Awakened World 2012 • Rome and Florence, Italy

October 13-21 — The Evolution of Religion and Spirituality

An extraordinary group of visionaries and activists gathered this past October in Rome and Florence, Italy. The Association for Global New Thought (AGNT), the International Committee for the Peace Council [ICPC], and the Interreligious Engagement Project [IEP21]) came together to convene “Awakened World 2012: Engaged Spirituality for the 21st Century.” The purpose of the meeting was to explore the evolution of religion and spirituality in the 21st century as a significant challenge and opportunity for the world. Every participant played a key role in an assembly of religious, spiritual, and cultural leaders who collaborated with committed global citizens to shape a vision for religious and spiritual activism in the 21st century.


Fifty global leaders from all faiths and cultures gathered with two hundred activists committed to peace, justice, and sustainability. But the amazing thing was that they “came together” in collaborative partnership. “Awakened World 2012” was not the usual conference of “talking heads.” The conference design called for participants’ personal engagement with global leaders from all faiths and cultures. And then, there was the extraordinary topic. We convened to consider a most remarkable premise. That ours is an age of dramatic religious and spiritual evolution.


And the miracle happened. The inter-engagement of leaders with activists made this a landmark conference. We agreed, enthusiastically, that our age was indeed an age of dramatic cultural, religious, and spiritual evolution. Our assent was evident. Our engagement was palpable. And as the conference wound to a conclusion, we agreed, as a body…


• To seek deeper engagement with the most progressive leaders of the world’s religious and spiritual communities.

• To find new ways to exemplify the evolution of religion and spirituality in the 21st century.

• To become evolutionary pioneers in religion, spirituality, and culture.

• To create new tools to empower ourselves and those who follow to advance the evolutionary process.


But in order to fully understand what took place at “Awakened World 2012,” it’s vital to have a clear sense of the Axial Revolution.


The great German philosopher and psychologist Karl Jaspers, in The Origin and Goal of History (Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte, 1949), first called attention to what he termed an “Axial Period” in human culture and civilization. This turbulent time in China, India, and the West (ancient Greece and the Middle East), he argued, “gave birth to everything which, since then, man has been able to be.” Throughout the first millennium BCE, human societies from China to the Middle East began to take up their own versions of questions that would soon be universal: Who are we? Where do we come from? Why do we exist? How should we live? Jaspers offers a summary of the emerging process:


"What is new about this age, in all three areas of the world, is that man becomes conscious of Being as a whole, of himself and his limitations. He experiences the terror of the world and his own powerlessness. He asks radical questions. Face to face with the void he strives for liberation and redemption. By consciously recognizing his limits he sets himself the highest goals. He experiences absoluteness in the depths of selfhood and in the lucidity of transcendence. . . .


In this age were born the fundamental categories within which we still think today, and the beginnings of the world religions, by which human beings still live, were created. The step into universality was taken in every sense."


It was an unprecedented rotation of the axis of human culture – nothing less than the transition from mythical consciousness to rational reflection. The Axial evolution also produced the shift from temple-state religions to classical philosophical and religious systems. Countless new cultic expressions arose, each a reflection on the individual’s place in the cosmic scheme with respect to ultimacy, spirituality, consciousness, identity, and ethics. A closer look discloses the most influential new mindsets of the change, including:


• awareness of the world, the cosmos, as a reality entire;

• reflection on the transcendent and the nature of ultimate reality.

• attention to a unitary God or core principle of the cosmos;

• a new sense of the human individual as related to the overarching whole;

• exploration of the self and consciousness;

• engagement with human mortality and a new focus on salvation, liberation, or redemption;

• emerging concern with compassion, empathy, ethics, individual responsibility for the other, and social justice.


But the Axial transformation, like all great cultural evolutionary advances, was eventually diminished as many of its revolutionary insights crystallized into institutional inflexibilities and dogmatic certainties. The progress that had been made was not really lost; the best of the first millennium BCE still resonates in the spiritual excellences of the world’s great traditions. Sadly, though, most of the Axial energy for evolutionary change dissipated with the passage of time. Humankind unknowingly awaited a new revolution: a reawakening of the values that gave birth to the great spiritual traditions and the rise of a new wave of cultural evolutionary enrichment.



But now, we are living in an age of dramatically accelerated cultural evolution. Such transitions are powerful and progressive unfoldings, marked by the movement of humankind’s dominant values toward a closer fit with reality. These changes affect almost every dimension of human experience and endeavor; and they are extremely rare. The First Axial Age was marked by the emergence of individual consciousness, making it possible for humans to step forth from purely tribal existence. The Second Axial Age is giving rise to a new global consciousness. Still acutely aware of our individual existence, we begin to recognize our roles as global beings.


