Integral Consciousness and Academia
Presentation at the
6th Spanish Integral Conference
Barcelona, October 2008
At present, the integral movement is very much outside mainstream culture and
mainstream academia. This is perhaps to be expected as it is still relatively
young. Although Wilber’s Integral Model has been developing for over thirty
years now, its first mature version, with the presentation of the AQAL map, only
emerged in 1995 with the publication of SES. Even more recently, it has
expanded to its next, more expansive and developed post-metaphysical stage
and outline of an integral methodological pluralism.
Nevertheless, over the last two years there are encouraging signs that the
integral movement is moving into a new, more diverse, expansive and
legitimising phase. Such an expansion of the integral movement, both informally
within the general culture and more formally within academia, is important for
several reasons, I believe. First, it offers individuals a comprehensive map with
which to understand self, others and world, as well as offering an integral
practice to enable greater embodiment of integral consciousness, greater
freedom and fullness.
Second, it offers society and humanity as a whole a sophisticated framework
with which to understand and help solve the complex problems that have
emerged together with the ever-increasing globalisation and
interconnectedness of our world. It is a truly global model that includes, for
example, all the different worldviews that are held by different individuals and
communities, brings together insights and knowledge from all the different
cultures and eras, and makes room for every methodology used to disclose
reality. This global vision has emerged just as the world is moving into a new
global, planetary era and offers a new way in which to address the new
problems that the new era brings forth.
A new phase for the integral movement and integral consciousness
There are several ways in which integral consciousness has been gaining
ground and credibility in the last couple of years. First, there are the recent
changes at integral institute which, after several phases, some seemingly quite
difficult, appears to be coalescing into a more robust organisation. Wilber now
dedicates most of his time to writing again, remaining just a consultant at I-I
rather than its active President, and the new management has just launched
Integral Life, which acts as a kind of virtual community with emphasis on the
promotion of both theory and practice.
Second, in addition to Ken Wilber’s books, there is a growing number of writings
by professionals and academics who are fleshing out more detailed analyses in
their particular fields (e.g. the very recent Integral Life Practice book, André
Marquis’ and Elliot Ingersoll’s work on Integral psychotherapy and Sean
Hargens and Michael Zimmerman’ Integral Ecology, in press) as well as by
those who are constructively critical of Wilber’s model (e.g. Steve McIntosh’s
Integral Consciousness (2007) – which I will discuss in a bit more detail later).
Third, by people who are actively applying them in real world settings like Gail
Hochachka’s work on international development, Laura Divine and Joanne Hunt
in Integral Coaching, and, in human organisations, Brian Robertson’s
Holacracy, Torbert’s Action Inquiry and many different leadership model.
And finally, in physical and online salons throughout the world; in national
organisations like the Spanish Integral Association and transnational ones like
Integral Europe that is creating a focal point from which to advertise integral
events and connect people; in Integral Centres like the Boulder Centre for
Integral Living and another in Santa Monica; and in conferences such as this
one and the ground-breaking Integral Theory Conference held in August of this
year in San Francisco. That conference is part of a general move to legitimate
integral theory within academia, which will be the main focus of the rest of this
All of these developments are still in their initial phases but bode well for the
integral consciousness and suggest a new phase in its overall development. I
will concentrate here on the developments within academia.
Integral Consciousness in Academia
First, I will briefly discuss the importance of establishing integral consciousness
and integral theory within academia and how the atmosphere in academia is
now more conducive to its integration. Then I will outline some of the obstacles
to integration and acceptance, followed by a look at what progress has been
made already. Finally, I’ll give a brief explanation of the new method of integral
research and consider a few further developments related to integral theory and
An idea will not be taken seriously on a wide a scale in today’s world without
practical applications that are shown to be effective and abundant evidence to
support it. Universities play a vital role in providing such evidence and critically
examining and challenging new ideas. Moreover, of great importance is what
Ken Wilber said yesterday in response to one of the questions during the
teleconference: that the only system capable of promoting an integral
consciousness on a large scale is the education system. To a large extent it
was the education system that moved ‘green’ consciousness, in the West, from
2% thirty years ago to 25% today. And it will be able to do so with integral
consciousness only if integral theory first becomes integrated in academia.
