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In defence of the transcendent

Les Lancaster1
Originally published in Transpersonal Psychology Review, 2002, 6 (1), 42-51
R epro d uced w ith perm is s io n o f the ed ito rs

Les Lancas ter and B ritis h P s ycho lo gicalS o ciety, 2 0 0 1

In a fascinating book, Eugene Taylor (1999) has recently traced the lineage of
Transpersonal Psychology in America. He writes of the new awakening that is
radically changing US culture in general and psychology in particular, and,
convincingly to my mind, demonstrates the continuities between this awakening
and what he terms the shadow culture. The shadow culture is identified with
American folk psychology and includes major movements such as the
transcendentalism of Emerson and Whitman, and William James pragmatism.
Taylors critical observation for my purposes concerns the centrality of the
transcendent in the new awakening: He remarks that the most important
element of this psychology is its emphasis on the possibility of the
transcendentthat consciousness can be molded into something higher, purer,
better (p. 16). He notes that a tension exists between the majority of academic
psychologists on the one hand, who reject categorically any attempt to
reintroduce what they feel is the language of religious superstition back into
scientific discussions about the relation between the mind and the body (p.295),
and, on the other hand, proponents of the new awakening for whom the
transcendent is of major significance. We should not dismiss this simply as a
debate between the intellectual establishment and rampant new-agers, for the

Brian L. Lancaster, Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology Research Unit

School of Health & Human Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Henry Cotton
Campus, 15-21 Webster Street, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK..
Tel: 0151-231-4036 Fax: 0151-231-4033
e-mail: B.L.Lancaster@livjm.ac.uk

issue goes to the heart of major concerns in contemporary psychology, including

the nature of consciousness and the dynamics of personal transformation. As
Taylor writes, the iconography of the transcendent cannot simply be waved
away with some self-appointed authoritative hand (p. 296).

The question raised here is central to the current status and future of
Transpersonal Psychology. Where does Transpersonal Psychology stand vis-vis the transcendent? There are a number of positions which could be adopted,
so let me clarify the issue at stake in my paper. I am simply interested in whether
a transpersonal psychologist may legitimately introduce notions of some kind of
metaphysically transcendent realm within their work as a transpersonal
psychologist. More than this, the question may become not only can they do so
but should they do so, (i.e., is the acceptance of a metaphysical stance which is
explicitly at odds with that of other areas of psychology a sine quo non of
Transpersonal Psychology)? Put in this way, it can be seen that these are indeed
substantive matters. And, of course, concern will be expressed over the
consequences of adopting such a positionboth for the status of our discipline
as legitimately a domain of psychology and for the development of the scholarly
work we undertake.

Having nailed the question in which I am interested, some clarification in terms

of what is not at issue here may help:
1. I am not concerned that a transpersonal psychologist might express beliefs of
a metaphysical nature in their own lives. There would surely be no
disagreement with the view that a transpersonal psychologist could be a
devout Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Christian, etc. without compromising their
legitimacy as a transpersonal psychologist. The days of witch hunts have,
thankfully, passed! And, of course, we happily accept the scientific
credentials of those whose work stands for itself, whatever their religious
orientation. No, the issue is rather that of bracketing. Should we, as Daniels
(2001) recommends, aim to bracket as far as possible ALL metaphysical
assumptions (p. 11)? Indeed, is such bracketing a real possibility? Some

might argue, for example, that the efficacy of transpersonal practice is

actually dependent on certain metaphysical assumptions. So, my position is
that such bracketing is both unrealistic and unnecessary.
2. I am not suggesting that specific beliefs need to be imposed. Heaven forbid
that Transpersonal Psychology should have a credo! We may be concerned
about what are the minimal metaphysical claims that Transpersonal
Psychology makes, but I am certainly not suggesting that dogmatic
metaphysical claimsby which is generally meant ones formulated in terms
of particular cultural canonsshould be a part of Transpersonal Psychology.
3. On the other hand, I am not suggesting a mealy-mouthed view of
transcendence which stops short of positing a realm which is metaphysically
distinct from the human mind and the material universe. I will follow Hick
(1989) in referring to such a realm as the Transcendent (with an upper-case
T) or the Real. I am not, accordingly, limiting my conception of
transcendence to an ontologically neutral postmodern working, in which
mystical experience represents a deconstruction of knowledge structures
leading to a profound unknowing that must be lived as an abiding
existential ontological uncertainty (Nelson, 2000, p. 75). I have no doubt
that unknowing has its place (see especially Sells, 1994), and further
consider that neo-Lacanian approaches to the real are inestimably valuable.
But my claim here is that such approaches do not convey the whole picture.

