about the imagination, and the popular imagination, and people's mentalities, and what structures people's beliefs, and what structures people's ways of thinking.
So four points I would make about this. One is I think that-- how is religion and spirituality changing? I think it's places and it's sites are changing. So we're already talking about churches, for sure, but I think that we need to talk about podcasts. I think we need to talk about yoga studios, and meditation centers, and Catholic retreat centers, meditation retreat centers, Burning Man, global festival culture.
I mean-- and then something I'm interested in working right now, which is sort of electronic technologies, how is sort of religion mediated through Star Trek, through Twilight Zone, through Trekkies, through fandom of various types, right? How do we sort of change our categories and ways of thinking about what religion and spirituality are in order to start thinking about those things in new ways. And I think that your work, Nancy, and your work, Anna, really helps with that.
It's a pleasure to be on this panel. Thank you, too, for including me. I'm the only nonsociologist here, but I feel like I'm a historian trying to do contemporary things, and you're a sociologist also interested in the past, so it kind of works out. So yeah-- so I think we have to think about place, maybe, in new kinds of ways.
I didn't mentioned book clubs, but, boy, whenever I go home to San Francisco Bay Area, it's like all my friends and my parents are in book clubs. And they're like spiritual book clubs, you know? I'm trying to get them to do Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. But they're not like my students, I can't require the reading for that. So that would be one thing.
Another one is just that I think we have to think about the ways that individuals' relationships to religion-- and to, I guess, we would call spiritual groups, is now mediated electronically. How do we think about that, right? And fortunately, there are lots of people who are thinking about that in communication studies, media studies, and religion and digital culture. So that's something I'm really interested in. My book with the cool cover that Casper mentioned-- you've got to read the ideas, too.
CASPER TER KUILE: I know. I know.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah. I had nothing to do with the cover. The end of my book sort takes up this question of electronically mediated religious experiences. What happens when people do seances that are electronically mediated? What happens when religious services get mediated in certain ways?
The issue of electronic mediation raises all kinds of other issues, like how does it refigure community? How does it refigure identity? What about authenticity-- right-- authenticity is a big one. Is a ritual authentic if it's mediated in certain kinds of ways?
I remember talking about this in my religion and media class, and I had a student at the back of class raise his hand. And he said, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. The question of authenticity is really important, he said, because my grandpa, who's Catholic and lives in Pennsylvania, he watches mass on TV. He can sit at home-- he's not able to get out any more, so he sits at home, and he watches mass. But he can't do communion unless the consecrated bread and wine is brought in a delivery van from the church.
So it's a fascinating example of what can be mediated and what can't be-- what's authentic. The service seems to be authentic when it's mediated electronically, but the communion wafer is not. Something special is done with it ritually, right? So then it contains the real presence-- in a way, right? And for whatever reason, in the Catholic church, the real presence cannot be mediated electronically. It has to be brought physically.
So there's a lot of interesting questions about electronic mediation and whether these rituals are authentic. This also reminds me of American televangelists and Pentecostal televangelists around the world who-- right-- who televise their services, and televise healings, and even ask viewers to come up and put their hands on the screen when they're at home to get the spirit through the screen.
And there was even this American televangelist-- Tipton, I think his name was, from Texas-- who said that the Holy Spirit was even transmitted through reruns. This is very cool-- very cool. So you could put your hand on the screen, even if it wasn't live. So again, like raises these issues of mediation, authenticity.
And I think this stuff is super important, right? And when we talk about-- whether we're talking about religious congregations or spiritual groups, they all are mediated, right? I mean, they're all online, there are all of these apps. And it raises these kinds of questions about mediation. So that would be a second point.
OK. And then third point would be pop culture. I think that pop culture is going to really continue to provide inspiration for people new sacred narratives. I mentioned earlier, Trekkies, but there's all kinds of fan clubs, and fandom, and Cons. I do think that these types of things are coming to replace religious identities-- or maybe we could say, like, reconstruct religious identities or spiritual identities for people. I think it's interesting to keep your eyes on the ball about who goes to or who participates in alternatives.
Why are people leaving religion-- some people, right? Why are people now checking the box that says no religion, right? There are reasons for that. There's a politics there, right? People don't feel welcomed.
People don't like the politics. They don't like the ways that those groups are social, or dogmatic, or misogynist, or racist, or whatever it is, right? So there's a kind of a politics to those religious changes. And I think that you see that, for instance, when you look at Trekkies.
You hear the language of not religion-- right-- not religion, not religion, I'm not this-- I was raised this, I'm not this now. And you hear a kind of embrace of something that's liberating. There's often that language that it's liberating, it accepts me as I am. So I think I think pop Culture is really important.
Harry Potter is, you know-- this is my shout out to Casper, but Harry Potter is a new sacred narrative for so many people, including my kids. A great example-- I remember explained to my-- my daughter's 10 now, but she is probably eight when I was talking to her, and I was talking about prayer. You know, well, what's prayer? How does that work exactly?
Well, it's sort of like you sit and you talk to God, and God listens. And you can say anything you want, and you know God is really close to you. And she said ah, OK, OK. So she said-- she says, OK, so sort of like magic in Harry Potter, then?
So you can kind of-- like this gets back to my point about the imagination, right? I mean, you can see the ways that literature is functioning-- not just for kids, either-- as a way of kind of enchanting the imagination, providing new ways to think about how prayer works, new ways to think about how religion works, and so on. So I think pop culture is really important, even in structuring people's imaginations and structuring the ways that people think about the supernatural.
OK, I think that was three-- three points. I'm reminded of being a student and sitting in one of David Hall's classes. When he'd come to the board and he would say, OK. These are the five points about Puritanism-- these are the five points about Puritanism-- you know? He's laughing because he probably remembers.
But we were graduate students, we were writing everything down. And so he'd go, one-- he'd put it on the board. And then he'd go, two. And he'd talk for a while about two. And then he'd go, three, and he'd put that in a while. And then he he'd keep talking, and talking, and talking, and there'd never be four, never be five--
And we would all be changing our notes. So I won't do that to you. I do do it to my students, but-- so I think this is the fourth-- this is the fourth question. But I think that one thing that-- sometimes people, say, oh spiritual, but not religious spiritual people-- how am I doing time by the way?
CASPER TER KUILE: You've got a couple minutes.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: OK. Spiritual but not religious, that's a really incoherent thing. It doesn't hold together, it's sort of fuzzy, it's sort of weak. And I think that there are things that actually hold it together. And I think that there would be categories and ways of thinking about it.
And one category I think we want to think about is like self-expressive spirituality, or self-expression, or-- and I think that that, in some ways, that kind of shapes many of these different types of spiritual groups, a kind of a spirituality of self-expression. And I think part of that comes from the ways in which the transcendent or the divine gets relocated in the self.