Like every other organisation, academia is embedded in the dominant culture
which operates within the confines of specific worldviews and these dominant
worldviews - at present modern and post-modern worldviews - very often
determine what questions are asked, what research is funded and what
evidence is taken seriously. For something like the integral worldview, or at
least significant aspects of it, to become accepted, the time has to be right. If
the behaviourism and logical empiricism of the 1950’s, for example, dominated
in academia, then there would have very little likelihood of acceptance.
But there are many signs that the time is now more propitious. The modernist
worldview and its purely quantitative, third person, right hand quadrants
approach to methodology, has taken a battering from postmodernism over the
last thirty years or so, which has introduced a more interior, left-hand quadrant
qualitative approach to methodology. However, thirty years has been enough to
show its limitations (e.g. its absolute relativism) and the natural dialectic has
moved from a paradigm clash between these two antagonistic, either/or
perspectives and methodologies to the solid emergence, in literally the last
three or four years, of a both/and, mixed methods methodology based on an
underlying philosophy of pragmatism. This approach eschews dogmatism and
selects those methods, whether qualitative or quantitative, that best serve to
answer the specific research question. Mixed methods and pragmatism have
much in common with an integral approach and integral research, which
emerged just two years ago. Integral research is an extension of mixed
methods approach, which is explicitly grounded in integral theory and integral
As a result of these paradigm changes, some research areas that were
previously out of bounds are now experiencing an upsurge of research and
have even become trendy. These all involve interiority and subjective
experience – the legacy of advocates of the qualitative approach - and include,
for example, spirituality (e.g. spiritual emotions like awe, elevation and
gratitude; states like flow); the nature of consciousness (which has become a
major hot topic) and meditation (where numerous and rigorous studies have
made it virtually mainstream).
There remain some very controversial notions like developmental stages that
are not generally permitted outside developmental psychology – and has been
challenged within developmental psychology for the last couple of decades of
postmodernism - but even there some progress has been made recently.
In addition to these paradigm changes within academia, the rapidly increasing
complexity of life is screaming out for a new, more global and integrative
approach, and integral theory fits that bill nicely.
Integral in Alternative and Mainstream Universities
There are currently two ways in which integral is being introduced into
universities. One is through alternative universities like the CIIS, JFK, Naropa
and Fielding Institute – all in the USA. Here there are programmes which
include integral theory and practice or which have programmes devoted
exclusively to integral theory (e.g. JFK and Fielding). The other is through
individuals introducing integral components within their research theses and
dissertations at mainstream universities. In the US there have been 55 integral-
inspired dissertations and theses between 1987 and 2007. I have no figures for
the UK or Spain or the rest of Europe but there are no doubt a fair number.
All this is important, I believe, since it is likely that the more aspects of integral
worldview and theory become mainstream, the more impact it will have on the
general culture – especially through its eventual integration in the education
Obstacles to legitimising integral theory in academia
Arguably the biggest obstacle to legitimising integral in academia is the
equation integral = Ken Wilber. At the ITC in August, one of the panels
discussed that very topic. Many of us attracted to the integral worldview have
felt that the integral movement has been a little too dependent on the figure of
Ken Wilber with very little critical debate within the movement and within I-I.
There has been critical discussion in Frank Visser’s site, Integral World, but this
has not always been constructive, by either side. Critical debate is one of the
essential requirements of academic discourse and the birth of integral theory
outside of the academic community, along with Wilber’s semi-academic, semi-
popular style, often without sufficient evidence, has meant a lack of such
debate. The ITC is an important move in the right direction, as are the other
moves to legitimise integral theory in academia that will be discussed below.
Forman and Hargens (2008), the organisers of the ITC, believe that Wilber
needs to be decoupled from Integral Theory and state that that was one of the
major aims of the conference. The only previous big US conference, held in
1997, was specifically about Ken Wilber’s work whereas this 1 st biennial
conference was about integral theory. It included many important constructive
critics of Wilber’s work: Bill Torbert (who calls Wilber’s quadrants the ‘Flat Four’
and his territories the ‘Deep Four’), Sean Kelly, Steve McIntosh, Bonnita Roy
and Mark Edwards.
