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What Is ‘Spiritual Intelligence’?

Inspired by Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences, the concept of “spiritual intelligence” has gained popularity in recent years, and is the subject of several books and websites. Although limited empirical research has been performed to validate the concept, a great deal of nonsense has been written about this topic (e.g. this paper in an actual academic journal) that goes way beyond any empirical evidence. Despite this, I think it is possible to study experiences of a “spiritual” nature from a scientific standpoint without necessarily endorsing spiritual beliefs that are not evidence-based. So, rather than dismissing the concept of “spiritual intelligence” out of hand, I think it would be interesting to consider with an open mind whether spirituality and intelligence can be meaningfully combined and attempt to draw something of substance from the topic. Although several models of spiritual intelligence have been proposed, in this article I will critically examine the concept as developed by Robert Emmons and considers what it might represent if it were a real ability. That is, from a scientific perspective, could there be a genuine form of ability going by the name spiritual intelligence? And if so, what would its nature be?