My first book, which was a more historical book, talks about that. What's the arc of the last century, and the ways in which people talk about the transcendent as existing outside of the self, and a transcendent God? And how does that, in some ways, move inside the self? And how does the 20 century become psychologized in that way-- right-- where the sacred, or whatever, is an internal thing?
And sometimes a lot of spiritual people today use words like consciousness to talk about that spiritual thing inside, right? Or they might talk about the mind, or they might talk about the unconscious, or the subconscious. These are all sort of places of inside us that are the spirit-- that are the location now of the spiritual thing. So I think that gives rise to a kind of a new interest in spiritual self-expression, whether you're religious and in a religious community, or you're spiritual in a spiritual community.
Another word that I used in my new book is imagination. That's also kind of naming a spiritual part of the self. And I would love for us to-- I don't know-- to do justice to the range of imaginative ways that people are spiritual today. And I think that does also require a way of developing a new vocabulary, and how do we talk about the imagination? Whether it's with you know people's appropriations of quantum physics and their imaginative ways of talking about like quantum healing or energy fields that affect me, or whether it's Harry Potter-- right-- and there are imaginative ways of incorporating that, like my daughter did into her kind of spirituality.
So maybe a more robust sense of the imagination and the ingredients that are going into the religious and spiritual imagination. I think that's pretty important. In Other Worlds, my book, I talk a lot about the imagination. And my argument there is that the modern sort of spiritual imagination is actually fashioned out of some unexpected materials, including secular discourses-- secular scientific discourses. And I talk about a couple of fantastic scientific ideas in particular, like the idea that the universe has hidden dimensions to it, or parallel worlds do it, right?
And that's just a fascinating kind of scientific idea, and an idea in math. The thing gets mobilized by spiritual people who say, aha, wait a minute. Like science and mathematicians are sort of talking about these kind of invisible spaces? Well, why can't I talk about a heavenly space then? It's a kind of a move that they-- they sort of appropriate the popular science, and symbols from popular science, and tropes and ideas from popular science, and they bring it into their ways of being spiritual, right?
It's also, I think, important because I think science is sort of like-- I don't know-- I guess-- I don't know, is this controversial to say that science is sort of the authoritative discourse in modern society? I mean, I think science is sort of the authoritative discourse in modern society. I'll say it-- there, I said it. And people want to borrow that as a way of bringing a kind of power and legitimacy to their ways of talking about spiritual energy fields, right? Or spiritual dimensions like a heavenly place.
So I think the imagination, and a new imaginative discourses are hard to grasp. But I think we could do better in thinking about that. I didn't say thing about the future, did I?
CASPER TER KUILE: I'll give you a chance in just a moment.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: OK.
CASPER TER KUILE: So that's great. Thank you so much, Chris. And for those of you who don't know, I host this podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, where we have found very, very similar things to what Chris was just describing, especially how the imagination of what life can be like is so informed by the text.
So whether it's people turning to the text in times of trial, maybe after a breakup or the death of a loved one, the kind of ritual pilgrimage of going to these theme parks, of course, mediated by capitalism and all sorts of questions that are really uncomfortable. And this sense that you can identify-- right-- if you can't identify with a spiritual entity, but I'm a Ravenclaw, or I'm a Gryffindor, right? Like that's not even a conversation. And yet, those things have such deeper meanings of what that says about you, what is important to you--
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Identity.
CASPER TER KUILE: Yeah. So that you're actually willing to construct an identity from this imagined world. So yeah, very--
ANNA SUN: And if I may just provide a footnote--
CASPER TER KUILE: Please.
ANNA SUN: The Harry Potter and the Sacred Book group is not just a podcast phenomena. There is a chapel service at the Divinity School for the Harry Potter and the Sacred Book group.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: They're taking over the world. So there's a ritual dimension. And I just want to do a shout-out to the wonderful chapel service here at the Divinity School. This is the most open-ended definition of divinity. There's service for the religious nones, and there's a service for the Harry Potter group, and so on.
CASPER TER KUILE: Yes, and we have Kerry Maloney to thank, our community chaplain. So great thanks to Kerry, indeed.
Which is not to say that anything goes. You will be interrogated if you want to host a service. Kerry will have questions for you, as she should. Angie, share your thoughts on our three questions, if you will.
ANGIE THURSTON: I wanted to see if I could move this, but I can't see you all very well, but. Thank you. Thank you all, and to Casper. And Chris, you outed yourself as a historian, I will open just by outing myself and Casper along with me, just to say that the two of us have MDivs from HDS. We do not have PhDs. And we-- I guess, in terms of the extent to which we've done research, you could say it's been in service of attempting to be a practitioners-- sort of ministerial practitioners in this field.
So a lot of what I will offer by way of insight from that work is really from that practitioner angle. And we've been engaged in that for about six years now together, first as students, and now as Ministry Innovation Fellows. So that means that when we came here, we both came right after that big Pew study in 2012, about the rise of the nones.
And at that time I can say for myself, that it was a discovery to me that I was an unaffiliated millennial, right? Those categories, as labels, arrived in my consciousness, but had not been self-selected, as it were, right? It was a discovery. And I think that is part of what's at play here, is some of these identities and labels are chosen, and some of them are ascribed. And particularly, of course, in this conversation, there's identities-- negative identities-- ascribed by virtue of not falling into any of the categories offered, right?
That's part of the tender moment, I think, that we find ourselves in, is, what is awaiting us in the realm of what is being created and being born in the midst of such a growing population who are not necessarily aligning themselves or affiliating themselves with what they've inherited? And so I think, for our part, there's a sense-- and perhaps in some way, we're unofficially in the lineage of Diana Eck and the Pluralism Project, in the sense of all the work that has been done in mapping a religious landscape, that up until that point, perhaps had not been sufficiently recognized by the academy-- or given voice to in academic spaces.
And so I think Casper and I, to some extent, fell into work along those lines because in the midst of all of this disaffiliation and these labels-- like spiritual, but not religious-- we just had an intuitive sense from our own experience, and from looking about in this landscape, that there was more to the story than Millennials not going to church or what have you.
And so it's because of that that we ended up getting to know all of these extraordinary leaders of innovative communities all over the United States, who were gathering people around fitness, and around the arts, and around justice, and around gaming, and many of the things that Chris mentioned-- yoga, and what have you. And finding in those spaces, a sort of DNA that was pulsing through the communities that had to do with people engaged in personal transformation, and social change, and holding each other accountable to their own growth, and an activating of their creativity, and things like this.
That has been a big part of our work, and a big part of, I guess, attending to this question of, what's changing, what kind of innovation is happening? But as it relates to these questions about both the porousness of boundaries, and also what's coming, I'll just share a little bit about some of where it's led us now.
