What exactly is entailed by the term spirituality? At the most basic level, it obviously implies a connection to spirit, but what specifically does that mean? Can it be measured?
These are all questions that Dr. Robert Emmons seeks to answer with his theory of Spiritual Intelligence. A concept such as this may seem controversial to some — an attempt to scientifically dissect and categorize the spiritual phenomenon/experience by scientists and researchers. Some may even claim that spirituality cannot be measured or defined, but simply is. However, in my view, it would seem that the development of these scientific concepts of spiritual phenomenon may actually help many to become more spiritual themselves. In my experience, many people find spirituality to be mysterious and vague and so have a difficult time relating to it in a world where the unknown is perceived to be dangerous or threatening to some degree. Would a more scientific approach to the study of spirituality make it more accessible to the masses?
I believe it would, and in my estimation, this can only be a good thing. In many circles, all things spiritual are seen to be the antithesis to the current dominant scientific paradigm. This is not a constructive viewpoint. Our society direly needs a bridging of these two worlds in order to reach a deeper understanding, catharsis and self awareness. Anything that can help facilitate this, is, in my eyes, worthwhile.
What’s the Deal With Spiritual Intelligence?
Spirituality is an abstract topic that is not easy to define, and it is not typically considered a focal point of science.
Despite this, it’s a meaningful and common part of many peoples’ lives, and the benefits and mental processes of spirituality deserve more attention.
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been well established for many years, and has helped evolve the traditional view of what it means to be intelligent.
It was instrumental in helping people recognize the importance of interpersonal and emotional intelligences, and that we are cognitively much more complex than mere IQ.
The many different capacities for intelligence from Gardner’s theory include:
Outside of these domains there may be another form of intelligence that is not usually included in this list, and it is one of particular importance for current cultural and ecological concerns.
It is the concept of spiritual intelligence (SQ), or existential intelligence.
What is spiritual intelligence?
Spiritual Intelligence is still a tentative concept, as a universal definition of what spirituality really means is lacking. Though there are developing discussions in psychology and philosophy about how spirituality can be a guiding source in making decisions, interacting with others, and how we view the world around us.
There are working parameters presented by Robert Emmons for what constitutes SQ, which includes 4 components.
- The capacity for transcendence.
- The ability to enter into heightened spiritual states of consciousness.
- The ability to invest everyday activities, events, and relationships with a sense of the sacred or divine.
- The ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems in living.
There are some intellectual and emotional capacities required to integrate spirituality into everyday life, and to utilize it for problem solving and goal attainment.
Why is spiritual intelligence important?
Spiritual intelligence may lend itself to peoples’ motivation for fulfilling their human potential and improving the future through changing the status quo of behaviors dominated by power, oppression, and over consumption.
The world is facing growing concerns related to overpopulation, food and water shortages, sustainable energy, climate change, and environmental degradation. How people respond and deal with these pressures is of increasing importance for future generations.
It may require a transformation in the way that people perceive their role and position in relationship to the world around them. Specifically, making a shift from one of egocentrism to one of collective well-being for all of life, which includes families, communities, humanity and the planet. This could come from taking a more spiritually orientated viewpoint and worldview, one where people seek self-transcendence and find a more actualized and altruistic relationship to self, others, and the planet.
This is a serious shift that is not necessarily natural for many people, including myself, as people struggle to look beyond personal interests and their own survival.
However, by cultivating a spiritual framework this conscious transformation is more likely. Those who are more spiritually connected may have an easier time taking the perspective that we are all accountable for the well-being of life as a whole.
A spiritual inclination offers a deeper connection to life as a whole and how we are all “one” in a metaphysical sense. This understanding or the capability to interpret the world around us in this way could be a catalyst for more virtuous and principled behavior.
What do you think? Is spiritual intelligence a legitimate topic of inquiry? Is so, what areas of life can it offer improvements and value? !
Collins, M. (2010). Spiritual Intelligence: Evolving Transpersonal Potential Toward Ecological Actualization for a Sustainable Future.World Futures, 66, 320-334.