I think that such a decoupling or loosening is important, for several reasons.
While it is doubtful that such a radically different worldview and philosophy
could have been created within academia, and a creative maverick like Wilber
was probably inevitable to produce his huge synthesis and model, in order to
enter academia there are certain basic norms and requirements. First of all,
mavericks and, especially, those perceived as gurus, are not looked upon kindly
in academia. Second, a movement with one undisputed figurehead is not likely
to get a hearing. Third, abundant evidence is needed and Wilber often does not
provide enough by academic standards. Finally, there are certain norms that
need to be followed. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1999), the author of flow,
discusses what is necessary for a new creative idea to become accepted in
academia. Important among these are access to a knowledge domain,
willingness to perform by the rules and the ability to convince the ‘gatekeepers’
of the field of the virtue the idea. Sean Esbjörn Hargens’ efforts, discussed
below, have already made several important steps forward in this direction.
What is needed, says Hargens (2008), is to find a way to “honour our great
debt” to Wilber and at the same time “transcend and include him”, “situate him
in such a way that actually facilitates his own vision”.
Loosening the Equation Integral = Ken Wilber (1)
This can be done primarily through a loosening of the exclusive association on
integral with Ken Wilber, and one way to do so is to place Wilber within a larger
context. This has been done by one of the ITC presenters and constructive
critics, Steve McIntosh, in his recent book Integral Consciousness and the
Future of Evolution (2007). He discusses the ‘founders of integral philosophy’,
outlining an intellectual and developmental history of the integral worldview,
seeing Wilber’s model as the latest expression of this new worldview. I think this
is a very useful way of viewing integral consciousness as it shows how integral
consciousness has emerged gradually, through many different avenues.
Michael Murphy (1998) also outlines a very similar integral history, also placing
Wilber as its latest proponent. He calls this new ‘integral’ worldview
‘evolutionary panentheism’. Panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism,
which sees God as immanent or synonymous with Nature /the Universe) sees
the divine as both immanent and transcendent to the universe. This new
worldview essentially means says Murphy, quoting Lovejoy (1936), the
“‘temporalisation of the Great Chain of Being’ by which the manifest world with
all its hierarchies was conceived ‘not as the inventory but the program of
nature’” (Murphy 1998, p. 56 – embedded quotes are of Arthur Lovejoy).
Wilber’s integral vision follows this worldview, but placed within a
Both Murphy and McIntosh point to the same philosophical pioneers of integral,
each offering their unique contributions: Hegel (who observed that
consciousness develops through stages and explicated the dialectic process
whereby conflicts are negated and preserved - Wilber’s transcend and include);
Bergson (who described evolution as a creative process and gave the first
spiritual interpretation of the findings of evolutionary science); Alfred North
Whitehead (who claimed that all outsides have an inside and that both evolve
together, as well as seeing evolution as being guided by ‘gentle persuasion
through love’); Teilhard de Chardin (who saw complexity and consciousness
as emerging simultaneously as exterior and interior expressions of evolution as
well as developing the notion of spheres or evolutionary thresholds –
physiosphere, biosphere and noosphere); Sri Aurobindo (who was the first
great realised contemplative to synthesise the findings of modern evolutionary
science with the timeless revelation of enlightenment as well as giving a
phenomenology of higher structures of consciousness); and Jean Gebser (who
outlined a series of hierarchically organised worldviews from the stone age to
the emerging integral worldview).
[Note: McIntosh also includes the developmental psychologist Clare Graves
(due not so much to the data he collected, which was limited, but to his
interpretation of the data, especially his grasp of the systemic, dialectical nature
of development) and also Jürgen Habermas and James Mark Baldwin.
Wilber also explicitly discusses some integral pioneers in Psicología Integral
(1999), highlighting these last two. Wilber considers Baldwin the foremost
modern integral pioneer, the great founder of developmental psychology who
saw consciousness as evolving through universal, cross-cultural stages and
outlined developmental stages in all quadrants and almost all-levels! Habermas,
while outlining only three stages, has done so in all quadrants – his objective,
subjective and intersubjective ‘worlds’].