And I think a pivot for us has been around pivoting from looking at how community life is changing, and how some of these new communities are emerging and might be called religious, to really looking at the individual and what's happening in the lives of the participants in these communities, and also other individuals around the United States, whether they are technically affiliated with a religious identity or not. But along the lines of what Dean Hempton might call braiding, what is going on in the way that people are cobbling together a spiritual life?
So I'll share a little bit about a pilot project that we're doing right now called the Formation Project, because I think it speaks to the ways that we're trying to attend to a lot of the questions that I hear being raised on this panel, which Casper alluded to in the kind of association of the lack of religious identity being part of both the rise of experiences of isolation and loneliness, but also a decline in prosocial behaviors and all this other-- kind of all the negative implications of what happens when you don't have an identity.
And I can use a-- just an anecdotal example to talk about one of these community leaders who we've gotten to know-- extraordinary person, who we brought to a gathering that we had here at HDS, where it was full of all kinds of-- all kinds of meaning making, and spiritual practice, and whatnot. And we were interviewing these leaders about anything that had happened as a result of being part of this gathering in their own life, like a few months later.
And this person said, well, I started going for walks by the lake near where I live, and intentionally looking at people lovingly. And she said, I did this-- we said, oh, how is it going, you know? And she said, well, I did it for about three weeks. And we're like, wow, three weeks, what changed?
And she was like, well, then I stopped doing it. I feel kind of strange talking about it with you. I haven't talked about it with anyone. And it didn't really-- I started to feel awkward about doing it. And anyway, this is one way of just getting at something that we've experienced over and over again, which is a kind of spiritual insecurity. A sense that-- because I might sit over here and say, well, that's a spiritual practice, what you're doing. But without a community around it, a way to make meaning of it, or any kind of container in which to deepen or look at this process, it was something that just fell away.
And so this Formation Project is really an effort to create a container for spiritual deepening with two design challenges. The first being that we have participants from not only all over the United States, but seven participants from other countries-- so all over the place. So hence, mediated online is a big factor here for us.
And the second design challenge is that they come from all different religious persuasions, right? And many of them-- in our demographic survey, the most commonly used word was spiritual, but it was accompanied by other words, and in some cases, not used at all. So we have all kinds of identities that we're trying to attend to.
So then it becomes a question of, OK, if we don't want to-- if in this tender moment, we don't want to veer into spiritual narcissism-- right-- or we want to kind of combat not only this kind of social and spiritual disconnection, but also some of our polarization.
If we're listening to all these big questions, then what can we do to bring people together in a way that will help them go deeper, and yet also accommodate-- and not just accommodate temporarily, but actually be about the fact that we are going to be seeking a kind of spiritual unity without, at any point, anticipating uniformity when it comes to belief, or practice, or language that we might use to talk about it.
So the first thing that we asked these participants was to name what's on their line. And the way that we kind of talked about that was, what is it that is ultimately calling you? Or what is your highest loyalty? And in reading some of your work, Anna, it was making me think about, well, we did kind of position that in the singular. And there are some interesting questions about, what would it look like to use more plurality even in that invitation?
But amongst the participants, on their line, you have everything from Christ Consciousness, to primordial awareness, to Buddha Nature, to God, to Divine Mother, to-- right-- you have all kinds of different language that people are using-- and some-- you know, justice, or love, or emptiness, right?
And then we're inviting them over the course of a year to explore that. First within themselves, then in others, and then beyond. And so it's that kind of inner-outer mystery, inner-outer transcendent that is forming the arc, the principles of this year they're spending together.
We're halfway through this pilot, but I'm struck by one of the things we felt was necessary in order to invite people into that kind of journey, which was the creation of something called wisdom wells, which at this moment is totally underdeveloped, but is basically just a kind of curated beginning list of practices and resources from across traditions that might be of service to you in exploring that blank within yourself, and in others, and beyond, right?
And so it's this kind of design challenge, where in practice, we're attempting to kind of respond to some of the trends that I hear you all talking about in a way that actually allows people to have a feeling of agency in their own spiritual lives. And then to accompany each other in the process, right? So they're meeting in small groups online for a year that meet every week for 90 minutes. So it's a robust, kind of deeply committed experience.
So I think there's a lot around this question of what it is to construct your own religious identity, and the extent to which that is something that we can do for ourselves versus the extent to which that is given to us, right? And that's part of the experiment that we have in this project, is will people begin to name themselves in some way as associated with this work, or this effort, or this-- that there be a legitimacy that starts to emerge in them that says, this part of my life is worthy of attention, and even something that I could call myself in relation to.
CASPER TER KUILE: Wonderful. Thank you, Angie. So we will open it up in just a minute. But I want to give each of you just a chance to respond to what you've heard. And in particular, I want to press you on this last question of, where are we going next? Just to add one provocative statement, I think, Anna, you were talking about before-- about this spiritual vacuum, which is such a wonderful phrase-- which reminded me of a report from VICE News that came out last summer, that talked about as brands are engaging more or more with politics, that spirituality is the next white space for brands.
And so I happened to be at Calvin Klein yesterday morning in New York City talking about this. And they are, as one brand, interested in spirituality. They make clothing, especially intimates, as they used to describe underwear, which I thought was fascinating-- kind of old-fashioned to me, intimates.
But anyway, so we started talking about this idea of if you're putting something on your physical body that is so close, that there's such an intimacy to this material object, could they as a brand engage bigger questions of intimacy, not just to your body, but to your heart, to your mind, to your soul.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Has anybody told them about Mormon undergarments?
CASPER TER KUILE: Well, that's what I should have done. Oh my goodness. Yes, indeed.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: It's a new product opportunity.
CASPER TER KUILE: Really. Well, we joke, but really, this, I think, is one of the key questions to think about. As you were saying, Chris, the places where spirituality or religion happens, the workplace, or certainly, the kind of brands that we engage with, whether we want to or not, is one of them. So I say that merely to provoke any responses that you have as you think about, where is religion and spirituality going?
NANCY AMMERMAN: You know you just gave me an opening, don't you? Which is, of course, the critique-- that of course businesses want their workers to explore their inner spirituality so that they will be content and not ask for higher wages.
CASPER TER KUILE: Say more about the future then.
NANCY AMMERMAN: The future-- well, I think one thing I want to respond to, and what we've heard is, one of the ways that, Angie, you constructed the sort of either/or of people constructing a spiritual identity for themselves as opposed to having it imposed on them. And I think, in fact, what your project is attempting is to offer people ways to collectively construct a spiritual identity that is, yes, theirs, but not imposed, but that engages at a level that is not simply the self.
And one of the other things I will say about the future is that I think, Chris, you're pushing us to think about imagination and enchantment. And Anna, you're pushing us to think about the importance of ritual, and the extent to which people are engaged in these kinds of ritual practices.