My major premise is not that Transpersonal Psychology should necessarily

embrace a metaphysic of transcendence, but that where such a metaphysic is
embraced, be it in the form of a practice or in scholarly arguments, those
involved have not breached the boundaries of our discipline. Why, then, should
we accept such a premise, especially when we bear in mind the costnamely,
that we are thereby excluded from the cosy club of scientific psychology? The
answer is, I believe, twofold. Firstly, we need it in order to maintain our
integrity; and secondly, we need it for the doors it opens in the practices, models
and theories which constitute the bedrock of our creative work.

On the issue of integrity there are, in turn, two issues. Firstly there is the issue of
our constituency, as it were. It seems to me that both those who identify
themselves, or whom we might identify, as transpersonal psychologists, and
those who are attracted to the discipline by-and-large already do make reference
to the Transcendent. Are we forced to choose between the folk perspective of
which Taylor writes, in which some kind of reality for the Transcendent is
accepted, and academia with its rejection of any kind of metaphysically distinct
transcendent realm? Does it have to be so black and white? The second issue of
integrity concerns the way in which we listen to our co-researchers. Are we not
fudging the issue when we examine in intricate detail the phenomenology of, for
example, a persons experience of being in the presence of something larger than
themselves whilst carefully avoiding buying into what is generally their most
substantial claimthat the something was real? Are we condemned to study
these matters with one hand tied behind our backs?

At the outset let us consider what kind of metaphysical viewpoints tend to be

included by transpersonal psychologists. The first claim we might make is that
consciousness is irreducible to those spheres to which positivistic science
applies. It does not emerge in some yet-to-be-understood way from physical
systems; it simply is. You are not going to find consciousness, then, by
physically investigating the properties of the brainno matter how sophisticated
the instrument you use. In itself this hardly seems to count as a claim specific to
Transpersonal Psychology since versions of the claim are articulated by many
who retain what amounts to a naturalistic slant, which they themselves would
distinguish from a transpersonal one. Chalmers (1996), for example, proposes a
double-aspect theory of information, the two aspects being the physical and the
experiential. Consciousness, identified with the experiential, is thus an
irreducible property of the universeeven an active thermostat, for Chalmers, is
conscious since it qualifies as an information system.

This basic claim of the irreducibility of consciousness becomes a transpersonal

one when two additional features are incorporated. Firstly, consciousness is

viewed as in some sense anteceding the physical; it is the primary manifestation.

Indeed, this view is generally associated with the Great Chain of Being concept,
which Wilber has popularised so effectively over recent years. Materiality is
seen as representing a grosser level than consciousness, a clothing of the
Transcendent. The normative scientific conception of consciousness emerging
from physical and/or biological processes, as argued by Searle (1992), for
example, is reversed. The physical emerges from consciousness (or from the
subtle, or from Spirit). And no form of double-aspectism can be said to square
with a transpersonal perspective unless it posits some kind of higher reality
from which both aspects emergeas, for example, in Bohms (1980) implicate

The second feature seemingly defining the transpersonal is the assertion that
there is a value in transformative experience involving transcendence; that
aspiring to states which in some way overthrow the everyday structuring of
consciousness is to be encouraged. Importantly, this is not simply a question of,
as it were, re-arranging mind contents (as might be seen in a Freudian context,
for example)a horizontal transformation, we might label it. No, the vertical
axis is involved; contact with the Transcendent is instrumental in effecting
meaningful transformation. Surely, were we not to include such a perspective
then there would be no mark of distinction between ourselves and a whole host
of counselling and therapeutic disciplines.

In fact, these two defining features of Transpersonal Psychologythe primacy

of consciousness and the value of higher statesresolve into one when we
emphasise the idea of levels in the chain. In fact, as Wilber makes explicit, our
primary model entails the two principles of emanationism and soteriology,
which are found in one form or another within all major mystical systems of
thought. My sneaking in of religious terminology is deliberate since it
emphasises the primary pointthat erasing the Transcendent from our thought
leaves us with no distinctive message to offer.

