|Spiritual Transformation Public Symposium
April 5-7, 2006 at the University of California, Berkeley
“Spiritual Transformation: New Frontiers in Scientific Research – Opportunities for Productive Collaboration among the Health and Psychosocial Sciences"
Throughout human history and in our own time, people have had profound experiences with a spiritual dimension of reality. In all traditions, individuals testify that their lives are no longer the same in the aftermath of these experiences, that they have been transformed. Can the scientific study of the nature of such changes offer another possibility for developing new insights into, improved understanding of, and greater appreciation for spiritually transforming experiences?
Launching the Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Program [PDF 1.6MB] on the 100th anniversary of William James' classic work, Varieties of Religious Experience, in 2002 provided us with a historic opportunity to reconsider the scientific study of religious and spiritual phenomena, in light of the many new interdisciplinary advances offered by a variety of fields, including: anthropology, biology, neuroscience, pharmacology, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, religious studies, and theology.
This symposium represents the first overall public presentation of the results of 22 rigorous investigations into the nature of the biological, psychosocial, and cultural conditions and factors that underlie spiritual transformations of individuals and groups. All of these projects are using today's cutting edge methodologies and sophisticated experimental designs to provide fresh insight into these phenomena under investigation. We anticipate that the many presentations from this unique symposium will help to create an innovative interdisciplinary field in the human sciences for the study of spiritual transformation.
In order to initiate a new multidisciplinary program of scientific research focused specifically on spiritual transformation, we developed a working definition (see below) with the understanding that this definition may be further developed and modified as the findings emerge. Spiritual transformations may occur throughout the lives of all individuals through scheduled bio-social arrangements, such as puberty, marriage, or becoming a parent, or spontaneously following extraordinary personal experiences. They may arise from crisis of health or mental health, extreme life experiences such as addictions and incarceration, death of a close personal relation, a change or deepening of religious beliefs, or sometimes without any identifiable corollary.
It is interesting to note that the recent exponential increase of studies into spirituality/religion and health in psychology shares an important focus on the basic and significant role of spirituality in human life but rarely mentions spiritual transformation. And while anthropologists have studied spiritual transformations in relation to revitalization movements and to traditional healer development in the past, these studies have not been well integrated into the other scientific literature on spirituality. Similarly, there is a well-established literature in religious studies on conversion experiences that has also developed without broad connections to integrated multidisciplinary empirical scientific research on the neuropsychosocial processes underlying the capacity and development of spiritual transformation in individuals and social groups. Hence this symposium program will provide a variety of new insights viewed from the lens of empirical science on spiritual transformation that will help bridge, integrate with and extend the existing knowledge bases.
The Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Program is made possible by special funding from the John Templeton Foundation and the support of other foundations, government agencies and individuals. This symposium is being presented in partnership between the Metanexus Institute of Philadelphia, PA, the Center for Health Research and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, CA. This symposium is open to academics, professionals, students, and the interested public.
Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Program. In order to initiate a new multidisciplinary program of scientific research focused specifically on spiritual transformation, we developed a working definition with the understanding that this definition may be further developed and modified as the findings emerge. Spiritual transformation is defined here as: dramatic changes in world and self views, purposes, religious beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. These changes are often linked to discrete experiences that can occur gradually or over relatively short periods of time. This type of change usually occurs in three contexts: 1) as an intensified devotion within the same religious structure; or 2) a shift from no spiritual commitment to a devout spiritual life; or 3) a change from one faith tradition to another. These changes are sometimes precipitated by stress and anguish, induced through rigorous practices, but can also occur spontaneously without apparent corollaries.