All of that, I think, really emphasizes the degree to which whatever it is that is emerging, those dimensions of thinking imaginatively, recognizing the magic and mystery around us, naming that magic and mystery, and finding ways to engage in ritual acts that reaffirm-- that name what it is we've experienced, and reaffirm that, and in so doing, also connect us to the people, and the places, and the traditions that can give our lives some shape.
ANNA SUN: I loved the presentations, if I may. And I just want to say I just started watching The OA--
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: There you go.
ANNA SUN: Do you know about that one? So that counts as research now.
It's amazing. I had to stop myself from clicking next. And I love that phrase spiritual narcissism. That's really wonderful. So going back to the collective reconstruction was narcissistic.
So Nancy, of course you've been talking about the changing institutional structure of religious life. But we are seeing that really happening on a very large scale. And that's what I hear from Chris and from Angie. From churches to retreat centers, from fee paying, church tax paying, to commercial activities. And in fact, Chinese religious sites are very much commercial entities as well.
And then from commitment, as per a financial commitment, to commitment of faith, to paying per visit, and commitment only really just to your own preference. From church attendance to apps. Many people use apps these days for meditation, for sacred texts, and so on.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Or venerating their ancestors.
ANNA SUN: For venerating ancestors. There's an app for a veneration-- ancestral veneration as well. And also from going from seeking out a theological authority, and respecting theological authority-- that still happens, of course, still in place. But I've been looking at Yelp church reviews. So if you're moving to a new place, you want to go to church, look under Yelp, which is a commercial rating site.
So all of these changes are really changing the substance of our religious experience. So where do I see in the future? The Chinese case is interesting because here you could see that people are saying, I don't have to go to church anymore. People stopped going to church. After they get to college-- we just heard about this latest survey-- that students becoming nones. I can't remember the percentage, but many young people become nones after they go to college. So without the constraints of family, obligations, they just stop going to church, for example.
So there's this kind of freedom. And we can try all kinds of new things available online, on our iPhones, in commercial centers. China has been seeing that for quite a few decades now because the socialist state essentially eliminated the public presence of religious organizations, institutions, for 40 years until they made a return in the 1980s, '90s, and up to today.
But where do people go? They go back to tradition. I've never been asked that question, would you see in the future? I've never been given that crystal ball before. I'm trying to stare hard into it. But I think trust the resilience of tradition.
So when people have all kinds of opportunities to seek out new religious expressions, in China today, we see a return to very traditional ritual practice, to ancient ethical systems, to relearning and reinvention of tradition. So what's the tradition here? We have a pluralistic tradition-- plural tradition-- as well. It is Judeo-Christian, but there are other things as well. Buddhism is also part of the American tradition, for example. And Harry Potter is becoming an American tradition. But there's a sense that in order to see the future, we have to look back into the past.
CASPER TER KUILE: Beautiful.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: That's a perfect segue way to what I wanted to say. In order to see into the future, we have to think about the past. So I just wanted to say that in terms of-- well, I don't usually predict the future, but since Casper's forcing us, I will say that a lot of people see things in the future-- and we've even talked about these things, like loneliness, you know?
A lot of people say, oh, more loneliness, more religious decline, and more dangerous technology, OK? And those are the three sorts of narratives I would point to. And I guess I would say speaking as a historian, I don't see that happening.
The trope of American individualism and loneliness goes back to the American founding. I mean, The Lonely Crowd-- there's a 20th century literature about how lonely we are, how terrible it is. That literature sort of continues today-- we're so lonely.
The same thing with religious decline. I mean, the Puritans were banging their heads on their tables about religious decline in the late 1600s, right? So religious decline is a historical trope. We're repeating it again today, right?
And then, of course, like dystopian technological visions-- the dangers of new technologies, right? I was just reading in the '50s what people were writing in popular magazines about the new televisions. Literally articles about television causing psychosis. There's a great book in 1978 about how television viewing causes psychosis.
So these are pretty common narratives in American life about loneliness, about the decline of religion. And I guess I would just say that people will always need other people. And people will always need religion and spirituality. That's just kind of what I think. So they're going to find it.
And then the question for us as scholars is like, how do we find new ways of finding how they're finding it, right? We don't want to use the old categories. We need to sort of think about new ways that people are finding other people, new ways that people are finding sort of religious connection, and ritual, and belonging, and spirituality. And then new ways that people are using technologies, right? There's so much hand-wringing about technology today. That's my prediction.
CASPER TER KUILE: Thank you. Angie?
ANGIE THURSTON: Yeah. I would just build on that, Chris, in the sense of-- to make claims about the way people are. In addition to needing each other, I think there is some kind of fundamental creativity that individuals have in terms of the way they live their lives. And so that's part of where my interest and hope about the future comes from, too, is just-- even in the six years that Casper and I have been like really asking about and looking at innovation in the realm of community and spirituality, the sheer proliferation that has happened in that short window is astonishing. And what's kind of burgeoning is also remarkable.
So I guess part of it is there is that element of it is impossible to predict by virtue of the fact that it will come from that kind of generative energy that is in response to these phenomena we see. But I definitely would echo that some of the most exciting efforts are the ones that are really actively in conversation with some of our most ancient wisdom about being human.
And that also, I really hope that as religious scholars and practitioners-- I would say we need to be there, as it were, in what is unfolding, in the sense that like my friend, Sarah Koss, who's a graduate of HDS-- she did the thing of going to Instagram, and just looking at #spiritual and seeing what was there, and the extent to which-- it was disheartening just how much of it was selling stuff and all this.
But to her credit, she was like, so I need to be there. I'm going to go be on Instagram as a platform for what I'm trying to do that she sees as ministry, right? And there are a lot of other venues like that, that I hope that there's just active engagement with because it's going to be necessary to help in this kind of inflection point we're in.
CASPER TER KUILE: Wonderful. Well, thank you all so much for your kind attention. Now it is over to you. So I would love if you would be willing to turn to someone next to you-- perhaps you know them, even better if you don't-- and just share something that resonates from the conversation, something that has you thinking, perhaps something that you want to challenge or interrogate.
And after just a few minutes of conversation, we'll then engage in some Q&O, as I recently heard it, Questions and Opinions because we're not claiming we have the answers.
ANGIE THURSTON: I like that.
CASPER TER KUILE: So please, talk to your neighbor or someone nearby, and we'll be back together in just a few minutes. Friends, what kind of-- I know you're only just getting started, but remember there is wine and cheese in just 40 minutes. So what questions, reflections, do we have? I'm so curious to hear from you all. Yes?
AUDIENCE: So thank you all for your contributions. My name's Colin, I'm a PhD student up the street at the Fletcher School, and Nicole, who's a visiting potential student here at HDS. And we we're talking first about the idea that you brought up, Casper, of the commodification or commercialization of religion, belonging, love, and what have you. So if we want to go down that rabbit hole further, that would be great.