It will be evident that deleting from our canon those authors who seem to have
clearly embraced the notion of transcendence would leave us distinctly
emaciated. And, to counter an objection at the outset, I do not think that
transcendent is used by these authors in a weak sense implying no
metaphysically distinct realm. Writing of the observing self, Deikman (1982)
states that, the word transcendent is justified because if [it] cannot itself be
observed but remains forever apart from the contents of consciousness, it is
likely to be of a different order from everything else (p. 95). Further, he
emphasises the sense of connectedness described by mystics: The nature of the
connection cannot be specified, at least so far. But the testimony of the mystical
literature says that the connection is realnot an illusion (Deikman, 2000, p.
89). Wilbers models explicitly assert the primacy of Spirit, and although some
might decry the obscurity of such a term, there seems little doubt that neither
Wilber nor the vast majority of his readers need recourse to a dictionary. It is
worth noting that, when specifically questioned on the metaphysical basis of his
assertions, Wilber insisted that, the most common interpretation of those who
[have followed the requisite practices] is: you are face to face with the Divine
(Wilber, 1996, pp. 219-220). Perhaps of most interest in our present context is
William James whose pragmatism is encapsulated by his statement, that which
produces effects within another reality must be termed a reality itself (James,
1902/1962, p. 491). As he says, this is effectively a schematic formulation of the
notion that God is real since he produces real effects.

It should hardly need saying that we are not here talking of any specific
formulation of the divine. Indeed, whatever the popular view might be, we must
re-assert the traditional theistic stance that any attempt at such formulation is
untenable. All the theist can assert is, firstly, that a realm metaphysically distinct
from that of our spatio-temporal world is real, and, secondly, that that distinct
realm has real effects in our world.

Recognising the burden of belief that such ideas might be deemed to imply, let
us rather consider non-theistic spirituality. It is sometimes asserted that

Buddhism makes no metaphysical claims. I find this hard to accept. The question
revolves around the teaching of anatta, no-self. The notion that the self has no
substantiality, no intrinsic permanence, can be squared with contemporary
cognitive neuroscience (Varela, Thompson and Rosch, 1992; Lancaster, 1997).
And, were this the only feature of the Buddhist teaching, it might therefore
reasonably be argued that no metaphysical demands beyond those made by
mainstream psychology would indeed be involved. However, there are reasons
to doubt this. As argued by many of the greatest scholars of Buddhism
(including, amongst others, Conze, Humphreys, Suzuki), the anatta teaching was
polemical, that is, it was used to counteract particular tendencies in the Vedic
world of Siddharthas day. It was not intended to finally deny the reality of an
absolute Self, metaphysically distinct from the bodily oriented self (ego). As
Fontana (2000) reminds us, a classic of Buddhist literature asserts that, The Self
is lord of self (p. 202). I have elsewhere (Lancaster, 1997, p. 190) noted
Nagarjunas revealing comment that,
To him who understands the meaning in the teaching of the Buddha and
grasps the truth of derived name [i.e. conditioned personality], He has
taught that there is I; but to one who does not understand the meaning
in the teachings of the Buddha and does not grasp the truth of the
derived name, He has taught, there is no I.
Even those who hold the harder version of anattathat there is no self,
relative or absolute, cannot escape the conclusion that Buddhism conveys a
distinct metaphysic. Ninian Smart, who, perhaps more than any author stresses
the non-ritualistic and this-worldly nature of Buddhism, is emphatic about the
distinction between Buddhist and Western empiricism. The former includes the
concept of nirvana, an unutterable, indescribable transcendental state (Smart,
2000, p. 236). Similarly, for Stace (1960), equally dismissive of the view that the
Buddha did not mean to imply that there was no transcendent self, Plainly
nirvana transcends both the individual consciousness and the space-time world
(p. 127).We should note, further, that concepts of karma and rebirth cannot

really be understood without some form of mediumor carrierwhich is

necessarily transcendent to the realm of causation as generally understood.

The point should be clear: there is no established religious or spiritual

perspective which does not embrace a metaphysical teaching of some form of
transcendent realm. But this should not really surprise usit is practically a
tautology. Of what concern is this to Transpersonal Psychology? Here is perhaps
the rub. Incorporation of ideas or practices drawn from spiritual traditions, which
do not acknowledge the Transcendent are bastardisations. Let us be clear on this
point. I do not doubt that incorporations of this kind can have their place; for
example, cognitive psychology can learn from the subtle analyses of no-self in
Buddhism. But let us not pretend that we are in some way drawing on the
wisdom of the ancients without being encumbered by the baggage they were too
primitive to jettison. And, of course, to follow the example, cognitive
psychology is not Transpersonal Psychologyit does not adhere to the two
principles I enunciated earlier; it is not concerned with transformation.

