Circles of Belief - The World’s Spiritual Traditions and Beyond
In the more than 30 years since I began to write about spirituality and the world’s religions, the spiritual landscape has changed in many ways, and the publishing world has evolved as well. For that reason, I’m choosing to publish my most recent work as a Kindle eBook, entitled Circles of Belief: The World’s Spiritual Traditions and Beyond. My goal is to reflect the interconnected nature of the planet’s wisdom traditions along with the many related fields of spirituality that cannot be categorized as “religion” per se. In my previous books—Once A Catholic (1987), Through the Labyrinth (1991), and The Joy of Sects (1996/2006), I have described the beliefs and practices of the major religions and their offshoots—including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Kabbalah, Christianity, Islam, Sufism—as well as the wide range of beliefs and practices categorized loosely as the New Age.
In Circles of Belief, while incorporating much of the historical background of those traditions brought up to date, I focus more intensively on developments in the spiritual realm that have occurred outside the major traditions within the last hundred years or so. While I describe how New Thought and Theosophy grew into the revolutionary movement of the New Age, for example, I’m writing for the first time about the rise of significant phenomena such as “Spiritual but not Religious,” secular nondualism, and the many forms of “evolutionary spirituality” based on meditation practices.
At the same time, I write about a major development occurring along the interface of science and spirituality that can be characterized as a debate over whether human consciousness exists outside the brain—an issue with both scientific and spiritual significance of the first order. In a lengthy final chapter devoted in large part to this ongoing dispute, you will read about the relationship between quantum physics and spiritual beliefs; the study of out-of-body and near-death experiences; after-death communications including the role of mediumship; past life and life between lives regression; rebirth and the accurate recall of previous lives by children under the age of six; and other evidence suggesting that what some call the soul or spirit or buddhanature, and others identify simply as consciousness, continues beyond physical death.
Although the majority of mainstream scientists, atheists, and academics currently deny this possibility, a number of highly respected researchers, scientists, and medical practitioners have been accumulating evidence that life endures after the death of the body—a continuous existence that is substantially different from both the afterlife taught by Western religions and the concept of reincarnation as understood in the Eastern traditions. To my mind, this is the burning question of the day, one whose answer can have significant implications for how humanity responds to its current perilous condition. If we genuinely understand that our core essence will return in future lives—rather than arriving to stay in some mythical heaven or hell, gaining rebirth based on our current social class, or ending in unconscious nothingness—I believe the planet as a whole would take a much more enlightened approach to social and environmental justice. As the visionary Aldous Huxley put it in The Perennial Philosophy: “The politics of those whose goal is beyond time are always pacific; it is the idolaters of past and future, of reactionary memory and Utopian dream, who do the persecuting and make the wars.”
You can read an excerpt from Circles of Belief here>>