A question to you all is to concretize the future of religion by speaking about the longstanding tradition of obligation, or discipline, or what have you, in addition to-- or sort of in opposition to the neoliberal cafeteria approach, because I think eventually as we deal with community, we're going to have to dance with community expectation. And I think many religions have lost a lot of wasta when it comes to having the moral high ground to be able to enforce discipline on people. And yet I think we daily get a lesson in what happens when there is no objective norm for behavior to appeal to.
NANCY AMMERMAN: What, you read the president's Twitter feed?
CASPER TER KUILE: So let's have two of us respond to each question so we don't get overwhelmed. So if this question of discipline really speaks to you, then you can take it.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: I'll say really quickly that, I mean, I think it is true that religious identity is chosen now more than it is ascribed, as it was more 100 years ago. But I think that that individualism, if we want to call it that-- I mean, people do then choose to submit to a system of rules and obligations. So you see that in a number of new groups, you see that in people who convert to religious groups. So
There still is-- it's not just all individualism, and autonomy, and locating authority in the self. Authority is given to bodies that are larger than self.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Yeah. I would just say amen to that, and add that it's not just the sort of spiritual seekers who often fall prey to this, I don't want anybody telling me what to do. It's also liberal Protestants.
CASPER TER KUILE: Have you met Unitarian Universalists? I was going to say--
NANCY AMMERMAN: Yeah. Have you been to my church, lately?
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah, right. Yeah.
NANCY AMMERMAN: We wouldn't want you to even fill out a visitor's card if you didn't really want to.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Optional visitor card?
NANCY AMMERMAN: Oh yeah.
CASPER TER KUILE: And Nancy, that's an American Baptist congregation?
NANCY AMMERMAN: No. It's a UCC Presbyterian.
CASPER TER KUILE: UCC Presbyterian.
NANCY AMMERMAN: We couldn't decide which one.
CASPER TER KUILE: Wonderful. Other questions, reflections? Yes, over here.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I'm interested in this idea of like the-- did you call it mediation? The electronic mediation. I have an intuitive sense-- well, not just an intuitive sense, but from an education standpoint, I think it's 95% of MOOCs and online classes fail because there is no social accountability or social capital to that in person.
As we mediate these things, I feel like the church or religious institutions and the traditions have kept people coming back-- do you guys have any intuition, research, ideas on like what are trends or things we need to do for that. IRL sustenance in order to create that accountability?
CASPER TER KUILE: IRL being In Real Life. Yes.
ANNA SUN: So that's a great question. So Chris mentioned a lot of the rituals-- things that people are doing online also raise a question of authenticity, right? So in the Chinese context, there have been online ritual activities, apps for rituals, but they don't really take off. So my own thinking about this is that ritual life has to be analog. And in fact, as an extraction in our digital world.
So you may connect to the people you're going to do rituals with, such as family members, on Twitter, or on texts, and on your phone, but you have to be there together. And a lot of the ritual work is done in that shared physical activity, embodied activity, emotional activity of doing rituals together. So I actually think for rituals to be effective, it needs to be analog.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, my understanding of the people, like Heidi Campbell, who did this research on like digital culture and digital religion, they say just that, right? That it's sort of a hybrid. What's happening is sort of a hybrid.
People have their online religious communities, but they connect them to their in-person religious communities. And people use religious apps all the time, but they're connected to in-person groups and stuff. So a lot of the online goes along with the communities.
CASPER TER KUILE: Yeah. I think that hybridity is really important. I'm thinking, Margie, of kind of the Sabbath blessing. You know, Jewish families who grew up having a parent bless the children on a Friday night, who then still have a phone call-- right-- when Shabbat arrives. How a physical ritual can then become mediated through, in that case, a phone rather than a screen, but that it's anchored in something that's real before it becomes this kind of digital--
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: I mean, having said that, there are the examples I mentioned, like televangelism around the world, where there is-- and televangelism in America, where it does seem to be replacing going to church. People do watch the screen and get the transmission. And some of them believe literally the Holy Spirit comes through the transmission.
So I think in some-- and there other contexts with sort of pagans in America and in Europe who do rituals that are sort of screen-based. So there is a way in which some digital culture is replacing in-person.
AUDIENCE: Is there like a critical mass of efficaciousness, where it's like every three months, you need to get together IRL? I know it's so clinically, but I'm like, you can't do it once a year. I'm a community organizer, you can't.
ANGIE THURSTON: Yeah. I mean, Margie, it's been fascinating-- and this relates to Colin's question of discipline as well. Like with the Formation Project, which is-- the actual project architecture is online. And the participants in small groups, in many cases, have never met each other. They met through this project and their groups are meeting every week online.
The number one criterion for participation in the project was desire. And it had to be for their commitment to that which calls them, not to us or this project, or in the beginning, even to each other, because they had never met. Their relationships are developing in that container.
But it's really, I think, in a context of some pretty significant desperation, which is just to say, it's either do this online or don't do it, right? And be still like alone, and not prioritizing this thing that you know is the most meaningful part of your life, but you can't get around to it because of all the other obligations you have.
We had some portion of the participant-- of the prospective participants drop off specifically because they were like, the last thing I need is more screen time in my life. And I am a participant, and I feel that way broadly. But it's worth it to me because what is offered as a result is too meaningful to not do. And I have hope that as our technology evolves, it will feel less and less like a screen, and more and more like an experience of interaction. And of course, that's TBD.
ANNA SUN: May I add one more thing to it? You just said a magic word to me-- to us-- which is efficacious. So I think we also need to think about a kind of sociology of efficacy. A colleague and I are thinking about actually starting a project on the sociology of efficacy.
Not as in whether something is actually efficacious, but what we mean by efficacy. When does it work? What is our perceived sense of efficacy, and how that affects our religious spiritual activities. So I think that's an important component, actually.
CASPER TER KUILE: Nancy, I'm thinking of your work with Sacred Stories, Sacred Tribes-- I can never get them the right way around.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Yep. I can't remember, either.
CASPER TER KUILE: And so much of your study there was looking at how-- asking people to take photographs of moments that were spiritual, and seeing the breadth of spiritual things that people were doing that we might not traditionally recognize as religious. Were there any things in there that had that electronically mediated component?
NANCY AMMERMAN: Hmm. Good question. I actually don't think so.
CASPER TER KUILE: That's interesting.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Yeah. Hmm. I remember one person took a picture of her desk, sort of with her computer. But what she was signaling there was both all of the other material objects around the computer that she had there as sort of reminders of who she is, and what she does, and why it's important. The computer, though, was part of her-- in her case, writing stories for children that embody pagan themes. So in that sense, the computer was important because it's helping her to produce the spiritual product.
CASPER TER KUILE: Wow. Fascinating I wonder-- because that was 2010?
NANCY AMMERMAN: Well, the research was done in like 2006, '07, and '08.
CASPER TER KUILE: Well, so I'm thinking already that the changes in technology--
NANCY AMMERMAN: Oh yeah. I mean, we didn't have iPhones to give people, or they didn't iPhones to take pictures.