I think that most in the transpersonal movement would agree with Ferrer (2000)
when he writes that transpersonal studies should not be dissociated from the
spiritual enterprise, but rather be in the service of the spiritual transformation of
self and world (p. 231).1 As I mentioned earlier, the question of integrity
demands acceptance of the broad imperative at work here. Again, it is not that
we must all march to the same tune; but that the in-principle exclusion of the
Transcendent is inappropriate.

Ferrer makes a further point highly relevant to my discussion. He adduces a

number of reasons for rejecting the experiential approach to transpersonal
phenomena. The relevance here is that the argument for excluding metaphysical
assumptions leads to Transpersonal Psychology being focused exclusively in the
study of experience. As Daniels (2001) has it in the continuation of the extract I
cited before, [Transpersonal Psychology] should essentially become a
phenomenological examination of experiences of transformation (p. 11). In

brief, Ferrer includes amongst the pitfalls of the emphasis on experience,

spiritual narcissism (which includes ego-inflation, self-absorption, and spiritual
materialism); integrative arrestment (meaning that natural processes through
which spiritual realisations are integrated into everyday life are arrested);
reductionism of the spiritual into individual inner experience which is at odds
with the testimony of the traditions themselves; and subtle Cartesianism
(emphasising the separation of the objects of experience from the subject
having the experience). On all counts, Ferrer demonstrates that the emphasis
cultivated by the experiential approach is significantly at odds with the
traditional goals of the spiritual traditions, which are more towards participation
and knowing. I would add that the experiential approach is responsible for a
somewhat misguided neuroscience of mysticism. As I remarked in an earlier
The typical neuropsychological theory in this regard focuses on brain
structures which become activated during god experiences of the kind
associated with epileptic seizures, for example. This kind of emphasis
on the primacy of experience exacerbates the problematic confusion
between the pathological and the sublime, and, to my mind, leads
inevitably to the resultant reductionism (Lancaster, 2001, p. 7).

In the same paper I stressed the importance of the idea of Intellect as developed
in the mediaeval mysticism of Eckhart and Abulafia. Wisdom and knowledge
are the goals of the great traditions, not experience. Indeed, as Ferrer points out,
the traditions are careful to warn that mystical states are not ends in themselves
but a preparation to participate in special states of discernment (p. 233). To my
mind, the very idea of wisdom loses its distinctive meaning when we deny a
metaphysic of the Transcendent. In the biblical book of Job, we find the line,
From where is wisdom found? (Job 28:12). This seemingly simple question
includes its own answer when a subtle ambiguity in the Hebrew is unpacked: As
Rabbi Yohanon explains in the Talmud (Sotah 21b) Me-ayin, here translated
from where?, could equally be translated from nothing; from nothing is

wisdom found; from the void, from contact with the Transcendent which is
always conveyed as ayin, the nothing which is a fullness known through

It might be argued that such mystical nothingness is adequately conveyed by the

notion of the unconscious. Wisdom is achieved through contact with the
unconscious which, indeed, has the quality of nothingness because of its very
unknowability. But much confusion arises here. Firstly, there are confusions when
we try to comprehend the operational dynamics of such a becoming conscious of
the unconscious. I have discussed this elsewhere (Lancaster, 1991; 1993) and will
limit myself here to simply mentioning that the issue is essentially one of
accessibility, and that our understanding of self as a vehicle for accessing material
is the critical factor. More problematic for our purposes is the ontological status of
the unconscious. A common image of consciousness is that of a searchlight (a
searchlight with an adjustable dimmer, suggests Brown [1998, p. 101] to
incorporate the fact that our conscious state can vary from drowsiness to full
awareness). But what is the status of events not illuminated by the searchlight
(whatever that metaphor may actually mean)? Generally, it is held that these are
representations of objects or of the relations between objects. Thus, according to
our contemporary psychological canon, a subliminal exposure of a picture of a pen,
for example, generates a neuro-cognitive representation of the pennot to mention
possible phallic distortions of the image (thus accommodating Freudian notions of
the unconscious)which remains unilluminated by the searchlight. Yet we have
not a single satisfactory explanation of how knowing is brought about through
representing. This is the lacuna at the heart of cognitive psychology, and it ramifies
through contemporary analyses of the unconscious.

