Ursula King is an internationally known scholar on spirituality, interfaith dialogue, women and religion, and the French thinker Teilhard de Chardin. She is professor emerita of theology and religious studies at the University of Bristol in England, where she chaired the religion department and directed the Centre for Comparative Studies in Religion and Gender, after teaching for many years at the University in Leeds, in London, and in India. She is the author of many books including Christian Mystics and Spirit of Fire.
In this expansive and adventuresome work, King presents a sweeping overview of global spirituality. Since we wrote Spiritual Literacy in 1995, we have seen a constant stream of resources on the quest for Spirit as people have sought a holistic and integral path that gives meaning and depth to every aspect of their lives. King offers the following definition of this phenomenon:
"Spirituality can be linked to all human experiences, but it has a particularly close connection with the imagination, with human creativity and resourcefulness, with relationships whether with ourselves, with others, or with a transcendent reality, named or unnamed, but often called the Divine, God, or Spirit. Spirituality can also be connected with a sense of celebration and joy, with adoration and surrender, with struggle and suffering. . . .
"Contemporary understandings of spirituality capture the dynamic, transformative quality of spirituality as lived experience, as experience linked to our bodies, to nature, and to our relationships with others and society. It is an experience which seeks the fullness of life a life of justice and peace, of integrating body, mind, and soul, a life that touches the hem of the spirit in the midst of all our struggles of living in a world that has become ever more globally interdependent, yet so painfully torn apart."
Such a lively definition of spirituality conveys the energy and flourishing quality of the present-day spiritual renaissance where individuals around the globe are striving to become rounded persons in the fullest sense of the term. Although King does not buy the separation between spirituality and religion, she does note how spirituality as an ideal and practice has opened many new doors for people and fed their zest for life. The author salutes the global dimensions of this quest, which are rooted in the Earth and connected to the diversity of peoples, cultures, and faiths around the world. She notes:
"Spirituality is no longer a luxury of life, of mere interest to religious minorities or mystics, but it now appears as an absolute imperative for human sanity and survival. Spirituality is essential to all human flourishing, wherever we live, whether in religious or secular surroundings. The growth of discussions about spirituality, whether in conversation, in print, or on the web, of spiritual practices, teachers, retreat houses and numerous organizations offering a spiritual vision for today's world, is accelerating so fast that it is difficult to navigate through this maze of information with critical discernment."
Over the years interfaith dialogue has brought people together and helped them to see what they have in common. But the new age of interspirituality takes us into uncharted territory, as we have shown here at Spirituality & Practice with our Living Spiritual Teachers Project and our reviews of the pioneers of interfaith spirituality. King invites us all to join the cosmic dance; to practice spirituality in everyday life; to take seriously integrity, wisdom and transcendence as the hallmarks of a mature spirituality; and to see dying as a spiritual event. With great energy and enthusiasm, the author charts the infusion of spirituality into education, health, gender, nature, science, the arts, and the survival of the Earth Community.
King concludes that spirituality cannot remain "the privilege of a few, of the religious and educated elite": it needs to permeate social life at all levels. It cannot just be a quest for inner peace but must provide energy and input to the global problems of poverty, homelessness, and human rights violations. We agree with this view of spirituality and have tried to promote it in our books Spiritual Literacy and Spiritual Rx and this website. Here's how King puts the challenge:
"A global spiritual awakening has to occur on a much larger scale than exists at present. For this we need more spiritual education at all levels. Only then can we achieve wide 'spiritual literacy,' a literacy that goes far beyond learning to read and to write, beyond the acquisition of professional training and skills. It also goes beyond emotional and ethical literacy to a much deeper dimension of insight and wisdom that grows from the heart and fosters compassion and love. These are the deepest energy resources humans possess, and the global community is still far from drawing on the transformative power of these resources in all situations of need.
"To explore the different forms of spirituality in the contemporary world, whether secular, humanistic, scientific, or artistic, and explore their joint potential to enhance and augment the fullness of life, can give ground for new hope. We need ideas to think and work with, to inspire and transform us. To consciously develop spiritual literacy by providing spiritual education and fostering spiritual awakening is one such idea."