Prosocial Enters the Spiritual Realm

What does it mean for an individual or a group to be spiritual? Does spirituality add something important that would otherwise be lacking?

For many people, questions such as these have a fuzziness that places them outside hard-headed scientific inquiry. On the contrary, ever since writing my book Darwin's Cathedral in 2002, I have gained enormous respect for the “secular utility” (as Emile Durkheim put it) of beliefs and practices associated with religion and spirituality. Thanks to Jeff Genung, we are starting to explore these deep questions with the help of Prosocial.

Jeff is Co-founder and President of Contemplative Life, a non-profit focused on connecting people and communities with transformative practices. The website of Contemplative Life includes a directory of practices and practice-based organizations, drawn from many traditions, that offer contemplative experiences. Jeff prefers the word “contemplative” to “spiritual”, in part to avoid specifically religious associations that some people associate with the latter word. For Jeff, the transformational effects of contemplative experiences can also be understood in purely secular terms and enhanced by scientific inquiry, technology, and the arts.

Contemplative experiences are sometimes a private affair, such as with personal reflections or practicing yoga. However, they also can and indeed need to have a social dimension based in community to result in effective action. If you have merely achieved peace of mind for yourself, you have not yet become a positive agent of change in the world.

In order to explore the social dimension, Jeff has formed an experimental community called Contemplative Communion and I was honored to guide them down the “Prosocial Path” as their facilitator. This video case report chronicles their experience.

In addition to forming Contemplative Communion, Jeff has also introduced Prosocial to a center for spiritual growth and renewal in Austin, Texas named Seton Cove. I will be giving a lecture and one-day workshop on Prosocial at Seton Cove during October 17-18. Registration for the event is still open and affords an excellent opportunity for those interested in the interface between Prosocial and Contemplative Life to interact directly with Jeff, me, and our like-minded associates.

Thanks to Alan Honick, the documentary filmmaker on the Prosocial development team, for creating this and other video case reports featured on the magazine section of!

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