Jungs insistence on the reality of the psyche provides the beginnings of an

answer here. This was a principle on which he was repeatedly insistent. When he
asserts that, Psyche is reality par excellence (1968, p. 66) he is not only
asserting that the mind, including the unconscious, has an independent
ontological status, he is also implying its primacy. Yet, why stop there? On what

grounds would we accept evidence for the reality of the psyche, but deny it for a
higher realm, the Transcendent? This question is critical to our discussion. Let
us be clear: we only avoid idealism by accepting that there are good grounds for
believing in the material world. On balance, as most would agree, such grounds
exist. To accept the ontological reality of the psyche is already to go beyond the
positivistic worldview, yet we, as transpersonal psychologists, would probably
agree with Jung. In other words, there are good grounds for accepting that
complexes, archetypes etc. have an existence which is not reducible to some
other reality. We should note in passing that, if our concern is to stay within the
dominant mould of contemporary psychology, we would not even accept these
grounds. Now the next level: is there, as Hick (1980) formulates it, wellgrounded human belief that the Transcendent exists (p. 434)? I share Hicks
affirmative answer. Claims of the reality of the Transcendent made by mystics
and others pass a reasonable test on the grounds that (i) such individuals are sane
and generally to be trusted; (ii) the claims are not substantially contradicted by
scientific knowledge (they may be contradicted by scientism, but not by
scientific knowledge.); and (iii) the claims show a significant coherence across
diverse times and place.

These are, of course, the kinds of grounds on which Jung established his idea of
the collective unconscious. For Jung, the transcendent function is not
Transcendent in the sense in which I have been discussing it; it is purely an
intra-psychic phenomenon. But, if our grounds for accepting the reality of any
non-physical realm are merely those based on the testimony of individuals,
why deny the realm beyond the psychic to which the testimony of mystics and
saints relates? Is the realm responsible for our spiritual lives merely
psychological or is it Transcendent? Wilber is forceful in his critique of Jung on
this point, for he takes the archetypes to be the primary patterning of Spirit (see,
e.g., Wilber, 1996, pp. 216-7). From an empirical point of view, however, it
remains an intractable question. The question of interest to my mind is not, what
is the correct answer to the question (psychological or Transcendent?), but why
would we answer it one way or the other, and what are the implications of our

answer. I think Jungs reasons are fairly clear: he wished to remain within the
bounds of what he saw as empirical science. His motivation was to cure those
who were psychologically damaged, and to do this he worked within the
parameters of the evidence he drew from them. William James, on the other
hand, took a different view, for he considered the subconscious to extend into
an altogether other dimension of existence (James. 1902/1960, p. 490). And his
reason for this assertion shifts us more towards the matter of implications, since
it is bound up with his pragmatism we met earlier

It is hardly surprising that those of a religious persuasion have taken Jung to task
for his insistence on the merely psychological reality of God. However, I
consider that we should listen carefully to the views of two of his critics in
particular. Josef Goldbrunner (1964) claims that limiting ourselves as therapists
to the psychological, even though we recognise the soul dimension as
expressed in Jungian thought, is insufficient. In his view, although the
patients may recover from their symptoms, they do not find peace (p. 186).
This relates somewhat to my experience in working with forms of spiritual
practice: those who accept in some way the Transcendent seem to achieve more,
as if such acceptance is the key which turns the lock. Jungs emphasis on self is
akin to the spiritual narcissism mentioned earlier in relation to Ferrers
arguments. It can imply a finitude where we would perhaps be well advised to
seek rather for the infinite Other.

The second figure to whom I believe we can fruitfully listen is Martin Buber.
My interest is not specifically in Bubers insistence that a genuine I-Thou
relationship is compromised when we adhere to Jungs religion of pure psychic
immanence, as Buber called it (Buber, 1988, p. 84). On this count, Buber
emphasises the unincludable otherness of a being, writing that only when I
renounce all claim to incorporating it in any way within me or making it a part of
my soul, does it truly become a Thou for me (p. 89). Of more relevance for our
discussion is Bubers refutation of Jungs claim that he makes no metaphysical
statements, that he writes only as an empirical psychologist. Buber demonstrates

that Jungs writings reveal a view according to which God does not exist
absolutely, that is, independent of the human subject and beyond all human
condition (p. 81). For Buber, this is a metaphysical assertionthat God has no
absolute existence. Jung indulges in metaphysical speculation without accepting
that he is so doing, which, for Buber, is indefensible. More than this, when Jung
asserts that metaphysical statements derive from a primary psychic reality,
Buber sees a vacuous truism. To be of any value, a psychic statement must reach
beyond itselfas, to cite a more mundane case, when I make the statement that
this pen exists, the intention goes beyond the limited psychic reality of the pen.
Ultimately, the victim of Jungs approach to religion is faith, and Buber
castigates the great betrayal which is thereby perpetrated.

