Remember I told you about that Women’s Studies list I subscribe to? This week there’s been a busy discussion of ‘spirituality’ – but without ever bothering to actually say what that is. That makes for an extremely peculiar discussion, when people chat away about something that seems to change shape dramatically for each person. On Monday, after quite a few of these shape-shifting discussions, I asked what it meant. I got an answer, too.
I think that there are multiple definitions of “spirituality.” While
some might define it as religion by another name, others see it as
quite different from organized religions, or even belief in “higher
powers.” I would argue that spirituality & religion can be quite
different. Anzaldua’s theory of spiritual activism offers an
important alternative to religious spirituality, as do holistic
perspectives and social-justice theories of interconnectivity.
Then several book titles, concluding with ‘Interconnectivity is key.’ I had no more idea what the word meant than I had had before. For two days I read more messages that were along the same lines. Then there was one yesterday…
Spiritual practitioners can be activists: activist mysticism, activist prophecy.
Spirituality can be practiced by oneself and in community–chanting, praying;
speaking in private and in public, writing and publishing from a position that
promotes love, justice, and joy. And, very importantly, not simply talking the
talk but walking the walk, in other words, being a spiritual activist in every
moment of one’s life. This requires a soul-and-mind-inseparable-from-body
consciousness: it extends beyond intellectual concepts, beyond any kind of body
work, any regular attendance at a temple, church, or mosque.
Soul-and-mind-inseparable-from-body is a term that I use throughout my writing,
which is spiritual, intellectual, erotic, and very much of and from the body.
And I couldn’t contain myself any longer, I had to ask again, at more length.
So what exactly is spirituality? It seems to be more or less everything. It’s chanting, it’s praying, it’s speaking in private and in public, it’s writing and publishing from a position that promotes love, justice, and joy. What exactly is it about all those activities that makes them spiritual? And what is it that being spiritual makes them? Being a spiritual activist extends beyond intellectual concepts, beyond any kind of body work, any regular attendance at a temple, church, or mosque…so it’s everything and at the same time it’s beyond everything. How does it manage that? And what, exactly, is it? What is it for writing to be spiritual, intellectual, erotic, and very much of and from the body?
What does it mean to be a mystic in the world, what does it mean to be at once a social and a spiritual activist? In what sense are human beings divine? What does it mean to be numinous? What does ‘to be human is to be numinous’ mean?
It all sounds very resonant and deep, but it seems to have no actual meaning at all.
I can’t help thinking that feminism needs rigor a lot more than it needs hand-waving about spirituality. It’s so easy to dismiss women if they get identified with woolly empty pretty feel-good verbiage.
There was an attempt…
Anyway, if “spiritual” generally has any meaning, I think it’s often used
something like this: a transcending of the self in its narrowest, most
egotistical manifestations — fear, selfishness, delusion, alienation from
oneself, from others and from the universe.”Spirituality” might involve a
certain metaphysics, or at least metaphysics of the person. Or it might be
understood more psychologically.
There was also another list of books. So this morning I replied:
I have to say – from everything I’ve seen so far, it appears that no one knows what it is. Certainly no one has said what it is. If it takes a *whole book* to say what it is, maybe it’s not a very useful term? Maybe it’s just feel-good fuzz? If a term is useful, it’s generally possible to define it (in under 60,000 words). If a term can’t be defined, can it really do anything other than obfuscate?
That inspired a retort (perhaps the clearest thing said in the whole discussion).
Maybe it depends. Maybe the term is useful for
some people but not for others. (While for some,
the term “spirituality” might obfuscate, for
others, the term might really resonate.) I would
suggest that part of spirituality’s definition is
its slippery nature, its inability to be easily
pinned down and neatly defined.
Well that’s all very well, but the trouble is, these people are academics. They teach, in universities; their subject is an academic discipline; yet they feel quite cheerful about using words that mean everything and nothing, and they make a virtue of vagueness. And not only are they academics, they are feminist academics. Fucking hell. How did academic feminism get turned into Advanced Wool-gathering? Why do feminists think it’s feminist to make a parade of refusing to think?
It’s enough to make one despair.