The great theologian Ewert Cousins, one of the first to explore the idea of a Second Axial turning, emphasized its global character.


"All the religions and all the peoples of the world are undergoing the most radical, far-reaching, and challenging transformation in history. . . . Forces, which have been at work for centuries, have in our day reached a crescendo that has the power to draw the human race into a global network and the religions of the world into a global spiritual community."


All the religions and all the peoples of the world are undergoing the most radical, far-reaching, and challenging transformation in history. . . . Forces, which have been at work for centuries, have in our day reached a crescendo that has the power to draw the human race into a global network and the religions of the world into a global spiritual community.




The following list of Axial themes and markers is neither definitive nor exhaustive. Each theme represents one of the most important domains of 21st-century religious and spiritual advance; each marker points up a particular evolutionary shift that is already well underway. It’s perhaps most useful to think of this compilation as a guide for reflection, a map of critical action areas, and – above all – an invitation to further exploration. Life in a period of powerful evolutionary advance is never easy, but always energizing. And riding the new wave in is always preferable to washing out with the old.


And so, several Domains present themselves for our consideration. And these four shaped the Awakened World 2012 conference.


Reconciling with the Other

Interreligious awakening and the phenomenal growth of the global interreligious movement

The tarnishing of exclusivism and fundamentalism in the face of new cultural and religious openness and the spread of inclusivism and pluralism

The new religious story: the evolution of consciousness, the new awareness of mythic and symbolic expression, and the harmony of religion and science

The passage beyond dogma: cultivating unbound reason, intercultural exploration, and creative teaching


Transforming Society

Progressive religious initiatives to nurture peace and the just society: nonviolence, social and economic justice, and universal human rights

The passing of patriarchy: the rise of women’s leadership and authority; the rediscovery of the divine feminine

New models and maps for community, leadership, and engaged spirituality

Activism as a religious responsibility and a spiritual path: old wisdom for a new generation


Embracing the Earth Family

New spiritual concern for the sacred Earth and commitment to the larger planetary community

The emerging global consensus: visionaries and activists converging on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century

Healing the world: the flowering forth of acts of compassion and gifts of service

Creating new lifestyles grounded in sustainability, fairness, forgiveness, and trust


Rediscovering the Spirit

Interspirituality: making the riches of the great spiritual traditions available to every seeker

Celebration of the whole: the rediscovery of the radical fact of interdependence as the key to progressive value shift

Rekindling interest in the inner life: growing enthusiasm for the spectrum of ritual celebration, the varieties of mystical experience, and the cultivation of consciousness, wisdom, and enlightenment

Reclaiming the Great Meme: countless new spiritual explorations of the richest insight of the primordial traditions – the constant interpenetration of the one and the many


The Awakened World Synergy Seminars

Out of the enthusiastic response of participants to the unique process launched in the Italy conference, we have now developed the: “Awakened World Synergy Seminars.” They empower spiritual leaders and activists to explore the evolution of spirituality and society in the 21st century as a significant challenge and opportunity for their community, as well as for the world. Collectively, local seminars will contribute to a body of wisdom and work that set the stage for the next decades of evolutionary activism. They are guided by the logic and conviction that quantifiably tracked and replicable models for change, when multiplied at the local level, can contribute to an evolved global set of values and practices.


The seminars are designed to serve religious and secular communities whose members are motivated by their faith, ethics, and sense of civic responsibility to directly engage in activities that might help build a more positive future. The Charter Domains aggregate the themes that most concern communities and the larger society of which they are part; however, these themes must be considered together as a whole system in order for challenges and solutions to be fully understood, and for practical action to be engineered. Because many organizations, associations, and spiritual centers may not have the time, staff or resources to convene such a conversation successfully, the “Synergy Seminars” provide a comprehensive, customizable package of templates that will assist any motivated leader in producing such an event (for their immediate or wider community) within eight weeks.



History of the Synergy Seminars

The Awakened World Synergy Seminar is a portable program based on the conference model co-convened in Rome and Florence. At this event, the living model was tested, and a draft Charter for Engaged Spirituality in the 21st Century was expanded and endorsed by spiritual and secular leaders representing a wide field of global diversity. Activities spanned a rigorously programmed 5 day conference utilizing a process by which specialized breakout groups explored one Domain in depth by moving through each of its Stages (Phase 1, Rome). As dialogue for all Stages in each Domain was completed, plenary sessions allowed for reporting by each Domain to the whole group so that a field of shared wisdom and information could incrementally emerge for all participants.