The point is that we cannot pretend that Transpersonal Psychology is not a

spiritually committed discipline. If we insist on denying that we embrace
metaphysical claims then we face Bubers critique. Of course, I recognise the
other sideaccepting that such claims may have a role in our discipline means
that we sever a shared platform with most other psychologists. But have we not
done this already? Besides, the needs of our day press upon us. Jungs
framework met a need in his day to respond to those for whom traditional
religious faith was no longer tenable. I am not sure that such is the need in our

Lest it be thought that the central issue which I have been addressing is of
modern provenance only, I will finish by referring to a cryptic passage in Jewish
sources dating from the first century, and almost certainly connected with
material preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is stated that four entered pardes
paradise, meaning that they engaged in a mystical ascentbut only one of them
emerged intact from their endeavours. That one was Rabbi Akiva, who gives the
following warning: When you approach the pure marble stones, do not say,
Water! Water! (Talmud, Hagiga 14b). To cut a long story short, in this
seemingly obscure utterance he is concerned that we should not mistake one
level for another. The simple visual allusion is to a confusion of the superficial

appearance of the watery surface with the true substance of the stones. But, of
course, there is considerably more depth to this warning. The marble stones
depict a metaphysical level associated with the inner workings of creation. It is
higher than the level to which water relates, water being associated with the
flowing quality of imagery (formation). Do not confuse the two! warns Rabbi
Akiva. As ever, a subtle allusion is conveyed in the cryptic use of Hebrew: the
word for marble has the connotation (if parsed slightly differently) of
existence, or being. We may then translate into modern idiom, When you reach
the sphere of pure being do not psychologise it!

A final vignette: In the book of Exodus, the complainings of the Children of

Israel on their journey are documented. At one point (Ex 18:7) they ask, Is the
Lord among us or not? What kind of a question is this, you might well ask,
when, according to the narrative, the Lord has just sent plagues on their enemies,
provided a pillar of fire for night-time reading, split the sea to reveal the royal
road, rained food from heaven, and brought water from a rock! It reminds me of
a card, you might have seen, on which an exasperated Moses is standing at the
entrance to the sea with two huge walls of water either side of their path. In
response to one of his flock, he is saying, What do you mean, its a bit muddy?
No, the question the children of Israel are asking, which the King James
translators could not have been expected to realise, was Is the Lord amongst us
with ayin, nothing (see Zohar II, 64b)? Or not is a derivative translation in
this instance. The text is asking, Is the transcendent dimension of nothingness
present together with the immanent face of the divine? The immediately
following verse states, Then came Amalek and fought with the people. In
Jewish thought, Amalek represents the archetypal spiritual antagonist, the force
opposing spiritual advance; and the episode warns of the dangers of a moments
doubt as to the reality of the Transcendent.

Of course, I realise that that is religion whereas the topic here is Transpersonal
Psychology. Like it or not, however, the evidence from the tenor of most
workshops, courses, and other events bearing the Transpersonal Psychology logo

is that it is an actively spiritual discipline. And, to my mind, it has a rightful

place alongside the religious traditions themselves. It is not a substitute religion,
but it is a means for many to engage with the sacred in ways devoid of
seemingly dogmatic concepts and rites. I hold on to the psychology label by
insisting that our study is of those processes of mind operating when an
individual encounters the sacred. And this study extends to the forms of practice
which might bring about such encounters, as well as to the knowledge gained
through them. It is not the exclusion of the Transcendent which distinguishes us
from religion, but the inclusion of a commitment to empirically-based enquiry
and a pluralist perspective on spiritual teachings. In a nutshell, as Merkur (1997)
puts it, Transpersonal Psychology is too metaphysical for psychology and too
nontraditional for theology (p. 141).

It is now a hundred years since Flournoy (1903) enunciated his famous principle
of the exclusion of the transcendentthat psychologists should neither reject nor
affirm the independent existence of realms postulated in religion. Perhaps the
time is right for a re-evaluation. And, let us not forgeteven Flournoy was not
so mindful of his own principle in the end.

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We can detect a shift away from inclusion of the word psychology in terms such as transpersonal
studies or integral studies. Perhaps the burden of the scientific worldview in psychology is too great for
acceptance of the kind of spiritual perspective I am advocating. However, in my view, there is a need for
a discipline in which the specifically psychological features in relation to spirituality are studied.
Amongst such features I include psychological factors in transformation and the cognitive processes
which interface with more transpersonal knowing (see, for example, my studies of language mysticism,
Lancaster, 2000).