Jorge N. Ferrer (born October 30, 1968) is a US-based Spanish psychologist and participatory thinker, best known for his work bridging participatory theory with transpersonal psychology, religious studies, integral education, and sexuality and intimate relationships. Ferrer is a former professor of psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), San Francisco, where he served as chair of the department of East-West Psychology.
Born in Barcelona, Spain, Ferrer obtained a degree of clinical psychology in 1991 from University of Barcelona, studying his last year as an Erasmus scholar at Cardiff University (Wales, United Kingdom), where he was awarded the George Westby Prize for best essays written by an undergraduate student. Upon his return to Barcelona, the University and Research Commission of the Catalonian Council granted Ferrer a Research Training Fellowship (FPI) to carry out doctoral research on the “Electrophysiological and Hemispheric After-Effects of Mindfulness Meditation.” During this time, he taught his first classes (on psychobiology) at the School of Psychology of University of Barcelona. After completing the empirical part of his doctoral research in 1993, Ferrer traveled to the US to pursue another Ph.D. degree at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) under the auspices of the prestigious ‘la Caixa” Foundation Fellowship Program. In 1998, he began teaching at both CIIS and Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and in 2000 he became core faculty at CIIS.
Ferrer is considered[by whom?] one of the main architects[when defined as?] of second-wave transpersonalism[further explanation needed] and his participatory approach to spirituality, religious pluralism, and integral education is widely[peacock prose] discussed in academic journals and conferences.
His participatory pedagogy is the focus of Yoshiharu Nakagawa and Yoshiko Matsuda’s Transformative Inquiry: An Integral Approach, an anthology of writings based on Ferrer’s teaching at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.
In 2000, Ferrer received the Fetzer Institute’s Presidential Award for his seminal work on consciousness studies.
From 2000 to 2010, he was a leading scholar at the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, Esalen Institute, California.
In 2009, he was selected to become an advisor to the organization Religions for Peace at the United Nations on a research project aimed at solving global inter-religious conflict.
In 2010, the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, featured a panel on his co-edited anthology, The Participatory Turn.
In 2015, Ferrer was interviewed by Pulitzer prize winner journalist Robert Wright in The Wright Show. He also featured in the 2016 documentary, “Postcolonial Knowledge.” In 2018, he was interviewed by Jeffrey Mishlove for New Thinking Allowed.
Major Works and Ideas
Ferrer’s writings are informed by a creative synthesis of Richard Tarnas’s participatory epistemology; Francisco Varela, Eleanor Rosch, and Evan Thompson’s enactive paradigm of cognition; Ramon Albareda and Marina Romero’s holistic approach; and Raimon Panikkar’s pluralistic account of religion. His philosophical approach is informed by the European traditions of romanticism and pragmatism (in particular, by the works of Johann Gottfried Herder and William James), Wilfrid Sellars’s critique of a pregiven world entirely independent from human cognition, Nagarjuna’s Buddhist thinking, and a plethora of contemplative and Indigenous traditions. Ferrer's work was also influenced by his friendships with other participatory thinkers such as Jürgen Kremer and John Heron. Ferrer signs his writings with his maternal surname (his paternal one is “Noguera”) to break with the patriarchal tradition. He sees central for our times “the emergence of a more feminine and organic spirituality, as well as the recovery of the authentically feminine.” His first book, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, was published in 2001 shortly after a preview by Tarnas arguing that the book represented a “new birth in freedom” for transpersonal psychology.
Finding himself frustrated by the limiting assumptions and religious sectarianism he perceived in transpersonal psychology, Ferrer introduced a participatory alternative to the neo‑perennialism dominating the field thus far. Ferrer’s participatory approach holds that human spirituality emerges from people’s co-creative participation in an undetermined mystery or generative power of life, the cosmos, or reality. He argued that spiritual participatory events can engage the entire range of human epistemic faculties (e.g., rational, imaginal, somatic, vital, aesthetic) with the creative unfolding of the mystery in the enactment—or “bringing forth”—of a plurality of ontologically rich religious worlds. Through this proposal, Ferrer seeks to avoid both the secular post/modernist reduction of religion to cultural artifact and the religionist privileging of a single tradition as superior or paradigmatic.
In 2008, Ferrer co-edited with Jacob H. Sherman The Participatory Turn, an anthology where they brought participatory thinking to bear on critical issues of contemporary religious studies. With the expression “participatory turn,” Ferrer and Sherman claimed to articulate an emerging academic ethos capable of coherently weaving together some of the most challenging and robust trends in contemporary religious studies. Such trends included: the postcolonial revaluation of emic epistemologies, the postmodern emphasis on embodied and gendered subjectivity, the feminist recovery of the sensuous and the erotic in religious inquiry and experience, the pragmatist emphasis on transformation and antirepresentationalism, the renewed interest in the study of lived spirituality, the resacralization of language, the question of metaphysical truth in religion, and the irreducibility of religious pluralism. Ferrer and Sherman were joined in these efforts by influential scholars of religious studies such as William B. Barnard, William C. Chittick, Lee Irwin, Beverly Lanzetta, or Donald Rothberg.
In 2017, Ferrer published Participation and the Mystery, applying his participatory approach to a variety of disciplines and critical issues, from integral practice to the question of supernatural claims, from entheogenic visions to the graduate teaching of mysticism, and from religious pluralism to integral education. Some examples: He claimed that the phenomenon of shared “open-eye” entheogenic visions not only raises a serious challenge to scientific naturalism (and materialism) but also suggests the existence of subtle dimensions of reality coexisting with the physical domain. To foster an embodied spirituality without dissociations (e.g., one leading to spiritual teachers’ sexual abuses), he proposed an integral Bodhisattva vow in which the conscious mind renounces its own full liberation until the body and the primary world can be free as well. As for religious pluralism, he argued that the various approaches to religious diversity—exclusivism, inclusivism, and ecumenical pluralism—can be situated along a continuum ranging from more gross to more subtle forms of spiritual narcissism, which ultimately elevates one’s favored tradition or spiritual choice as superior. He also introduced embodied spiritual inquiry—a participatory pedagogy and methodology Ferrer developed at CIIS integrating Albareda and Romero’s holistic meditation and central aspects of Heron’s cooperative inquiry paradigm.
Ferrer’s most recent work appears to be focused on the area of sexuality and intimate relationships, where he applied the same pluralistic-pragmatic approach taken toward spiritual paths. While critiquing the “mononormative” character of mainstream Western culture (where sexual monogamy is socially enforced and considered natural or optimal), he denounced the ideological nature of what he called the “mono-poly wars,” in which monogamists and polyamorists condescendingly look down at one another as somehow flawed, misguided, or “inferior.” Alternatively, he argued that people have diverse relational dispositions, that social conditions and developmental needs can call individuals to engage in different relationship styles at various junctures of their lives, that there are more and less mature forms of both monogamy and polyamory, that people can follow a specific relationship style for the “right” or “wrong” reasons, and that all relationship styles can become equally limiting ideologies.
Furthermore, in the same way that the transgender movement deconstructed the gender binary, Ferrer proposed that a parallel step should be taken with the relational style binary. Ferrer coined the term nougamy as a way to refer to a diverse array of relational options beyond the mono/poly binary. He also outlined a critical pluralist stance that eschews universal hierarchies among monogamy, nonmonogamy, and nougamy, as well as provides tools for critical discernment to assess relational styles.
Reception and criticism
The publication of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory in 2001 proved to be catalytic for the development of the so-called second-wave transpersonalism, which stresses the embodied, embedded, diverse, and transformative aspects of human spirituality. In the foreword, Tarnas framed Ferrer’s participatory approach as the second conceptual stage of the paradigm shift initiated by Abraham Maslow’s and Stanislav Grof’s launching of the discipline of transpersonal psychology. Both Gregg Lahood and Edward Dale considered participatory pluralism as shaping the prevalent growing force in transpersonal scholarship in the twenty‑first century, after Ken Wilber’s hierarchical neo‑perennialism and the East‑West synthesis of the 1960s and 1970s that spawned the birth of transpersonal psychology.
