On what basis may we argue that transpersonal psychology constitutes a sub-discipline of psychology having an appropriate scholarly, or academic, basis? The recent publication of the Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology, and a new project by MacDonald and Almendro to produce a book evaluating the current status of transpersonal psychology, has brought this question into focus. Moreover, the absence of a significant transpersonal focus within the upsurge of research into spirituality, meditation and mindfulness challenges us to clarify what epitomizes the approach of transpersonal psychology. Closer to home, the removal of the term ‘transpersonal’ from the title of what was the ‘Institute of Transpersonal Psychology’ might be construed as reflecting a crisis of identity amongst practitioners of transpersonal psychology.
Metaphysical and methodological issues are critical in establishing an interest or approach as a discipline. I argue that transpersonal psychology incorporates a metaphysical perspective in which transcendent realms are viewed as being irreducible to naturalistic categories when conceived in materialistic terms. In turn, this metaphysical perspective has implications for our view of methodology: ‘Science’ as traditionally understood is inadequate to the goals of transpersonal psychology. The real question is not whether these radical positions are acceptable or not, but rather whether they necessitate removal of the term ‘psychology’ from our title. In other words, is transpersonal psychology a legitimate sub-discipline of the over-arching discipline of psychology or should it be subsumed within an alternative discipline or even stand as a self-contained discipline (with or without a change of name)? In arguing that we are indeed a branch of psychology, I address the importance of bringing metaphysical pluralism into the psychological study of spiritual practices and mystical views of the mind.
B Les Lancaster is Professor Emeritus of Transpersonal Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, UK and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University, UK. He is Chair of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and President of the Board of the International Transpersonal Association. Les’ research interests focus on the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness and the psychology of mysticism, with a specific focus on Kabbalistic Psychology. Over his career, Les has disseminated key aspects of consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology to a wide audience, both academic and more popular. He is committed to the value of transpersonal perspectives in a range of professional areas, including coaching, therapy and management, and is presently Academic Dean for Transpersonal Psychology at the Professional Development Foundation, UK. He is currently Director of online postgraduate programmes in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology validated by Middlesex University, UK (www.ita-professional.org). In addition to many journal articles, Les’ published works include Mind Brain and Human Potential, winner of a Science and Medical Network Best Book Award, Approaches to Consciousness: the Marriage of Science and Mysticism, and The Essence of Kabbalah.