This broad history of integral pioneers in philosophy – who in essence address
the unity of evolution and spirituality and evolution’s directionality – also
connects to a larger, contemporary network of individuals and communities that
embrace some form of evolutionary spirituality. These include people like, to
name just a few, Andrew Cohen and WIE magazine (now called Enlighten Next)
and Michael Dowd (2007). Closely related as well are agnostic evolutionaries
and those who give a less explicitly spiritual interpretation to evolution, like for
example Robert Wright (Non-Zero, 2000) and John Stewart (Evolution’s Arrow,
2000, Evolutionary Manifesto, 2008). They all emphasise that the universe has
a direction and purpose and stress the importance of humanity’s role as co-
creators in the process of evolution. Although they are not within academia,
they represent a growing community that will help to spread elements of a more
positive and integral worldview.
So Wilber’s model can be seen as the latest expression of integral
consciousness. Nevertheless, his expression is clearly the most complete, most
comprehensive and most coherent to date, one which not only brings together
all of these previous, pioneering insights but also an enormous amount of other
premodern, modern and postmodern knowledge and findings. He has managed
to do this through his own unique map that acts as a fully blown world
philosophy. Furthermore, he has recently extended that map to embrace all
existing methodologies, an IMP which would seem a promising wedge into
Loosening the Equation Integral = Ken Wilber (2)
Alongside this broader configuration of pre- or non-AQAL visions, a second,
more specific way to loosen this equation, is to ‘democratise’ AQAL integral
theory and create a ‘lineage’ of scholar practitioners. This is what Sean
Hardens (2008a, 2008b), especially, is concentrating on. If the integral
movement is going to become a social movement, it is not possible for just one
person to create it – a combination of a broader movement within general
culture, together with a specific body of knowledge and group of scholar-
practitioners within academia is necessary. The concrete moves that have been
made in the last three or four years, in the United States, to legitimise integral
within academia, to create, in other words, a solid lower right quadrant within
the academic world, will now be discussed.
The building of a lower right quadrant in academia
Sean Hardens (2008b) sees four main pillars that are needed for the
construction of a solid foundation for AQAL to gain acceptance and
respectability within academia – and a great deal of progress has been made
already on all four.
The first is the publication of an academic, peer-reviewed journal. The
Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, originally called AQAL journal, was first
published in 2006. The main editor is Osborn Hardens and it is linked to the
Integral Institute. This is complemented by another academic, peer-reviewed
journal, Integral Review, which is online and biannual and began in 2005.
Second, the creation of accredited academic programmes. At present there
are three centres offering such programmes. At the John F. Kennedy University
there is now both an accredited one-year post-graduate certificate (2006) in
Integral Theory and a Masters (2007). The former doubles as the first year of
the latter. There is also a certificate in Integral Studies and a Masters in
Organization Management and Development with a concentration in Integral
studies offered at the Fielding Graduate University. Finally, this year there will
be an integral track within the Phd in Transformative Studies at the California
Institute of Integral Studies, requiring students to use integral theory to guide
their thesis research.
Third is the holding of regular academic conferences. As already mentioned,
the first Integral Theory academic conference was held this August and
concentrated on Integral Theory rather than Ken Wilber and had some 500
attendees and 120 presenters. This conference will now be held biannually.
Finally, the promotion of an integral approach to research. Just a few months
ago the integral research center was launched by the ubiquitous Sean
Hargens in conjunction with the Integral Institute. Its aim is to support scholar-
practitioners throughout the world in using Integral Methodological Pluralism
and a new multi-method approach to research. As mentioned, this approach
expands the mixed-methods approach, an increasingly popular method that
combines quantitative and qualitative research.
As we can see, the last two years has seen a huge move forward in legitimising
integral theory in academia and can be seen as a new phase in the
development of the integral movement. The essential lower right foundations
are now in place and it is hoped that these foundations will facilitate the growth
of concrete contributions to integral theory that adhere to formal academic
Integral multi-method research
The integral take on mixed methods research is particularly interesting.