In Phase 2, when the entire conference moved to Florence, we were at last in position to evenly and systematically shuffle all participants among all the Domains, regardless of which one had been their focus in Rome. We called these vibrant new configurations, “Synergy Sessions,” the purpose of which was to model synergistic solution-building by demonstrating the interdependence of the four Domains. In the final sessions, we were then equipped to anchor that experience by transforming our insights into proposals for actions.


Your Local Synergy Seminar: Key Participants

The local Synergy Seminar revolves around a Mentor Group, featuring key members of your community joined by peers from other local spiritual, religious, and secular organizations. They might be drawn from the community’s defining institutions, including: government, commerce, education, the arts, science, intergovernmental institutions, and civil society. Members of the Mentor Group are invited on the basis of their commitment to the causes of peace, justice, and sustainability, and their role is to lead conversations in their assigned Domain, supported by a Facilitator and Scribe.


Local Spiritual Activists who register for the seminar will participate in plenary sessions and contribute actively in working sessions as they help to shape action plans to benefit local and regional programs in their areas of expertise. Spiritual Activist candidates should demonstrate an understanding of and involvement with some aspect(s) of the cultural evolutionary process. Their areas of interest should concern one or more organizations and/or initiatives that shape their community’s consciousness and well being. Each should be able to make a positive contribution to the Seminar and to assist in implementing the ongoing process of awareness and action.



Participants will come to understand local action as the embodiment of global consciousness: “the omni-local as the lived global.” This model builds upon ways to help participants in the seminar focus on what can follow. Mentors and Spiritual Activists will work together to ensure that the Charter remains a living initiative, a work-in-progress that can be adapted to the needs of their community by developing curriculum, programs, training modules, and collaborative action through ongoing meetings and in a dedicated online environment of which they are automatically invited to be members.


Your organization could host follow-up teleconferences connecting the Mentor Group with Spiritual Activists to support their local/regional initiatives “on the ground.” An online interactive course is available as advance preparation and follow-up to the seminar: A nine-module online Audio/Reading course hosted by AGNT and IEP21 features recordings of enlightening conversations with well-known interfaith and intercultural leaders, along with excellent lessons and resources.


As Action Markers linked to Axial Markers are explored in Synergy Seminars for the purpose of study, training, and implementation, participants will be invited to join in tracking and mapping the impact of A Charter for Engaged Spirituality in the 21st Century through a social media network. This online community is already active and ready to welcome new members at


Synergy Seminar Toolkit


The toolkit is organized into ten electronic folders of templates that will allow users to create a day and half long seminar, or a three-day retreat, within approximately eight weeks of preparation. More detailed information will be available upon request, but the basic tools include:














It takes time, skill and commitment to organize a gathering of this quality and impact. Fortunately, the Awakened World Synergy Seminars offer not only a model tested at the global level but a comprehensive package for your community that walks you through the process and gives you all the tools you need to absolutely succeed.


Done right, you will lift the conversation about whole systems spiritual engagement to a stunning new level in your spiritual community, at the same time establishing important new relationships and sound financial benefits to carry your initiative forward.


By using this package, you will not need to spend time creating anything from scratch, and yet your community’s identity and emblem will shine through at every phase, in every aspect. The Awakened World Synergy Seminar creators will work with you as your gathering’s “personal consultants” and production support so that your creative team is free to bring the best of its wisdom to the table for the final result.



There is a direct connection among the very realistic onset of a Second Axial Age, the conference of global leaders and activists in Italy, and the Awakened World Synergy Seminars, collectively calling us to take responsibility for embodying “engaged spirituality in the 21st century.”


As each of the emerging Axial currents intensifies, whirlpools of resistance form and strengthen. These counter-evolutionary “eddies” are energized by attachment to older value structures and fear of newer ones. They attend every significant cultural evolutionary wave, churning up destructive turbulence but never reversing the prevailing flow. Today, the most dangerous eddy is extremist fundamentalism, materializing in some form in most of the world’s great religions. As frightening as it is, however, fundamentalism is unlikely to resist the surging global information flow, the tide of generational metamorphosis, and the rise of the Axial free thinkers.


And, of course, as visionaries and activists continue to imagine and to serve, the transformative momentum of the Second Axial surge will prove irreversible.