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What’s the Deal With Spiritual Intelligence?

Spirituality is an abstract topic that is not easy to define, and it is not typically considered a focal point of science.

Despite this, it’s a meaningful and common part of many peoples’ lives, and the benefits and mental processes of spirituality deserve more attention.

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been well established for many years, and has helped evolve the traditional view of what it means to be intelligent.

It was instrumental in helping people recognize the importance of interpersonal and emotional intelligences, and that we are cognitively much more complex than mere IQ.

The many different capacities for intelligence from Gardner’s theory include:

  • Spatial
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic

Outside of these domains there may be another form of intelligence that is not usually included in this list, and it is one of particular importance for current cultural and ecological concerns.

It is the concept of spiritual intelligence (SQ), or existential intelligence.

What is spiritual intelligence?

Spiritual Intelligence is still a tentative concept, as a universal definition of what spirituality really means is lacking. Though there are developing discussions in psychology and philosophy about how spirituality can be a guiding source in making decisions, interacting with others, and how we view the world around us.

There are working parameters presented by Robert Emmons for what constitutes SQ, which includes 4 components.

  • The capacity for transcendence.
  • The ability to enter into heightened spiritual states of consciousness.
  • The ability to invest everyday activities, events, and relationships with a sense of the sacred or divine.
  • The ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems in living.

There are some intellectual and emotional capacities required to integrate spirituality into everyday life, and to utilize it for problem solving and goal attainment.

Why is spiritual intelligence important?

Spiritual intelligence may lend itself to peoples’ motivation for fulfilling their human potential and improving the future through changing the status quo of behaviors dominated by power, oppression, and over consumption.

The world is facing growing concerns related to overpopulation, food and water shortages, sustainable energy, climate change, and environmental degradation. How people respond and deal with these pressures is of increasing importance for future generations.

It may require a transformation in the way that people perceive their role and position in relationship to the world around them. Specifically, making a shift from one of egocentrism to one of collective well-being for all of life, which includes families, communities, humanity and the planet. This could come from taking a more spiritually orientated viewpoint and worldview, one where people seek self-transcendence and find a more actualized and altruistic relationship to self, others, and the planet.

This is a serious shift that is not necessarily natural for many people, including myself, as people struggle to look beyond personal interests and their own survival.

However, by cultivating a spiritual framework this conscious transformation is more likely. Those who are more spiritually connected may have an easier time taking the perspective that we are all accountable for the well-being of life as a whole.

A spiritual inclination offers a deeper connection to life as a whole and how we are all “one” in a metaphysical sense. This understanding or the capability to interpret the world around us in this way could be a catalyst for more virtuous and principled behavior.

What do you think? Is spiritual intelligence a legitimate topic of inquiry? Is so, what areas of life can it offer improvements and value?


Collins, M. (2010). Spiritual Intelligence: Evolving Transpersonal Potential Toward Ecological Actualization for a Sustainable Future. World Futures, 66, 320-334.

What’s the Deal With Spiritual Intelligence?

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2012). What’s the Deal With Spiritual Intelligence?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Mar 2012
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