The challenges posed by the twenty-first century will require not only new political and economic models, but also new conceptions of what it means to be human. The ecological crisis, growing pluralism, and increasing global interdependence demand that we fundamentally rethink our relationships to one another, to the non-human, and to the natural world. Moreover, they require that we bring into question the very concepts and forms of language we use to describe and assess the world as we know it.
Today we are facing a crisis of meaning. As religion and science have been pitted against one another, consumerism has risen to become a dominant framework of meaning. Both environmentally destructive and personally unfulfilling, it cannot meet the spiritual needs of individuals today. What are required are new frameworks of meaning that offer alternative conceptions of human flourishing and value. While remaining tentative and open to revision, these frameworks must offer substantive and positive visions of the good, however diverse.
As meaning-making beings, we require narratives that link our past, present and future. Communities are cultivated by the adoption of shared stories and myths, values and virtues. Human wellbeing is always experienced within a framework of meaning that, although historically contingent, is experienced as authoritative and real. The twenty-first century will bring forth unprecedented environmental, social and technological realities that will demand new paradigms of meaning and shared narratives. Unless we work collectively to anticipate and meet these future needs we are sure to suffer the consequences. The need for alternative forms of spirituality—a framework of meaning and purpose—cannot be ignored.
- What resources can we draw on to create new frameworks of meaning and shared narratives?
- Which traditions—religious and cultural—are relevant to the challenges posed by the twenty-first century?
- How might we theorize what it means to be human in light of the ecological crisis, growing pluralism, and increasing global interdependence?
- How and where might spiritual virtues be identified and cultivated?
- How might religious communities innovate to meet future challenges?