Spiritual traditions need conceptual updating in order to thrive in today’s world


The American philosopher Ken Wilber has suggested that the great religious traditions provide ways of transcending the modern world-knot of being included in a mechanistic universe, instead of living in a meaningful cosmos. For this function to succeed, the traditions need to update many of their central concepts for the twenty-first century. The PhD study conducted by JP Jakonen, MA, argues that Wilber’s Integral Theory helps spiritual traditions to thrive in the intellectual climate of today’s world by going beyond polarity thinking.  

Ken Wilber (b. 1949) is an American philosopher who, for nearly 50 years, has developed a unifying “theory of everything”. Wilber's Integral Theory attempts to take into account the most amount of reality with the least amount of concepts, uniting the objective reality of physics, biology and systems, with the subjective realities of mind, consciousness and culture. 

– Ken Wilber is not unlike the Steve Jobs of spirituality. Where Jobs issued technology for the non-techonological person, Wilber has done the same for the great religious and spiritual traditions, helping rational adherents differentiate between the pre-rational and trans-rational elements in religions, JP Jakonen suggests. 

Despite being one of the most translated American non-fiction authors, the self-taught Wilber has largely been neglected by the academia. The study conducted by Jakonen is the first ever done in the Study of Religion (Comparative Religion). 

– Integral Theory is timely in how it aims to unite opposite world-views, as polarization is at an all-time high. According to Integral Theory, no human mind is capable of 100 per cent error. Rather than being at the opposite ends of a spectrum, many spiritual, intellectual and political approaches can be seen as world-views that emerge naturally on an evolutionary spiral. Integral Theory can provide a framework for understanding how these perspectives relate to each other, Jakonen continues. 

– In order to thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) world, we need maps. Integral Theory is but one of such maps, a continuation of systems thinking and perennial philosophy. This theory, useful as it is, is best measured in the pragmatic ways it helps us to move beyond polarity thinking. In my thesis, I have used the examples of business and leadership coaching to study this relationship, Jakonen concludes. 


Jakonen defended his PhD thesis at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Turku on 11 December 2020. His opponent was Professor Esa Saarinen from Aalto University.

> Jakonen's thesis Ken Wilber as a Spiritual Innovator: Studies in Integral Theory (University of Turku 2020) can be read online.

For more information contact jpjako@gmail.com

Created 08.12.2020 | Updated 14.12.2020