Seven traditions, seven stages?

In keeping with the theme of my blog of “monk in the world” or “mystic without a monastery,” I’d like to compare the idea of seven communication traditions with the notion of seven stages of spiritual transformation.

The seven stages of spiritual transformation, described differently by different teachers, including in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene, take a soul through levels of growth. They essentially follow nomothetic theory, where spiritual teachers paint a picture of what is and leave it up to others to decide how to use the knowledge (Littlejohn & Foss, p. 27), according to various available teachings.

But the seven traditions of communication theory are clearly defined in the academic field.

The tradition of the seven that I best understand it the sociopsychological tradition. It explains  that we are all individuals who see the world through a lens with which only we can see it. No one can know the world or God in the same way I do. You are not me. I am not you.

This part of the human condition plays a significant role in our journeys as humans, our spiritual journeys, and all of our interactions/communication.The sociopsychological tradition  honors the way I see the world as an individual.

Several examples come to to mind when I think of the sociopsychological tradition. The scholarship in this tradition focuses on persuasion and attitude change (Littlejohn & Foss, p. 53). One could easily argue that religious community focuses on persuasion and attitude change. How many stories have we read over the decades of people being brainwashed or completely convinced by a religious stance? This type of persuasion can lead to unhealthy cultic behavior.

But it can also lead to healthy cultic behavior, the kind where a persons sees a happier, healthier way to live in community that is contributed to by their own perspective. In The Episcopal Church, we believe that each person has a slightly different view of what God is. Makes sense, right? If, as the sociopsychological tradition states, we each view the world through our own lens, then it follows that we would each have to follow God through our own lens.

The beauty in this theory is that even though our experiences of God are all individual, affected by personal traits, we can be persuaded and influenced to make choices, moment by moment, that have a positive impact upon the world. Those positive choices fit into the schema of the cybernetic tradition, a system at its core. In that tradition our individual choices and views form more than the sum of their contributions. In the spiritual traditions, we are, as individuals, an essential part of a larger system that comes from a higher power.

This discussion can be fleshed out exponentially, but to leave you with one last comment on a communication tradition – the critical tradition questions systems and the status quo. It is an essential part of spiritual growth in community. Without questioning, we would be blind followers without the individual perspective and investment brought by the traits we carry from the sociopsychological tradition.

How do you see your individual perspective contributing to a larger spiritual system?


Foss, K. A. and Littlejohn, S. W. (2011). Theories of Human Communication.  Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.

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