The Religion of Tomorrow

A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions--More Inclusive, More Comprehensive, More Complete

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Ken Wilber
  • Boulder, CO: 
    Shambhala Publications, Inc.
    , May
     816 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Religion of Tomorrow (RT) is philosopher Ken Wilber’s latest endeavor to envision what an ideal religion (and/or spirituality) might look like if it unfolds according to the metatheory he himself has developed known as “the Integral Theory” (IT). 

For those familiar with IT, a lot of material in this new work will have already been encountered in some form in Wilber's earlier works, notably, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality (Shambala, 1995) and A Brief History of Everything (Shambala, 1996, 2017). Notwithstanding, RT is Wilber’s most updated iteration of IT as explicitly applied to religion. It therefore deserves attention even from those already well-versed in IT as it contains the author’s further clarifications on IT and its application to religion-spirituality. This latest work helped me understand IT vis-à-vis religion in a more profound way.

So, what does Wilber envision as the ideal “religion of tomorrow”? He suggests that a religion-spirituality will only be genuinely integral when it is aware of, and can actually, offer the following four elements: “Waking Up,” “Growing Up,” “Cleaning Up,” and “Showing Up” (78). For some time Wilber has employed these four terms to refer to the main components of IT, in their traditional designations, (1) States, (2) Stages, (3) Shadow Work, and (4) “All Quadrants All Levels” (AQAL).

To showcase the development of an integral religion, Wilber first takes Buddhism as a case-study and suggests that there is an imminent “Fourth Turning” of the wheel of the Dharma, that is, a possible evolution of Buddhism into a truly integral religious system. Wilber then argues that what is possible in Buddhism is likewise possible in any faith tradition. He proposes, therefore, that the ideal religion of tomorrow will be realized when a particular religious tradition undergoes this crucial development into being consciously and intentionally integral. But what does that concretely involve?

It involves, firstly , embracing a crucial insight of IT which teaches that there are "two different growth axes in humans": first, the different "states of consciousness" (Waking Up) and, second, "structures of consciousness," “stages of growth,” or “developmental processes” (Growing Up) (63). 

The states of consciousness refer primarily to the different states we experience in our existence such as the normal “awake” state (gross state); more subtle states such as the dreaming state; and the highest levels such as the dreamless or formless state of deep sleep (causal state) (chapters 3-5). Applied to religion, these states are directly related to “Waking Up” because the goal of various spiritual paths has been to transcend our normal states of consciousness in order to go deeper and beyond into states where we could attain what different religions have referred to as liberation, enlightenment, union with the divine, and so forth. Thus, we see that Waking Up has been a primary concern of religions.

The stages of growth, on the other hand, refer to more permanent stages or structures of consciousness that humans go through as they develop from infantile and immature stages to more mature ones (chapters 6 and 7). These have been expressed in various ways through models proposed by developmental thinkers (e.g., Clare Graves) or through models more specifically applied to faith (e.g., James Fowler). This process is “Growing Up.” However, Growing Up was “discovered” only in the last one hundred years or so. It is linked with the field of developmental studies developed principally in the West. Since Growing Up is such a comparatively recent field, virtually none of the great religious traditions has ever truly incorporated its insights into their particular systems.

Western developmental models have focused on the structures-stages of consciousness, while religions have traditionally emphasized the statesof consciousness (67, 83). This is truly unfortunate because religions (entities that are supposed to make the world a more integrated and harmonious place) end up being fractured and become agents of stunted-growth and conflict. 

I think that the most revolutionary and ground-breaking aspect of Wilber’s vision in RT is his proposal that these two areas that correspond to the two principal human growth axes (Waking Up-Growing Up), heretofore never simultaneously considered as essentially and inseparably complementary to human growth, should be utilized to transform religion-spirituality into the powerful agent for a truly integral human flourishing that it could be. Moreover, in the meeting of Growing Up and Waking Up, West (the specialist in "stages") and East (in a way, the specialist in "states") can finally come together and be harnessed for integral human wholeness.

The two other essential components that religions should offer are Cleaning Up and Showing Up (parts 3 and 4). Cleaning Up is concerned with the different shadows and dysfunctions that the self experiences in any of the states and stages. Religions should embrace the insights of shadow work to be better equipped to help people deal with their shadow sides. As for Showing Up, religions would benefit from another of IT’s key insights, that of Quadrants and Levels by which they can better integrally understand all the different areas in human life and work for greater wholeness in the best way that befits these different areas. 

Obviously, 663 pages of content will be a daunting read for many. For the uninitiated, I recommend turning first to shorter works such as The Integral Vision (Shambhala, 2007) or, better yet, Integral Buddhism and the Future of Spirituality (Shambhala, 2018), the latter of which is explicitly touted as “a condensed version of Wilber’s The Religion of Tomorrow.”

I think that a noteworthy point about RT for those in the study of religion is the fact that Wilber puts "religion" at the heart of what he offers, to date, as the most integral and complete metatheory to understand human existence and everything related. In the final analysis, he argues passionately that an integral kind of religion is what would make human life as complete and as whole (=integralas possible. That is sufficient reason to give Wilber’s vision careful scrutiny.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Julius-Kei Kato is Associate Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies at King's University College at Western University, Ontario, Canada.

Date of Review: 
October 9, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ken Wilber is the author of over twenty books. He is the founder of Integral Institute, a think-tank for studying integral theory and practice, with outreach through local and online communities such as Integral Education Network, Integral Training, and Integral Spiritual Center.


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