Ferrer’s ideas have often been discussed and debated (sometimes heatedly) within the pages of various peer-reviewed academic journals, including Journal of Consciousness Studies, International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, and Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. The harshest criticisms came from Wilber and his students, which is perhaps understandable as the publication of Revisioning arguably influenced Wilber’s departure from the field. In October of 2001, a month before the publication of Revisioning, Wilber suggested that Ferrer—together with figures such as Richard Rorty, Jean Baudrillard, Edward Said, and the late Wittgenstein—was responsible for the cultural confusion leading to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Daryl Paulson claimed that anything of value in the book had been already said by Wilber, and the rest was, citing a personal communication from Wilber, “a condensation of three decades of postmodern wrong turns … Ferrer’s book basically marks the end of the transpersonal movement.” One year later, however, Paulson retracted these views, stating: “When I first read this book I hated it, but I have read and studied it for 2 years and find it one of the best books ever written on transpersonal psychology.”
In addition, Wilber wrote an essay charging Revisioning with falling into a performative contradiction (i.e., critiquing hierarchical rankings while upholding the superiority of its own approach) and promoting what he called a flatland where no qualitative distinctions can be made. Ferrer responded stating that these critiques do not apply to his work. He argued that although his proposal does not privilege any tradition or type of spirituality on doctrinal, objectivist, or ontological grounds (i.e., saying that theism, monism, or nondualism corresponds to the nature of ultimate reality or is intrinsically superior), it does offer criteria for making qualitative distinctions on pragmatist and transformational grounds.
In the context of religious studies, Ferrer’s “participatory turn” has so far had a moderately significant impact, receiving many positive reviews in both peer-reviewed academic journals and culturally impacting magazines. A review by Ellen Goldberg in Sophia described the book thus: “offers a sophisticated and complex look at an emerging orientation that will continue to be part of the internal dialogue within religious studies. As such, Ferrer and Sherman provide a timely contribution that is thoughtful and worthy of debate within the academy for many years to come.”
A review by Ann Gleig in Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review claimed:
Editors Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman … impressively articulate an emerging academic ethos in the field of religious studies that challenges the prevalent methodological dominance of the cultural-linguistic paradigm and its reduction of religious phenomena to language and culture … If you … fancy yourself as something of a gnostic scholar this book is a must read. It will also be of significant interest to anyone wanting to keep abreast of the latest theoretical twists and methodological trends in the academic study of religion.
In the UK, a review by Chris Clarke in Network Review: Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network said: “The Participatory Turn … present[s] a powerfully convincing picture of what may be the most significant philosophical turn since Kant.” In addition, the Buddhist scholar Douglas Duckworth published a paper in Sophia presenting participatory pluralism as a less sectarian alternative to Tibetan Buddhist inclusivism. He wrote:
His [Ferrer’s] most significant contribution may be in illustrating what a “nonsectarian” stance might look like in a contemporary, religiously diverse world. While doing so, he shows us what is lost, and what is gained, if we adopt such a truly “nonsectarian” or pluralist stance: what we stand to lose is our particular version of a determinate ultimate truth and a fixed referent of what the end religious goal looks like; what we stand to gain is the real possibility of a transformative dialogue with different traditions, and a new, open relation to the world, ourselves, and each other.
The cultural philosopher Jay Ogilvy suggested that Ferrer’s “new polytheism” represented not only a “spirituality that does justice to the multi‑cultural condition of a globalized world,” but also the best response to the criticisms of religion crafted by the so‑called new atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or Sam Harris. More practically, it has been argued not only that Ferrer’s participatory theory can explain the phenomenon of multiple religious identity, but also that “framing spiritual identity as a participatory event…can generate possibilities for a Buddhist‑Christian dialogue less constrained by…doctrinal, ontological, and anthropological tensions.”
Books by Ferrer
- Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. State University of New York Press, 2002.
- The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies. Edited by Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman. State University of New York Press, 2008.
- Participation and the Mystery: Transpersonal Essays in Psychology, Education, and Religion. State University of New York Press, 2017.
Selected articles by Ferrer
- “Transpersonal Knowledge: A Participatory Approach to Transpersonal Phenomena” in T. Hart, P. Nelson, and K. Puhakka (Eds.), Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Farther Reaches of Consciousness, 2000.
- “The Perennial Philosophy Revisited.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 32(1), 7–30, 2000.
- “Integral Transformative Education: A Participatory Proposal” (co-authored with M. T. Romero and R. V. Albareda). The Journal of Transformative Education 3(4), 306–330, 2005.