Although there has been an increasing number of theses and dissertations
based on Wilber’s work – 55 between 1987 and 2008 – most have used Integral
theory as an interpretative framework, e.g. via the quadrants, to understand
data and positions (Esbjörn Hargens, 2008b). With an integral research
methodology based on integral methodological pluralism scholars now have a
As an example of integral research (Hargens, 2006), the researcher would first
go through a 1st person self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses as a
researcher, including a basic assessment of their integral psychograph via
several key lines, their capacity for different states of consciousness and their
personality type. For the 2nd person, researchers study how to conduct
interviews and code transcripts and then perform an interview, which they code.
They also use ethnomethodology techniques to ‘participate’ with their topic.
Finally, for the 3rd person part, researchers create an empirical survey through a
questionnaire that they distribute and then analyze quantitatively. They also
look up systems analyses related to their topic. Thus 6 of the 8 methodologies
of IMP are used.
This is an exciting new development and one that is likely to make inroads in
academia and attract researchers who wish to use a more integral perspective,
And since it is an expanded version of an already accepted and ever more
popular research method, the chances of success are greater.
Other obstacles and developments
Perhaps the greatest block for integral to gain respectability and acceptance in
academia is the question of stages. This is anathema to postmodern
consciousness, especially, but also to modernism – i.e. the two worldviews that
dominate academia. Outside developmental psychology the notion is very
controversial, and even within developmental psychology there is still a very
large camp that rejects the empirical evidence of stages. Constructivist
developmental psychology (with the hierarchical stage conceptions of Piaget
and Kohlberg at the forefront) had a lot of influence until about 1980, but this
influence then declined as it failed to account for the increasing evidence of
variability within domains and individuals.
But the tide may be changing again as extreme postmodernism loses strength
and new theories, specifically Kurt Fischer’s dynamic skill theory and
organismic-contextualist model (2006), are beginning to gain influence.
Similarly, new metric’s have emerged, like Commons’ Hierarchical Complexity
Scoring System and Theo Dawson’s Lectical Assessment System (2005), which
act as general rulers that measures aspects of development across domains
(developmental lines). Stein and Heikkinen (2008) have recently claimed that
Dawson’s LAS, which measures conceptual reasoning across domains and
which is used in the Integral Theory Master’s course and by Integral Institute,
taps into aspects of the Wilber’s altitude marker (or basic structures). This is a
potentially very interesting development since it is a general, content free metric
that measures the performance on a task, not the individual.
Furthermore, in political science, for example, Ronald Inglehart (e.g. 2005) has
accumulated a huge body of evidence that clearly demonstrates three stages of
values and worldviews and their correlates with socio-economic and political
development (i.e. lower left and right quadrants). For some reason Wilber fails
to mention Inglehart’s impressive work.
With respect to the status of states of consciousness in academia, a lot of work
still needs to be done, but the interest in and research on meditation, especially
its neurophysical and psychological effects, is huge compared to just 5 or ten
years ago, and serious studies like those by Richard Davidson and Alan
Wallace – both connected with the Mind and Life Institute where the Dalai Lama
and Buddhists work together with top scientists (see e.g. Begley, 2007) – are
very promising and have increased respectability of such work.
Similarly, there is now enormous interest in studying consciousness, which has
brought challenges to the current paradigm of mind/consciousness being a
mere by-product or epiphenomenon of the brain.
So there are encouraging signs that academia is now more open to important
elements of integral consciousness like spirituality, states of consciousness and
stages of consciousness. Furthermore, a significant shift in the last two or three
years to create the foundations of a lower-right quadrant for integral theory
within academia represents a new, important phase in the integral movement,
marking a move towards a democratisation of integral theory. Combined with a
broadening of integral consciousness to include past pioneers and present
proponents of a general non-AQAL evolutionary spirituality, the incorporation of
Torbert’s all-quadrant, all-level yet non-AQAL vision, and the placing of integral
research within the tradition of American pragmatism, the exclusive association
of integral with Ken Wilber is loosened. In this way we can both honour his huge
contribution while at the same time expanding and facilitating his vision. Let’s
hope that this expansion gains greater strength also in Europe and facilitates a
gradual acceptance of integral consciousness within both academia and the
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En el marco de las VI JORNADAS INTEGRALES para la
difusión de la Visión Integral de Ken Wilber y otros.
Barcelona, octubre de 2008.