Existential spirituality begins
our interior experience of our own human spirits
rather than focusing on possible spirits beyond ourselves.
most important feature we
discover in our depths
is called our "Existential Predicament",
"Existential Malaise", or "Existential Dilemma".
The major ways this inner-state-of-being is experienced include:
existential loneliness, existential depression, existential anxiety,
existential absurdity, the existential Void, existential splitting,
existential insecurity, existential despair, existential guilt,
existential meaninglessness, & ontological anxiety.
(One chapter is devoted to each of these themes in
Our Existential Predicament: Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death .)
we have come to grips with
our Existential Malaise,
we can either embrace it—which helps us become more Authentic—
or we can keep searching for release.
Existential spirituality differs
sharply from most other forms of spirituality
in its almost complete lack of speculation about supernatural beings.
Most forms of existential spirituality have very little doctrinal content.
We cannot know much about 'beings beyond ourselves'.
But we can explore our own inner depths.
Usually what we human beings project upon the heavens
comes from our own interior sensitivity to our own spirits.
concept of "spirituality"
should be reserved
for phenomena that arise in the human spirit,
which is distinct from human thinking (the intellectual dimension)
and human feeling (the psychological-emotional dimension).
primarily depends on human words and concepts.
can be explained in terms of cause and effect, for example,
most of the emotional responses we have developed since birth.
forms of so-called 'spirituality'
focus mainly on
the intellectual and emotional dimensions of human life.
But according to these definitions and distinctions,
such verbal and emotional matters should not be called "spirituality".
Emotional responses can be explained
The various schools of the psychological sciences do not agree
about the particular dynamics of the human psyche,
but they all attempt to explain our emotional responses.
a response like love,
anger, jealousy, or happiness
can be explained psychologically,
there is no need to invoke "spirituality".
an inner awareness such
as existential anxiety
goes well beyond the psychological response of fear.
(This paradigmatic distinction is fully explored in
Existential Anxiety: Angst .)
basic world-view that underlies
is the scientific world-view.
Nothing that is affirmed within existential spirituality
conflicts with the scientific method and its results
—unless science is understood to exclude
all the phenomena we experience within our spirits.
There is no metaphysical system
since no attempt is made to explain the causes
of our Existential Predicament or Existential Freedom
(living beyond our Existential Malaise).
When we focus strictly on what we can know
on the basis of our own spiritual sensitivity,
we can only describe how we orient ourselves spiritually.
We do not need to project supernatural causes.
Søren Kierkegaard was
of the modern form of existential spirituality.
And he himself was a Christian believer.
But he had remarkably little to say about God.
Rather, he focused entirely on how we might orient ourselves,
perhaps using the Christian belief system as an explanatory aid.
Thus, modern followers of this
spiritual path are also free
of claims about beings, entities, forces, influences, or tendencies.
The natural world can be entirely explained
without appeal to anything beyond itself.
For example, the existence of the universe does not require a 'creator'.
Existential spirituality does
any hidden or mysterious tendencies in human history.
The world is not under any supernatural control.
And there is no destiny being worked out behind the scenes.
these reasons, existential
is part of the humanist branch of Unitarian Universalism.
It is much closer to non-theistic spirituality than to any of the theistic forms.
But none of this excludes the possibility of
new forms of existential spirituality arising
that do include metaphysical systems.
If and when such new branches of existential spirituality do arise,
they will have to explain their own non-obvious claims
and provide whatever bases there might be for believing those claims.
Death is one of the deepest
challenges for any form of spirituality.
In fact, we might say that the deeper awareness of death
is the beginning of spirituality.
Existential spirituality probes
the biological, emotional, & intellectual
dimensions of the awareness of death
to what is called "ontological anxiety".
This is the existential or spiritual twin that hides behind
the psychologically-intelligible fear of ceasing-to-be.
points the way towards freedom
from our Existential Predicament understood in other ways,
it also explores freedom from ontological anxiety.
But this does not imply life after death.
(A full explanation of this
dimension of existential spirituality
will be found in An Existential Understanding of Death:
A Phenomenology of Ontological Anxiety . )
Because existential spirituality
is highly individual,
there are no organized ritual practices.
Whatever spiritual exercises might lead to Existential Freedom
will be affirmed by all followers of this spiritual path.
As Kierkegaard said,
each person must begin all over again from the beginning.
It is little help that others have been down this spiritual path before.
But perhaps we can learn something from reading the works
of such spiritual pioneers as Søren Kierkegaard himself.
is a bibliography of the best books of
Existential spirituality is
so little known
(except in the form propounded by Kierkegaard)
that there has been no organized critique of this system from outside.
But existential spirituality is very self-critical.
Each 'spiritual insight' must be subjected
to alternative psychological interpretations.
If such self-critical examination is missing,
any form of spirituality can fall into dogmatism.
Søren Kierkegaard has
to relentless examination by academic philosophers,
but most of them do not understand his spiritual dynamics.
Therefore, their questions and criticisms
have almost nothing to do with existential spirituality.
Whenever existential spirituality
as if it were a sub-category of Christianity,
the criticisms of the Christian parts are usually valid,
but they do not touch the essence of existential spirituality.
Psychological science is the
most important method
for discovering errors on the path of existential spirituality.
As modern psychological thinking probes the depths
of what we call our "Existential Predicament",
we will be better able to distinguish psychological phenomena
from our real spiritual dynamics.
—in part because it has such strong intellectual roots—
is one of the most self-critical forms of spirituality available today.
11. Have corrections
been incorporated into your spiritual
tradition? The most important change since the time of Søren Kierkegaard
How will any future changes take place?
is the basic abandonment of supernatural claims involving God or Christ.
The whole Christian tradition is not essential to existential spirituality.
Existential spirituality will probably continue to distance itself
from the religious beliefs of its founder.
Can the spiritual dynamics within our own human spirits
be separated from the mythological forms originally used
to discuss and share what has been happening deep within our selves?
will probably involve further attempts to explore our Existential Predicament.
New thinkers can be expected to offer fresh approaches.
11. Have corrections
been incorporated into your spiritual
The most important change since the time of Søren Kierkegaard
November 23, 2000; revised 9-6-2004; 2-5-2009; 11-18-2009; 10-27-2010;
James Park—the author
of the above description—
has written five books on existential spirituality.
These will all be found in the Existential Spirituality Bibliography ,
which includes all the other classics of this spiritual path.
A shorter cyber-sermon covering the same ground is entitled
Introducing Existential Spirituality.
Return to the beginning of the Spiritual Paths Project.
Return to the UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM page.
Return to the beginning
of James Park's website:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum