Spiritual Intelligence

Is Spiritual Intelligence a Useful Concept?

Recently some researchers have argued in favor of another domain of intelligence Opens in new window, similar to rational intelligence and emotional intelligence Opens in new windowspiritual intelligence or thinking with a soul.

Zohar and Marshall (2000, p.4) state that among other intelligence (rational and emotional intelligences)

spiritual intelligence is the highest, as it unifies, integrates and complements both IQ and EQ, serving as a “foundation for effective functioning of both IQ [mental] and EQ [emotional]”.

However, despite claiming theirs to be the first well-developed theory of spiritual intelligence, there are many problems with it, starting from the very beginning — definition of it. For example, recognizing the meaning of Q in IQ as the intelligent quotient indicating the degree of intelligence, Zohar proceeds with her description of spiritual intelligence — SQ for short:

By SQ [Zohar means] the intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value, the intelligence with which we can place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context, the intelligence with which we can assess that one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another. SQ is the effective foundation of both IQ [intelligence quotient] and EQ [emotional quotient]. It is our ultimate intelligence (Zohar and Marshall 2000, pp.4–5).

This unfortunate choice for abbreviation (SQ instead of SI) makes the rest of the argument at best confusing and at worst meaningless. For instance, reading Q as a measurement, number or degree makes what the author is saying confusing:

SQ [spiritual (low or high?) quotient] gives us our ability to discriminate. It gives us our moral sense, an ability to temper rigid rules with understanding and compassion and an equal ability to see when compassion and understanding have their limits… (Zohar and Marshall 2000, p.5).

But would it be true if the SQ (spiritual quotient) is very low? Isn’t it more logical to talk about spirituality (present or absent/well developed/underdeveloped) without introducing a meaningless notion?

The proponents of SI argue that viewing spirituality as intelligence Opens in new window locates it within an existing acceptable psychological framework, which “has proven to be extremely useful in understanding the common ground between personality and behavior. It allows spirituality to become anchored to rational approaches that emphasize goal attainment and problem-solving” (Emmons 1999, p.174).

Apart from Zohar, among the prominent proponents of the concept are Emmons (1999, 2000), Sinear (2000) and Wolman (2001).

Robert Emmons (1999, 2000) (drawing on Gardner’s multiple intelligences) defines SI as the degree to which a person has mental and emotional properties that enable the person to see a guiding purpose, mid- and short-term tasks that are connected to the higher purpose and maintain behaviors to fulfill them.

Emmons (2000, p.10) suggests that there are at least five core abilities enabling people to solve problems and attain goals in their everyday life that define spiritual intelligence (SI):

  1. the capacity to transcend the physical and material
  2. the ability to enter into heightened states of consciousness
  3. the ability to invest in everyday activities and relationships with a sense of the sacred (i.e. the ability to sanctify everyday experience)
  4. the ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems in living
  5. the capacity to engage in virtuous behaviors or be virtuous (to show forgiveness, to be humble, to express gratitude, to show compassion).

Sinetar (2000) offers her definition of SI as inspired thought which animates people of all ages and in all situations. Exploring spiritual features in children, Sineter stresses that children’s introspective abilities shape their actions and creativity.

She call those children with well-pronounced spiritual gifts (spiritually intelligent) early awakeners and suggests that the spiritual qualities are expressed in:

  • acute self-awareness, intuition, the “I am” power. However acute self-awareness (a materialistic feature) is in opposition not only to the definition of spirituality (unity with the universe) but also to “intuition” that is the quality of the subconscious
  • a broad worldview (the ability to see self, others and the world as interrelated)
  • moral elevation, strong opinion, the ability to live by one’s own conventions
  • a tendency to experience delight
  • a sense of destiny
  • unappeasable hunger for selected interests
  • fresh, “weird” notions
  • pragmatic, efficient perception of reality.

According to Wolman (2001), spiritual intelligence is the ability to ask ultimate questions about God, the meaning of life and the ability to experience the connections between individuals and the world.

Wolman distinguishes seven factors of SI:

  1. divinity,
  2. mindfulness (alternative or integrative health practices),
  3. extrasensory perception,
  4. community,
  5. intellectuality (a desire to study and discuss spiritual material and/or sacred texts),
  6. trauma and
  7. childhood spirituality.

