Research

Research for the book Living Deeply

Project | Background | Narrative Analysis | Focus Groups | Transformation Interview Study | Transformation Survey Study

Transformation Interview Study

Inspired — and still filled with more questions than answers — we decided to probe the topic of transformation more deeply, and with greater scientific rigor. Beginning in 2001, the three of us came together and began the next phase of the research process. Driven by the desire to unpack what happens when someone transforms, we invited nearly sixty world-renowned scholars, teachers, and practitioners of transformative practices to participate in detailed research interviews. We talked in depth with swamis, rabbis, priests, roshis, sufis, monks, psychologists, physicists, anthropologists, consciousness researchers, futurists, activists, dancers, artists, shamans, and even a Wiccan priestess.

Throughout our research, we sought patterns that spanned diverse practices, traditions, cultures, and worldviews. Our sample included both practitioners of ancient traditions and practitioners of modern transformative movements, and represents a cross-section of the emerging diversity in American society in religious and spiritual practices. We've sought to describe the terrain of transformation, over which many have traveled diverse and intersecting paths.

Without being able to travel the entirety of this vast terrain ourselves, we nevertheless learned much about it by talking to explorers who have spent their lives traveling its regions and communicating what they've found to others. Our overarching goals were to explore the phenomenon of consciousness transformation and learn more about the various transformative paths that lead to beneficial outcomes for self and community. The following traditions were represented in our detailed interview study:


Our Interview Respondents

Our respondents can be divided into three overlapping subgroups: religious or spiritual teachers; scholars of religious, spiritual, and consciousness transformation; and communicators/representatives (e.g., speakers, authors) of a transformative philosophy. We focused primarily on Western teachers; thus, for example, traditions discussed here that derive from Asian religions are modern Western interpretations of those traditions. Our sample includes representatives of the modern spiritual renaissance sparked by the surge of Eastern, Western, esoteric, and indigenous traditions in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. The common thread which connects our respondents is their focus on the experiences, practices, and processes by which people cultivate positive transformations.

From 2002 to 2007, we engaged in a painstakingly rigorous, multiyear data-analysis process to find commonalities among widely varying traditions and incredibly diverse stories. We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with fifty of our fifty-seven respondents, asking each to respond to twenty questions about the transformative process. For the remaining seven respondents, we carefully tailored our questions to flesh out areas that needed further clarity or elaboration. Our questions were developed to better understand how people define transformation, what sets the stage for transformation, and what happens as a result of a transformative experience. We asked our diverse study population about the practices or activities they believed could cultivate transformation, and how these experiences could be translated into lasting shifts in worldview or way of being. We sought to understand what milestones or stages exist along the path of transformation, what factors invite or inhibit the integration of transformative experiences into everyday life, and what observable outcomes there are from such experiences and practices.

The interviews were conducted with great care. As interviewers, we instructed our respondents to limit their responses to actually observed phenomena and outcomes as opposed to ideals or potentials. Interviews were typically conducted by two of us: one as the active interviewer, the other as witness and notetaker. Next, we embarked on an intensive qualitative analysis process. To do this, we developed a standardized qualitative coding scheme. Coders were instructed to categorize each chunk of information or complete thought, into one or more of twenty categories. For example, the response, “Through prayer, I have found a sense of peace that stays with me even in times of stress” would be coded into two categories: types of religious/spiritual/transformative practice (referring to prayer), and outcomes/results of transformative practice (referring to the sense of peace that stays with the respondent). Each interview was coded by two trained interns and then entered into a database. Using the resulting body of data, we began to search for themes within each code. For example, code 3 – qualities, outcomes, benefits, results of transformation[AJ2] – yielded a list of 1683 responses across all of the interviews.

To analyze this dataset we collapsed similar responses (based on keywords and conceptually similar ideas) into themes that reflected the most common responses across traditions. Themes were assessed for commonality by examining the breadth and frequency of responses comprising each theme across the interviews. Over 16,000 responses were entered into the database, and analysis of this dataset continues. Our team of researchers, interns, and volunteers have spent hundreds of hours analyzing thousands of lines of data. Thanks to these efforts, we've gained important insights that have enabled us to construct a compelling model of transformation that transcends doctrine and goes beyond religion or spirituality. The themes we identified through this analysis led to the basis for the chapters of this book. Our model of transformation is presented in the conclusion (chapter 8).

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