- “Embodied Spirituality, Now and Then.” Tikkun: Culture, Spirituality, Politics (May/June), 41–45, 5, 2006.
- “Spirituality and Intimate Relationships: Monogamy, Polyamory, and Beyond.” Tikkun: Culture, Spirituality, Politics (Jan/Feb), pp. 37–43, 60–62, 2007.
- “The Plurality of Religions and the Spirit of Pluralism: A Participatory Vision of the Future of Religion.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 28, 139–51, 2010.
- “Participatory Spirituality and Transpersonal Theory: A Ten-Year Retrospective.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 43(1), 1–34, 2011.
- “Teaching the Graduate Seminar in Comparative Mysticism: A Participatory Integral Approach” in W. Parsons (Ed.), Teaching Mysticism. (American Academy of Religion Series), 2011.
- “Transpersonal Psychology, Science, and the Supernatural.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 46(2), 152–186, 2014.
- “Transpersonal Psychology and the SBNR Movement: Beyond Spiritual Narcissism in a Postsecular Age” (co-authored with W. Vickery) in W. Parsons (Ed.), Being Spiritual but Not Religious: Past, Present, Future, 2018.
- “Beyond the Non/Monogamy System: Fluidity, Hybridity, and Transcendence in Intimate Relationships.” Psychology and Sexuality, 9(1), 3–20, 2018.
- “Mononormativity, Polypride, and the ‘Mono-Poly Wars.’” Sexuality and Culture, 22, 817–836, 2018.
About Ferrer's work
- Richard Tarnas, “A New Birth in Freedom: A (P)review of Jorge Ferrer’s Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology,” 33(1), 64–71, 2001.
- Jeffrey J. Kripal, “In the Spirit of Hermes: Reflections on the Work of Jorge N. Ferrer.” Tikkun: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture & Society 18(2), 67–70, 2003.
- Ann Gleig and Nicholas G. Boeving, “Spiritual Democracy: Beyond Consciousness and Culture. A Review Essay of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies, edited by Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman.” Tikkun: Politics, Spirituality, Culture (May/June), 64–68, 2009.
- Jay Ogilvy, “The New Polytheism: Updating the Dialogue Between East and West.” East/West Affairs, 1(2), 29–48, 2013.
- Douglas Duckworth, “How Nonsectarian is ‘Nonsectarian’? Jorge Ferrer’s Religious Pluralism as Alternative to Tibetan Buddhist Inclusivism.” Sophia, 53(3), 339–348, 2014.
- Robin S. Brown, “Bridging Worlds: Participatory Thinking in Jungian Context.” Journal of Analytical Psychology, 62(2), 284–302, 2017.
- Elizabeth Teklinski, “Book review: Participation and the Mystery: Transpersonal Essays in Psychology, Education, and Religion, by Jorge N. Ferrer.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 49(1), 68–75, 2017.
- Yoshiharu Nakagawa and Yoshiko Matsuda (Eds.), Transformative Inquiry: An Integral Approach. Kyoto, Japan: Institute of Human Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, 2010.
- "What is the Center for Theory & Research? | Esalen". www.esalen.org.
- Jorge N. Ferrer, “Integral Transformative Practice: A Participatory Perspective.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 35(1), 21-42, 2003.
- Jordi Piguem, “Perfil: Jorge Ferrer. Explorador de Mentes.” Culturas La Vanguardia 120, p. 12, 2004.
- Richard Tarnas, “A New Birth in Freedom: A (P)review of Jorge Ferrer’s Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 33(1), 64-71, 2001.
- Ferrer, “Mononormativity, Polypride, and the “Mono-Poly Wars.” Sexuality and Culture, 22, 817-836, 2018.
- Ferrer, “Beyond the Non/Monogamy system: Fluidity, Hybridity, and Transcendence in Intimate Relationships.” Psychology and Sexuality, 9(1), 3-20, 2018.
- Glenn Hartelius et al. “Second Wave Transpersonal Psychology: Embodied, Embedded, Diverse, Transformative.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, forthcoming.
- Tarnas, “Foreword,” Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, 2001.
