Sorokin’s Integralism and its association with traditional Christianity and Catholicism

by editor

Though Integralism gained momentum with Wilber, it started way before him with theorists like Pitirim Sorokin. Wikipedia has this particular definition of Integralism – “Integralism is a term also used to describe an ‘antipluralist’ trend of Catholicism; the Catholic Integralism born of mid-19th century Italy was a movement to assert a Catholic underpinning to all social and political action, and to minimize or eliminate any competing ideological actors, such as Marxism or secular humanism.” Sorokin is one such theorist/sociologist who worked within the confinements of Catholicism and prescribed an Integral Theory that was more in keeping with traditional Christian virtues and beliefs than with the Wilberian integral or postmodernist thinking. But this does not mean that Pitirim Sorokin’s theory was without value. In fact, he was one of the pioneers of Integral Thought who combined empirical, rational and spiritual knowledge into a single construct called Integralism. Only issue was, Sorokin’s philosophy had Catholic leanings and was compatible with traditional Christian doctrine as well as modern Catholic teachings on religion and science.

Sorokin’s Integralism: Pitirim Sorokin is a Russian sociologist who emigrated to the United States and became the head of the Sociology department at the Harvard university. He preached an Integralism that was compatible with Russian revolution and within the confinements of Catholicism. His integralism is of great interest to all sociologists, especially the Catholic ones that intend to affirm spirituality in their professional work. Barry Johnston, who is a prominent integralist himself, asks sociologists and thinkers to reconsider Sorokin’s this “road not taken”. Vincent Jeffries, who finds Integralism as the most appropriate model for social scientists says that Sorokin’s Integralism has its foundations in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. He opines, “Sorokin was probably inspired by his formulation of integralism from his knowledge of the ideas of Aquinas. In his graduate seminars at Harvard, Sorokin frequently lauded Aquinas and often mentioned him within context of his integral theory of truth and reality.”

The basic propositions of Sorokin’s integralism are as follows: The Kosmos or the universe is a three-dimensional reality that is known to humans through the power of cognition. The first dimension is that of the physical aspect of the universe and is perceived through the senses. The second dimension is the world of ideas and is perceived through the intellect or the mind. The third aspect is beyond the physical or intellectual realm, beyond reason or senses, known as intuition. Lawrence T. Nichols says in  his essay “The Diversity of Sorokin’s Integralism: Eastern, Western, Christian and Non-Christian Variants” – “Sorokin’s Integralism contains a strong pragmatic element that posits an operating universe and a coping human species.”

The next question is, what is the relationship between these three levels of cognition and which is the better or highest of the three? Sorokin advocates that these three levels operate within “a relationship of complementarity” and each provides a type of knowledge that is not available in others. In this complementary manner, these three channels make harmonious contribution to the total knowledge of human beings. Sorokin also pin-points a corresponding process of “mutual correction” wherein each channel corrects or directs the other in case of errors like misleading impressions (for instance, the Sun appears small to the eye), fallacious reasoning (for instance, the single-factor theories of social life) and inaccurate intuitions like predictions about the end of the world. Considering all these factors and the complementarity and correction aspect of the relationship between three channels of cognition, Sorokin feels the relationship is one of “epistemic correlation.” This is a position where knowledge arises through what Lawrence T. Nichols calls, “continual interplay of faculties”.

Though Pitirim Sorokin treats every other channel with formal equality, he values “intuition” more than the other two. In Nichols’ words, Sorokin accords “primacy to intuition.” He asserts intuition as the base of all ontological and existential knowledge. Next to intuition is reason, on account of its ability to absorb sensory data into higher levels of thought process. The last and final in the ladder is sensate or sensory knowledge. Though third in rank, Sorokin values sensory knowledge as vital to human health and as an indispensable component in the total matrix of knowledge.

Catholicism and Integralism: Sorokin’s Integralism has always been consistent with the Catholic doctrine. It is in keeping with the formulations of science and reason of Catholicism and is reaffirmed in the papal encyclical Faith and Reason by Pope John Paul II. As Lawrence T. Nichols quotes, the Pope, in his discussions about the types of knowing, states how the Catholic doctrine continues even in the philosophy of the age.

Sorokin’s Catholic integralism is often an opposition against the Russian communism. His integralism is said to have officially started with four volumes of Social and Cultural Dynamics between 1937 and 1941. As a sociologist, Sorokin analyzed the cultural patterns, history and thinking in every civilization. After a highly detailed quantitative analysis art, philosophy, music, ethics, law and social relationships, war and revolution, Sorokin identified seven dominant culture types of the last 2500 years as Idealistic (before 5th century), Idealistic (5th and 4th centuries B.C.), Sensate (3rd to 1st centuries B.C.), Transition (1st to 4th centuries A.D.), Ideational (5th to 12th centuries A.D.), Idealistic (13th to 14th centuries A.D.) and Sensate (15th to 20th centuries, A.D.).

Reference Links:

1. Pitirim Sorokin Biography and his thoughts on Integralism, Social Mobility, Social and Cultural Dynamics.

2. Sorokin’s Methodology: Integralism as the Key

3. The Diversity of Sorokin’s Integralism: Eastern, Western, Christian and Non-Christian Variants by Lawrence T. Nichols

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