CASPER TER KUILE: Right. And especially the kind of multiplayer gaming things that we see-- not yet. Other questions, reflections-- yes, over here. And then I'll come to you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, everyone. My name is [INAUDIBLE] a second-year MTS student here in HDS. And I'm wondering how you guys-- how you see the possibility that modern spirituality may enforce exclusionary social boundaries-- that it surveyed the social or political inequality, and undermined rather collective identity. Because when it comes to our current discourse of mere spirituality, or invented spirituality, we tend to overemphasize the positive aspect of it.
But I also see the potential danger of it because sometimes-- or right now, I'm thinking about growing association of mindfulness practice and consumer culture-- Headspace. So more and more students in HDS are talking about how it may be dangerous to see-- to witness that drawing association between mindfulness practice or modern spirituality and consumer culture, and neoliberalism, which work as a-- rather as a complement of neoliberalism that justifies and/or kind of legitimize some kind of exploitative economic and political system.
Which is not hardly new, because some sociologists-- like Paul Heelas and Kimberly Lau talked about New Age capitalism, how New Age practice has been worked as complement or a supplement of capitalism. So I'm wondering how, do you see the possibility that these modern spirituality practice can work as reinforce-- or even more kind of-- have more involved in having-- I'm rambling, but I'm done. Yeah.
CASPER TER KUILE: That's a great question. Yes.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Can I respond with a couple of things that occur to me? One is that many of the things that we've been pointing to as people experimenting with alternative ways of being spiritual, even alternative gatherings, are not the kinds of things that people without economic resources have access to.
I'm not sure how many people without economic resources would show up at a Star Wars convention, or a Harry Potter-- even you know have an iPhone to get your Harry Potter podcast-- whatever. So I think that's one of the things to do really think hard about when we talk about where the alternatives are and how people are gathering. What are the resources that are available to people?
And related to that, I alluded earlier to the-- what we are learning about the consequences of disengagement in the African-American church. And I heard a really powerful presentation a couple of weeks ago at a conference that looks at the people who are the African-American nonaffiliates. And they are less likely to vote. They're less likely to be involved in any other kind of community activism.
They're less likely to think about race in structural terms. They're more likely to think it's an up-by-your-bootstraps kind of phenomenon. So they are getting disconnected from a tradition and a community that has given them a way of-- a critical edge and a way of being an American society. And that has real consequences.
So there are some, I think, really important critical questions to ask about the potential downsides. And, yes, some of them are about, what does it mean to have mindful employees? Yeah.
CASPER TER KUILE: The only thing-- oh sorry, Anna. Please, after you.
ANNA SUN: Oh, I just want to just say that that is such an important question, and something that's very much on my mind when I research in China as well, because you do see a lot of the ritual activities that are really limited to the unit of the family. So you don't have a community doing things together. You're not caring for strangers.
But what I can say about Confucian rituals is that it is not completely decoupled from ethics in action. So there is great-- at least, historically, a great connection and demand, almost, to connect ritual activities with ethical action outside of the ritual context. So in this form of self-constructed spiritual identity that we've been talking about, how can we bring ethics in action into it, I think, is key. And I don't have the answer to it. But I can see there's a connection in the Chinese case between ritual and ethics.
CASPER TER KUILE: I see excited faces. Angie, did you want--
ANGIE THURSTON: Well, just, I mean, to follow on-- one place to look at it is within the workplace, as was just being mentioned. If we take that humans need connection as much as water and air, or something like that, then if one is not affiliated in community, then the workplace becomes often a site that people bring their whole lives to, in some sense.
And so then you have that potentially insidious possibility in which the something like mindfulness is being offered in that space, in part, in response to this sense that this needs to be a space of meaning. And Rev Erik Martinez Resly, who's another HDS grad, talks about the-- on the one hand, if you have your mindfulness, that's going to make you a more stress-free employee, or what have you, versus if you take the riches of mindfulness to its natural end, and where you will probably leave that job, right?
That that's a very different kind of-- and so I think part of it, at least in the relationship between a commodified environment and a spiritual practice, has to do with the source of that offering and the extent to which it is allowed to take the individual practitioner to where it leads them.
In this particular moment where all of this is unfolding, there a lot of different versions of how that's being offered and how it's being received. But I think that's one of the most interesting spaces to ask these kinds of questions because it's something so much in progress.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: I was just going to just add to that. Yeah. I think this is a pretty common complaint-- right-- in the scholarly lecture about spiritual, but not religious people. That they're sort of enmeshed in the capitalist world, they're sort of enmeshed in consumer culture. And I guess I'm a little bit suspicious of that.
And I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was actually a church member, whatever, and this was sort of his complaint about spiritual, but not religious. That's a spirituality or a religiousness that's kind of enmeshed in consumer capitalism, and therefore I don't like it. And I just wonder a little bit if like older theological-- Christian theological categories are structuring that critique a little bit.
Sort of, like, well, there's the church and then there's the world. The church should be separate. And then there's all the worldly stuff. And then I start to think about examples, like, OK well there's Catholic retreat centers, for example, and then there's Esalen, the New Age retreat center. And there's a whole book about Esalen, for instance, called like The Spiritual Gold Rush, and about how awful it is.
But are we making the same sort of the comments about how other sorts of religious communities are also enmeshed in systems of consumer capitalism? So I just wonder a little bit about how we're thinking about those categories?
CASPER TER KUILE: Chris, you took the words right out of my mouth. Beautiful. We had a question over here. Then we'll go over there. And then we'll come to you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for that very enlightening talk. I'm a member of the public, so my question will be in layperson's terms. So the first part of my question is about the study that's been done about the nones. So I'm wondering if we wait long enough, whether some of these nuns will go back to their traditions, which is what some of us did after 10, 20, 30 years? So that's one thing.
But the second part of my question has to do with tradition, with culture, and with, actually, what it means to be a Christian, and how it fits into the American culture, so to speak. I grew up in the old countries. I grew up in the Middle East in a Muslim country. As a Christian, we used to pray when the imam started praying. So there was no division between the secular and the mundane. We went into a science class, we came out, we went into religious class. There was no schizophrenic approach to life.
But here I find there is some kind of schizophrenic approach because everything is very compartmentalized. So maybe-- just maybe-- Christianity is really no longer a valid religion for this culture. And maybe we need a new myth. So my question to you is, what kind of myths do you think would fit the American culture? Because the way Christianity is being marketed, it's very hard to recognize, actually, for somebody who comes from the old country. So that's my question. Thank you.
NANCY AMMERMAN: I'm going to give a really quick response to your first point. Increasingly, the people who are nonaffiliated actually grew up in households where they were brought up as nonaffiliated. So they don't have anything to go back to, We used to joke, back in the '90s, that people who were nonaffiliated didn't stay that way. That nones weren't very good at reproducing themselves.
