One study of scientists in U.S. universities found that although only a small subset was religious in a traditional sense, many consider themselves spiritual in some way. Their sense of spirituality was congruent with their views about science.
Some psychologists have sought to explore spirituality through empirical investigation. The observable aspect of human spirituality goes by different names. To some, like William James, pioneer of modern psychology and author of the 1880 Principles of Psychology, it is “mystical experience.” To Abraham Maslow, founder of both the humanistic and existential schools of psychology, it is “peak experience.” Addictions specialist and community worker William White calls it “transformational experience.” In my research in the area of the sociology of religion and mystical exerperience, I call it, for agnostic simplicity, connection experience.
‘Connection’ experiences can help heal
Psychologists who have studied connection experience agree it is an observable and consequential thing.
White reviews historical accounts to relay how transformational change — a “process of psychological death and rebirth” — can lead to recovery from alcoholism.
William R. Miller, clinical psychologist and emeritus professor of psychology and psychiatry at University of New Mexico, has researched what he calls “quantum change” — “sudden, dramatic, and enduring transformations that affect a broad range of personal emotion, cognition, and behaviour.”
Big deal if some people have mystical experiences. Why is this relevant?
Conservatives hijack the religious agenda
Connection experiences are important for many reasons, but one in particular stands out.
The political colonization and exploitation of human spirituality is a strategy of conservative elites. Christina Forrester, founder and director of Christian Democrats of America, notes that in the 1980s, political conservatives used people’s authentic spiritual sentiment to create a moral majority of spiritual zealots organized around an opposition to abortion that did not exist in the same way before.
When Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he claimed he loved the Bible but then refused to elaborate when asked about his favourite verses. His supposed love for the Bible may have helped him fool the masses and get him elected. Similarly, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio garners support from conservative Christians by sending out periodic Bible tweets.