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Integral Inquiry in Transpersonal Research Method

Braud & Anderson (1998) distinguish between a separateness science and a wholeness science – feeling that the latter is better suited to honoring the complex phenomenon of human experience. They define an expanded view of research that reflects an integrated role of research and researcher. This view emphasises the conscious engagement of all aspects of research. When viewing a research project holistically in this way one needs to engage consciously with each of the known aspects of the work (research) especially ourselves. “…continual, dynamic interplay among research, practical application, and personal development loosens and dissolves the boundaries among these three areas. The states of being that develop in one area allow particular types of knowing to occur in other areas, and sensitivities mold being and being molds sensitivities in an endless co creative, dialogical dance.” (Braud & Anderson, 1998, p.22). “Characteristics such as the researcher’s background, training, skills, sensitivities, biases, expectations, judgements, and temperament can affect, and potentially distort, any and all phase of a research project…” (Braud & Anderson, 1998, p.16)

Fundamental Concept

William Braud and Rosemarie Anderson (1998) define integral inquiry as, “provides both a comprehensive overview of psychological research methods and a means to apply and blend these methods to a particular research topic” (p. 29). The value of the integral inquiry lies in the usage and balance of a variety of lenses through which to view the subject matter. The integral paradigm “seeks to learn how people can become more whole through integrating the somatic, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, creative expressive, and relationship and community aspects of their lives” (Braud, 1998, p. 37). Integral inquiry is an inclusive and integrated approach to research and disciplined inquiry.

Braud, in distinguishing the integral approach, points to its contribution to “complementary ways of knowing, being and expression” (p. 35); it favors “inclusivity, integration, and discerning discrimination” (p. 67). Life experiences have richness, breadth, depth, and intensity. A plurality of approaches allows us to access the extent of what is available. Human experience is multileveled and complex, and thus the way research is carried out must be correspondingly multifaceted and pluralistic. In exploring the integral paradigm more deeply, it also invites the researcher’s participation in the integral experience–“a bold step: knowing through becoming–to know what is being studied as subject rather than object” (p. 51).

An integral inquiry “seeks to learn how people can become more whole through integrating the somatic, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, creative-expressive, and relationship and community aspects of their lives” (Braud & Anderson, 1998, p. 37). These lenses are complementary as they provide essential, multidimensional linkages that represent human beings and their richly textured lives. This integral inquiry “expand[s] the knowledge base of scholarly disciplines, in new and important ways” (Braud & Anderson, 1998, p. 29), by viewing what has been known in new ways that reveal knowledge, understanding, and a wisdom that supports a more integral way of relating to the world. The integral inquiry is characterized by a greater degree of inclusiveness and integration in the following areas:

ü  The objectives of inquiry are expanded to include increments in wisdom as well as knowledge and to emphasize transformation as well as information.

ü  The researcher’s sources of stimulation are expanded to include not only findings and theories from psychology, but also those in areas of the natural sciences, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, literature, the arts, the spiritual and wisdom traditions, and personal and anecdotal evidence.

ü  Types of research queries are expanded to include those that explore the nature of experiences, the ways’ experiences have been conceptualized and explained, the developmental time course and accompaniments of experiences, and the outcomes or fruits of experiences.

ü  Research process and instruments are expanded to include a variety of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods, and approaches with both nomothetic and idiographic aims. There also is an increased emphasis on the preparedness or adequateness of the researcher.

ü  The resources and types of information obtained can be expanded to include bodily reactions, sensory impressions, words and thoughts, imagery, feelings and emotions, realizations in altered states of consciousness, sensory and motor automatisms, and intuitional and direct knowing. Data can be analyzed not only through conventional means in ordinary conditions of consciousness, but also can be treated while in altered conditions of consciousness (associated, for example, with meditation or with movements), in order to gain different perspectives and insights regarding findings.

ü  Ways of showing and interpreting findings can be expanded to include statistical summaries, figures and graphs, tabulated results, themes and distillates, participant narratives, researcher stories and indications of the impacts of the study on the researcher, images and expressive art, poetry, metaphors and symbols, fictional conversational formats, and both professional and popular presentations.

In the integral inquiry, the researcher plays an extremely important role as the chief “instrument” of the investigation. However, in the various transpersonal inquiries, the researcher is involved even more extensively and deeply. The researcher tends to explore topics that she, or he already has experienced and that have great personal meaning and importance.

The integral inquirer not only will collect data from a variety of sources, but also will make use of multiple modes of knowing (treated above) in accessing and treating the information from each source, and also will consider collecting relevant information not only from the formal research participants, but also from others who know the participants and might be able and willing to provide additional information about them and about the accompaniments and outcomes of their experiences, from these other persons’ “external” points of view. These others could be persons who know the participants very well and persons who know the participants less well.

In selecting, preparing for, conducting, interpreting, and presenting the results of a research project, the researcher is guided not only by formally published theories and findings, but also by relevant anecdotal evidence, and by his or her own personal experiences related to the topic in question. The researcher seeks information and inspiration not only in the discipline in which he or she is working (e.g. psychology, management), but also in a wide range of other disciplines. Early thoughts and findings are not neglected in favor of only the most recent and most fashionable thoughts and findings.

In the data treatment and interpretation stages of a study, the transpersonal inquirer can work with the collected data in conventional, analytical ways, but also can use additional skills and resources, such as increased mindfulness and discernment in detecting patterns in findings, and gaining additional assistance from intuitions, gestalt apprehensions, dreams, imagery, emotions, movement, creative expression, symbols, metaphors, and archetypal elaborations. The researcher can work with the collected data in various conditions of consciousness, by being informed by subtle bodily changes and feelings, and during and following release of effort in which one ceases active conscious processing and allows incubation and unconscious processing to occur and augment one’s understandings.

In the reporting and communicating stage of a study, the researcher can express findings through conventional modes of data presentation, but can supplement these by nonverbal creative expressions, audio-visual accompaniments, inclusion of active links to additional Internet and website information, and suggestions to readers to prepare themselves to appreciate the findings in certain ways (including suggestions for altering consciousness). Research reports can be directed to professional audiences and also to the public at large using “languages” and modes of presentation that will appeal to members of different audiences. The research report also can generate action outcomes that can help the project have a practical impact upon the community.


Braud, W. & Anderson, R. (1998) Transpersonal research methods for the social sciences: Honoring human experience. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Braud, W. (2009). Toward a more satisfying and effective form of research. Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.

Categories: Journal, Uncategorized
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