CASPER TER KUILE: He got it. Yep.
NANCY AMMERMAN: Yeah. But increasingly, they are reproducing themselves, which means it's a much more stable identity.
CASPER TER KUILE: What about this question of a new myth?
NANCY AMMERMAN: I'm not touching that one.
It's a great question.
AUDIENCE: That's good. That's a very important question, I think.
ANGIE THURSTON: Yeah, it's funny. My husband just helped to create a week-long event at Esalen on, what is the new myth for the new coming century? And I have to say that gathering kind of-- it ended up with people like taking the opportunity to express in the space the ways that they felt excluded from the myths that we have.
That was the most important thing that was felt to be necessary by the participants to get across in the space that was open there, which is to say it seems that if we're going to get toward something, there's a lot of-- there's a lot of healing and repair that is-- there's so much work that's not done.
It feels like it would be-- what do they call it? It would be like spiritual bypassing or something to just try to create a new shiny myth. It feels like that, to me, would be one of the first steps, is to actually contend with that the reality of what so many are grieving and wounded by.
ANNA SUN: And I just wanted to say, I wish I were there for that conference, it sounds fascinating. But I think when we speak of new myth, it has to be plural. We're really creating multiple new myths everywhere, all the time. I'm not a fan of Game of Thrones, is that new myth, for those of you who watch it? Maybe?
But I've met-- I've interviewed teenagers who would tell me very excitedly of a new myth based on games. So multiple new myths are being created all the time. But it's not going to be that big-- one, big, shiny myth. That's going to take centuries.
CASPER TER KUILE: Indeed. And what I would add to that is that the most effective stories that we see in popular culture now build on tropes that have been established, and kind of mine meaning that has been that for many years. So I think it's about-- I'm waiting for someone to reinvent Easter. I feel like Easter as this kind of moment in our culture-- certainly for kind of Christian dominant culture-- has increasingly lost its meaning as people go to services less and less.
But it's ultimately this incredibly meaningful thinning of life out of death. And so it could have real resonance. I think there's some liturgical invitation there to create something entirely new. Well, sorry, not entirely new--
NANCY AMMERMAN: And I don't think myths-- that the myth we need is necessarily a cosmic, big explanation for everything. I think people need lots of little stories.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: And I would just say, too, just picking up on your point, Casper, that don't underestimate the elasticity of tradition. And of Christianity, in particular. Look at American History, the ways that it's ebbed and flowed and changed over time in response to-- your Christianity when you grew up was one thing, and-- but it's different all over the world, and it changes. So there is a kind of power to it. It keeps coming back you.
CASPER TER KUILE: That's a great tagline-- it keeps coming back. Over here.
AUDIENCE: So this is sort of, in some ways, to kind of complicate the division that got drawn earlier between the church in the world, because I think there's a broader chasm between the spiritual and the mundane. And for a number of year-- I'm a minister, but I was I was in a clinical setting for a number of years, and in administrative and in academic, and now I'm back in parish ministry.
And it's interesting being in that messy thick of congregational life, all the ways the theories don't hold up in practice-- it's instructive in and of itself. But that's where the practice is, is where the theories break down. And so what I'm struck by with a lot of the spiritual bypassing is how our culture needs a chaplaincy, right? And it doesn't know how to access the chaplaincy.
And also how embodiment is a cure for anthropology. So that when things need to be embodied, I think it's harder to hold on to these high-minded anthropologies about our perfectability. Whereas if it's just you and your app, and your phone-- and I think this gets to the sort of spiritual narcissism-- and you don't have to deal with the tragic faux pas that happens in a fellowship hour after service where someone's world view actually get shattered over the coffee.
Then it's easy to think that like we just need a certain set of formulae to run, and that it's not relational. So it's interesting when certain things are in the relational and what it means to be human mix. It's humbling in a way that I think is more spiritual than we give credit for.
CASPER TER KUILE: Thank you.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: If I could just give a shout-out to my advisor David Hall, this is where David Hall's work on lived religion is so powerful-- right-- because he showed just that. That it's sort of in the moments of practice, which is where people perform in the gaps, where the mythology and the theology is breaking down and they're piecing it back together. And there's so much more that-- it's in there-- right-- that you don't see. And when you look at it closely then, then you see all kinds of things about what's happening on the ground and in religious America.
CASPER TER KUILE: I'm going to the former-- I'm going to bypass you to honor the ancestors and go straight to the man himself.
DAVID HALL: I have no answers. In the '90s, when I was reading in the sociology of religion and in religiously inflected histories of the past, one of the sort of overwhelming points that came home was that there had never been a true golden age.
So that in the Middle Ages-- I know a lot about France in the Middle Ages-- very few French people were actually taking part in communion. In highly Presbyterianized Scotland, if they came once a year for communion, that was lucky. So we can very, very easily exaggerate the homogeneity or persistence of any practice in the past. They are all in some measure tempered or-- use Chris's word-- mediated by other circumstances.
It does not mean that they could not retain a high symbolic importance, as articulated by a leadership class, a coherent leadership class. But just to give you one concrete example, a Presbyterian church in Scotland in the 17th century prided itself on guarding the Lord's Supper from the unworthy, when in the Westminster Assembly-- which most of you know nothing about-- when in the Westminster Assembly of 1644, one of the English anti-Presbyterians said, well, do you actually really exclude anybody? The leading Presbyterians there said, well, actually-- sheepishly-- we actually don't, actually really exclude anybody.
The rhetoric was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal-- off the charts. The practice was something else because for various reasons-- one is the emotional-- the political price of excluding people was higher than the religious cost of admitting them. So those kinds of compromises is what you're really pointing to, Chris, is that these occur wherever.
I just want to brush onto two more things. It's tremendously poignant-- I have to say-- this is a very depressing panel.
It's depressing-- why it's so depressing in two ways. it's poignant that the Chinese have something to fall back on. In the midst of their neoliberal transformation, they have Confucianism to fall back on. So one of the ways of understanding American culture is that we don't have anything to fall back on. We have nothing to fall back on.
Our Christianity was left-wing Protestantism from the start, highly, therefore, local-centered, participatory-centered, in a sense, freedom-centered. And whatever its great strengths have been and were-- and evangelicalism does promote a certain kind of individualistic practice-- there's no two ways about it-- despite its regulating capacities.
So we don't have a resource, a well, a deep well. And I feel this when I go to Japan. For all of the horrible crises-- spiritual crises in Japan, the vacuum in Japan-- nonetheless, there is a commitment to family that's unlike anything we have in this culture at all. It's just there. You don't question it, it's just there.
So then in terms of myth-- I think one of the myths that-- this is not a national myth, it's a myth among students of religion, and prophets of religion, is that there is some great new age dawning. And so if there was no golden age in the past-- and I just suggested there's no golden age-- in the future.
