Frances Vaughan

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What is spiritual intelligence?


This inquiry into spiritual intelligence suggests that it is one of several types of intelligence and that it can be developed relatively independently. Spiritual intelligence calls for multiple ways of knowing and for the integration of the inner life of mind and spirit with the outer life of work in the world. It can be cultivated through questing, inquiry, and practice. Spiritual experiences may also contribute to its development, depending on the context and means of integration. Spiritual maturity is expressed through wisdom and compassionate action in the world. Spiritual intelligence is necessary for discernment in making spiritual choices that contribute to psychological well-being and overall healthy spiritual development.


Spirituality exists in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere, within religious traditions and independently of tradition. If, following theologian Paul Tillich, we define spirituality as the domain of ultimate concern, then everyone is spiritual because everyone has ultimate concerns. However, the term ultimate concern can be interpreted in many different ways. Some people do not consider themselves or their concerns to be spiritual. Spirituality, like emotion, has varying degrees of depth and expression. It may be conscious or unconscious, developed or undeveloped, healthy or pathological, naive or sophisticated, beneficial or dangerously distorted.

Some current definitions of spirituality can be summarized as follows: (a) Spirituality involves the highest levels of any of the developmental lines,for example, cognitive, moral, emotional and interpersonal; (b)Spirituality is itself a separate developmental line. (c) Spirituality is an attitude (such as openness to love) at any stage; and (d) Spirituality involves peak experiences, not stages. An integral perspective would presumably include all these different views, and others as well.

Spirituality may also be described in terms of ultimate belonging or connection to the transcendental ground of being. Some people define spirituality in terms of relationship to God, to fellow humans, or to the earth. Others define it in terms of devotion and commitment to a particular faith or form of practice. To understand how spirituality can contribute to the good life, defined in humanistic terms as living authentically the full possibilites of being human, it seems necessary to differentiate healthy spirituality from beliefs and practices that may be detrimental to well-being. This leads to the challenge of defining and cultivating spiritual intelligence.

Because there is little agreement about definitions of spirituality, discussions of spiritual intelligence need to be exploratory rather than definitive. By asking the question of what is meant by spiritual intelligence I hope to stimulate further discussion of a topic which I think merits further investigation.

Selected Books and Articles

Fetzer Institute Newsletter, Spring 2007
Forgiveness as a means to awakening love.
Discusses the unique qualities of spiritual intelligence and spiritual maturity.
BOOKS: Psychology/Spirituality
Explores many dimensions of the spiritual path.
Practical wisdom for healthy human development from a transpersonal perspective.
Psychology/Personal growth
Guidelines for training and developing trustworthy intuition.
A comprehensive, edited volume of the best authors in transpersonal psychology.
Journal articles
In our society today, spiritual choices confront the seeker more than ever before. Traditional and non-traditional teachers abound, and having some criteria for evaluation can be helpful.
A goldmine of psychological and spiritual insights.
Nuggets of truth that will change your life.