6 young people gathered at a table with notebooks, laptops
By Diana Scearce and the SSH project team

Spiritual innovation is happening all around us. From taking church to the streets of Skid Row to proclaiming rest as resistance within a productivity-obsessed culture, spiritual innovators are expanding the boundaries of how we access the divine and seek meaning in today’s chaotic times. Religious leaders, spiritual entrepreneurs, and other trailblazers, within and outside historical traditions and institutions, are sharing wisdom from their lineages that is reimagined for today’s communities and callings. 

This spiritual innovation is happening at a time when nearly one third of Americans do not belong to a specific religion, but many hunger for practices and communities that support resilience and spiritual growth. This is no surprise in light of the pessimism and disconnection plaguing many Americans. The percentage of Americans saying they are “not too happy” has dipped to a five-decade low, and loneliness has been pronounced a national epidemic

Where and how Americans seek spiritual connection and growth is changing. Religious observance in this country is on a downward trend, with surveys finding that U.S. adults are praying and attending religious services less frequently, and the percentage of adults that identify as Christian is declining. Despite growing disaffiliation from organized religion, the Fetzer Institute’s 2021 nationwide study of spirituality revealed that 86 percent of Americans consider themselves spiritual to some extent. 

To be clear, religious and ancestral wisdom is not going away; spiritual innovators are meeting Americans’ yearning for the divine by elevating and reimagining ancient teachings for the present day. Spiritual innovation refers to the adaptation of existing practices, while remaining grounded in religious and ancestral wisdom. For example, the Mystic Soul Project celebrates BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) mysticism and expressions of the divine, centering BIPOC wisdom at the intersection of spirituality, activism, and healing. 

Such spiritual innovators are offering pathways for seekers to find meaning, connect with mystery and spirit, and embody love. In particular, BIPOC leaders whose innovations build on direct experience of exclusion, are pointing the way toward new ways of being that make healing and liberation possible. Yet they tend to be under-resourced and disconnected from other innovators, both within their own faith communities and other traditions.

To explore spiritual innovation and meet this need, Fetzer has established Sharing Spiritual Heritage (SSH), an emerging body of work focusing on BIPOC spiritual innovators and those who have historically been on the margins. By centering the experience and insight of BIPOC leaders, our spiritual infrastructure can be reimagined to serve everyone. As Fetzer seeks to help catalyze a larger movement for love and universal flourishing, this emerging spiritual ecosystem offers ways to meet those needs and to foster spiritual transformation.

Sharing Spiritual Heritage is dedicated to:

  • supporting a learning cohort for BIPOC spiritual innovators;
  • connecting existing groups of innovators for networking and shared learning; and
  • identifying partners and allies who are helping shape and grow this nascent field.

Each of these approaches centers the experiences and voices of those who have been at the margins in our institutions, in particular BIPOC communities. By the end of this exploratory phase, we hope to have grown an understanding of how BIPOC innovators can best be supported in their efforts to foster universal flourishing, cultivate relationships among BIPOC innovators and other stakeholders, and increase visibility across the emerging field of spiritual innovation.

At present the work of SSH, as Rilke famously wrote, is “to live the questions,” which include:

  • What is needed to cultivate a spiritual infrastructure that fosters love and flourishing for all?
  • How do seekers access relevant and meaningful pathways, while also remaining faithful to their religious and wisdom lineages?
  • What spiritual nourishment and community will cultivate a liberated future for everyone?
  • What will it take to nurture a field of spiritual innovation that connects and supports BIPOC innovators?

We are holding questions such as these as we listen to and learn from leaders pioneering new forms of spiritual community and practice, network weavers cultivating community among innovators, seminarians rethinking what it means to develop moral leaders and spiritual caregivers, funders bringing faith and spirit-rooted perspectives to their grantmaking, and allies of all kinds committed to spiritual awakening. 

The insights that emerge from the collective, and especially from the BIPOC innovators themselves, will shape what’s next for the Sharing Spiritual Heritage project. We look forward to journeying and learning with you and together envisioning and building a spiritual infrastructure that serves all.

Diana Scearce is a member of the Sharing Spiritual Heritage project team along with Elena Mireles-Hill, Uvinie Lubecki, and Michelle Scheidt.