More definitions of spiritual intelligence (abbreviated as SQ) are in Zohar and Marshall (2000):

SQ… is an internal, innate ability of the human brain and psyche, drawing its deepest resources from the heart of the universe itself. (p.9)

Spiritual intelligence is the souls’ intelligence…with which we heal ourselves and with which we make ourselves whole. (p.9)

SQ is the intelligence that rests in that deep part of the self that is connected to wisdom from beyond the ego, or conscious mind, it is the intelligence with which we not only recognize existing values, but with which we creatively discover new values. (p.9)

SQ [is] an ability to reframe or recontextualize our experience, and thus an ability to transform our understanding of it. (p.65)

They also (2000, p.15) delineate ten distinctive features that characterize highly developed SQ:

  1. the capacity to be flexible (adaptive)
  2. a high degree of self-awareness. However, “a high degree of self-awareness” (a materialistic feature) corresponds to a very low spiritual awareness, cf. “ a high degree of self-awareness” and the feature of spiritual intelligence, suggested by Cloninger and colleagues (1993), “self-forgetfulness”
  3. a capacity to face and use suffering
  4. a capacity to face and transcend pain
  5. the quality of being inspired by vision and values
  6. a reluctance to cause unnecessary harm
  7. a tendency to see the connections between diverse things
  8. a marked tendency to ask “why?” or “what if?” questions and to seek “fundamental” answers
  9. being “field-independent” (being able to work against conventions)
  10. being responsible for bringing higher vision and value to others (inspire others – being a servant leader).

Several instruments to measure SQ have been developed; for example,

  • Piedmont (1999) has originated a scale of spiritual transcendence (a multidimensional instrument).
  • Cloninger (2004; Cloninger et al. 1993) has developed the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), including the self-transcendence scale as a measure of spirituality.

The self-transcendence scale comprises three components: self-forgetfulness, transpersonal identification and mysticism.

  • In contrast to self-consciousness (materialistic), self-forgetfulness (spiritual) involves becoming so absorbed in something (for example, work) that one loses the sense of time, place and self, lacking self-consciousness.
  • Transpersonal identification is defined as a sense of connectedness to everything and everybody, inanimate and animate: nature, animals and people.
  • Mysticism refers to a fascination with and open-mindedness to phenomena that cannot be explained.

The concept of SI has not been accepted by many researchers. For example, Gardner (2000) (who at one time considered evidence for spirituality as the ninth intelligence) argues that the “core” to the intellectual aspect is the capacity to perform certain kinds of computations, and these computations cannot be done on elements that transcend sensory perception.

There are other problems with the concept of SI. Mayer (2000) argues, for example, that intelligence must reflect mental performance and not just preferred ways of behaving.

Then there is ambiguity or overlap between the definitions of spirituality (or spiritual consciousness) and SI, so, as Mayer remarks, spiritual intelligence could be simply a labeling of spirituality.

Is it necessary to introduce a concept of “spiritual intelligence” (even if the same meaning is covered by the concept “spirituality”) just for the sake of it?

Or should SI replace “spirituality” altogether, meaning a type of intelligence that could be defined as the ability to draw on the spiritual as a means to solve life problems and seek meaning in life?

Emmons (2000) attempts to defend the necessity to distinguish between SI and spirituality, defining SI as the adaptive use of spiritual information to aid everyday problem solving, while describing spirituality as a broader construct with the main focus on a search for the sacred.

Thus, SI becomes a positive adaptive construct, while spirituality can be both positive and negative depending on the context and personalities: those who use their SI in a creative manner and those who use it in a destructive way.

Another issue that should be explained is that spiritual capacities are age-related, and they develop over the lifespan. For example, as Zohar and Marshall (2000) state:

To come into full possession of our spiritual intelligence we have at some time to have seen the face of hell, to have known the possibility of despair, pain, deep suffering and loss, and to have made our peace with these (pp. 14–15).

Adams et al. (2008) believe that even very young children display many of the characteristics of spiritual intelligence suggested by Zohar and Marshall (2000) as well as those identified by Emmons (1999). But if some children (who are spiritual while they are young) lose (or are conditioned out of) certain spiritual abilities when they grow up, does it mean that their SI (or Zohar’s SQ) drops with age?

It seems that if we apply the word “intelligence” to whatever we are discussing it will raise the prestige and importance of the topic under discussion but, as Mayer (2000) notes, it may diminish the status of intelligence itself.

    The data for this work have resourced from the manual:
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