- Gregg Lahood, “The Participatory Turn and the Transpersonal Movement: A Brief Introduction.” ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation, 29(3), 2–6, 2007; Edward J. Dale, Completing Piaget’s Project: Transpersonal Philosophy and the Future of Psychology. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2014.
- Ken Wilber, “The Demise of Transpersonal Psychology.” From:” On Critics, Integral Institute, my Recent Writing, and Other Matters of Little Consequence: A Shambhala Interview with Ken Wilber,” 2002. Iker Puente, “Participation and Spirit: An Interview with Jorge N. Ferrer.” Journal of Transpersonal Research, 5(2), 97-111, 2013.
- Piguem, “Perfil: Jorge Ferrer. Explorador de Mentes.”
- "Ken Wilber misunderstood, The misunderstanding and misinterpretation of key aspects of Ken Wilber's work in Hartelius and Ferrer's (2013) assessment, John Abramson". www.integralworld.net.
- Paulson, “Amazon.com Review of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality, by Jorge N. Ferrer,” 2003.
- Wilber, “Participatory Samsara: The Green-Meme Approach to the Mystery of the Divine,” 2002.
- Ferrer, “Participatory Spirituality and Transpersonal Theory: A Ten-Year Retrospective,” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 43(1), 2011.
- Such as: Sophia, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, Journal for the Study of Spirituality, Tikkun, Network Review: Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Resurgence, and Journal of Integral Theory and Practice.
- A review by Ellen Goldberg in Sophia described the book thus: “offers a sophisticated and complex look at an emerging orientation that will continue to be part of the internal dialogue within religious studies. As such, Ferrer and Sherman provide a timely contribution that is thoughtful and worthy of debate within the academy for many years to come.”
- Gleig, Ann, “Review of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies, edited by J. N. Ferrer and J. H. Sherman.” Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, 2(1), 125, 2011.
- Chris Clarke, “The Reinvention of Religion. Essay Review of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies, edited by Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman.” Network Review: Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, 100, 55, 2009.
- Douglas Duckworth, “How Nonsectarian is “Nonsectarian”?: Jorge Ferrer’s Religious Pluralist Alternative to Tibetan Buddhist Inclusivism.” Sophia, 53(3), 343, 2014.
- Jay Ogilvy, “The New Polytheism: Updating the Dialogue between East and West.” East/West Affairs, 1(2), 43, 2013.
- Duane R. Bidwell, “Enacting the Spiritual Self: Buddhist‑Christian Identity as Participatory Action.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, 15(1), 109, 2015.
- Richard Tarnas’s “A New Birth in Freedom: A (P)review of Jorge Ferrer’s Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality”. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 33(1), 2001
- Jeffrey Kripal’s “In the Spirit of Hermes: Reflections on the Work of Jorge N. Ferrer,” Tikkun, 18(2), 2003.
- Ann Gleig and Nicholas Boeving, “Spiritual Democracy: Beyond Consciousness and Culture.” Review of Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman’s The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies. Tikkun, 24(3), 2009.
- spirituality.pdf Ferrer article, “Participatory Spirituality and Transpersonal Theory: A Ten-Year Retrospective,” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 43(1), 2011.
- Ferrer lecture, “Transpersonal Psychology and The Future of Religion: A Participatory Vision for the Twenty-First Century,” Center for Spirituality and Health, University of Florida, April 10, 2006.
- Ferrer interview, “Monogamy, Polyamory, and Beyond,” conducted by Max Van Praag. Private Matters. Marin TV, San Raphael, California. December 17, 2012.
- Ferrer interview, “Participation and Spirit,” conducted by Iker Puente. Journal of Transpersonal Research, 5(2), 2013.
- Ferrer interview, “Postcolonial Knowledge” [documentary]. May, 2016.
- Ferrer interview, “Ciencia vs. Religion: Una Vision Postcolonial,” conducted by Ulises Rodriguez), May, 2016.
- Ferrer lecture, “A Participatory Vision of the Mystical Unity of Religions.” Prague, Czech Republic, September 29, 2017.
- Ferrer interviews: The Evolution of Transpersonal Psychology, Comparative Mysticism, Science and the Supernatural, Embodied Spirituality, Monogamy, Polyamory, and Intimate Relationships, The Existence of Spiritual Entities, conducted by Jeffrey Mishlove. New Thinking Allowed, September, 2018.