And Nancy's very, very appropriate and often overlooked comment on the situation of the Black church is hugely relevant. The collapse of male participation in the Black church for various reasons, the collapse of the authority of the Black church-- absolutely no moral authority any longer. The collapse of its social-- its role as a social cohesive figure. We have Martin Luther King and that's it. And Martin Luther King himself was certainly a neoliberal figure.
So it's really-- I just want to underscore that the normative-- what may seem like a normative possibility that there'll be a robust new spirituality overcoming the very severe realities of people in distress-- suicides, evictions, poverty, lives without moral significance, which I see something of in the great state of Maine, where I spent some of the year a lot, because it was right there in your face-- around the corner. It's not going to be overcome by some new form of spirituality.
CASPER TER KUILE: Well, as a Brit, I booked my one-way ticket back home-- where at least we have the queen.
I'll invite Adam just to offer us the final question, and then I'll ask each of you just to respond with any final comments.
AUDIENCE: Well, that is a tough act to follow. But maybe it relates to my question. And there's so much richness here, that I sort of have a constellation of questions, and I'm going to try to turn it into one. So there's this term called VUCA, which might be a military term, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. And some people have sort of noted how there's a rise in that sort of a cultural experience of VUCA, at least in certain pockets-- certainly seems so in our country.
And part of what we're hearing here is kind of the dominant religious structures are ceasing to work. They're ceasing to be compelling, which I'm sure contributes to the VUCA. And also, I wonder if some of what is happening is sort of a response to this increasing uncertainty and ambiguity that we feel, that we need something to help get us through that.
And so we see some sort of turning to more like concrete fundamentalist ways of thinking. Like I think there's been sort of a surprise that that's like increasing in so many ways. So I guess my question is-- what is my question? It's something with the tension here, sort of-- and I mean, you kind of gave an answer to like there's not something that's going to pull us out of this.
So maybe my question is followup, was like, well, what does it mean if we don't have something to pull us out of-- pull us out of these trends? What does this mean for our society and our country? Somebody maybe give us some hope for pulling us out of the ditch in some way.
CASPER TER KUILE: Go for it.
ANNA SUN: OK. I will give it a try first. Here's a hopeful angle. Very few Americans are true atheists.
So theism has a very long tradition in this country. Very few people in surveys, in interviews, would come out as Richard Dawkins. So I think that means there's always going to be this desire to reconstruct not personal spirituality, but religious tradition.
So I'm going to refer to a concept that may not be directly related to your question, but may be useful, which is the kinds of civil religion. Which is not a religion per se, it is a kind of political theology. But the idea of a civil religion is that it is something a people construct in a democracy based on the religious ethical traditions we share. And these traditions are plural traditions.
So what if we are going to collectively realize this need for us to put together our religious traditions shared by the American people, which is a very diverse people. So where we're going to have elements from Judeo-Christianity, maybe American Buddhism, maybe other religious traditions, to really find a way for us to have a narrative of a people that has the sacred at the center.
So that's my hopeful thinking. But I think the fact that very few Americans are true atheists gives one the sense that we will need this collective narrative, no matter what happens to our individual practice.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah. I guess I would just point to, again, the elasticity of Christianity, and the elasticity of tradition, and the ways that it changes over time. And I would also point to other periods in American history, like I've never seen this whatever seven-part documentary on the Vietnam and the late 1960s? And talk about despair and social unrest. I mean, it blew me away. It was before my time, but blew me away to watch it--
NANCY AMMERMAN: I was going to say, some of us didn't need to see the documentary.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Yeah. I mean, you know, what a time of-- talk about suicide and despair. And then after World War II, and during the Civil War, and so I mean, I think that there's been times of crisis before in this country, right? And there's been an ebb and flow of different forms of what we're calling religion and spirituality. So there may be no golden age in the future, but there may be similar things that we've seen in the past in the future.
NANCY AMMERMAN: I guess I will inject some pessimism along with the optimism. In that I think it's not at all surprising that we find people in fundamentalist-type religious communities. And that that's not going to go away anytime soon. And that those communities are going to be, by definition, pretty high bounded and pretty exclusionary-- at the same time that they're trying to recruit people in.
But part of what gives them that sense of assurance, and focus, and we know the rules, and we know the truth, and we also know that therefore you don't have it. So there are those tendencies. And I don't think that's going to go away any time real soon.
But I think Anna's point is really interesting, that there is somehow still a-- there still are elements of stories within American traditions that can conceivably be drawn on by people who want to help us move together, to do things together for the common good. That those, too, can actually be quite powerful.
AUDIENCE: Well, since I already invoked my husband once, I'll just share a story, which is to say we got married last year. And he's Indian, from Kerala, his family is Hindu, and I needed to be converted to Hinduism. And I had taken courses with Anne Monius here that had taught me that Hinduism was largely a colonial construct, to which one could not be converted.
And what I learned in this process was where there's a will, there's a way. And some priests were paid, and I was converted, and there's now a certificate with my face on it that says I've renounced my religion of Christianity, and taken up the religion of Arya, and it's a fascinating document. But what I actually-- well, two things I'll say about it.
The first is, in the actual conversion process, there were a series of gestures that I did and I didn't know what they were at the time, and I was repeating Sanskrit words. And afterward, I learned that what I was doing was consecrating different parts of my body to the divine. And I kind of said, well, if I'd known that was what was on offer, I could have had my own response to that.
So I think part of what that points to, and that has ended up being a huge part of my work with Casper-- to both of our surprise-- is relationships to elders as wisdom keepers, and the possibilities that are opened when those lineages stay intact. Even if they run across what might have been the previous boundaries to hold them-- right-- someone who could have shared with me some more about the meaning behind the rituals I was engaging with, even if I would not maybe in some other context, be a recipient of that particular set of wisdom, right?
And so there's a real opportunity to creatively unlock the ways that we're sharing and transmitting what we've learned about meaning making through the centuries and across different geographies in time. So that's one piece, is a real hope in the kind of eldering relationships.
And then the second piece is just that I was not Christian before, and I'm not Hindu now, by many standards. But I did that because I love my husband and I cared about his family, right? And there's something that seems to be awfully compelling to us still in the midst of all of this change about our connection to others, and those kinds of bonds of love that sure haven't gone anywhere. So I think in the midst of that, we will be called to creativity to move forward, whatever that looks like.
CASPER TER KUILE: Well, friends, thank you so much for being with us. Can I just have a show of hands anyone who knows where the CSWR is and is planning to go? OK, we have some hands up. Excellent.
These are the people to follow if you would like to join the drinks and nibbles. It is just across the road in a rather stunningly 1950s, '60s building. The entrance to the side through a little gate. A huge thanks to Angie Thurston, Nancy Ammerman, Anna Sun, and Chris White. I'm so grateful.