désolée, en anglais
Spirituality and the Highly Gifted Adolescent
by Stephanie S. Tolan
Writing about spirituality and highly gifted adolescents is a daunting task. It has often been said that individuals at the high end of the intellectual continuum vary from each other more than any other group, regardless of age. Extreme variation is true for abilities, passions, personality, temperament, social/emotional issues and life experience. It may be especially true about spirituality, which partakes of all those other differences and is so fundamentally personal. There is no way to produce a handy map or a set of predictors to mark the trail through the thickets of adolescence. The best I can do is offer a few principles and share a few stories.
Let me begin by distinguishing between the terms spirituality and religion as I will use them here. Religion is an organized belief system promulgated and sustained by a human institution, ethnic group, tribe or culture. Religions include rituals, practices, rules for behavior and usually a class of individuals (priests, ministers, gurus) whose job is to maintain the structure, to teach, counsel and mediate between the individual believer and the religion's god or gods or first principles. Spirituality, on the other hand, is an individual's experience of and relationship with a fundamental, nonmaterial aspect of the universe that may be referred to in many ways -- God, Goddess, Great Spirit, Higher Power, Universal Mind, the Force, Mystery, the Transcendent. It is the way the individual finds meaning, the way the individual relates to "life, the universe and everything." Religion is a group activity, spirituality is a personal reality. Though the subjects are closely related -- religions originating as a way of meeting humanity's possibly innate need for spirituality -- they are not interchangeable and not always linked. A person may have religion without spirituality or spirituality without religion.
Herbert Benson, medical doctor and author of Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief (1996), suggests that we are biologically programmed to believe in the divine, in something or someone greater than ourselves. If so, it would seem that in the last several hundred years, the majority of scientists and intellectuals have managed to overcome biology. In much of academe and in the intellectual hierarchy of western civilization, materialism (with its tacit assumption that anything that is real can be observed, measured, counted and replicated) has ruled, leading many to assume that God exists only in man's imagination.
Focus on the material in modern science has been so relentless that some have suggested that science has become a religion in itself, complete with dogma, a hierarchy of sustainers and mediators very like priests, a community of believers, and an all-encompassing deity -- reason. Though there are many individual scientists who are able to balance their pursuit of scientific inquiry with a religious or spiritual commitment in their personal lives, the ongoing sense of warfare between science and religion is testament to the gulf between them.
Into a culture split by the disagreement between those who believe in spirit (in whatever guise) and those who do not, come gifted children with their early interest in the big questions and their constantly questing, intense and active minds. Though relatively little has been written about the spirituality of children, the idea that gifted and especially highly and profoundly gifted children ask what are essentially spiritual questions unusually early in life, has appeared in innumerable books and articles. (For instance, Hollingworth , Webb, Meckstroth & Tolan , Morelock , Lovecky .) Some of their questions: How did the universe start? Who is God? What is life? Why are people here? Why am I here? What happens after we die?
How they form answers to those questions, a process that involves both their unusual cognitive processing and their often intense emotional sensitivity, has always depended to a large extent both on the models provided by parents and other significant adults in their lives and by their own life experience. Children from religious families are most likely to be given the traditional answers of their particular religion; children from agnostic or atheistic families may be given the parents' own thoughts (or doubts) about the questions, along with the moral/ethical guidelines of their culture, or the questions may be dismissed as unanswerable, so that the children are left to come up with answers on their own.
In any case it is likely that the children both weigh and measure with great care the answers they are given or develop on their own, and that they then judge the effects of those answers on the events of their own lives or on what they observe about the world in general. For many or most highly gifted children the questions are deeply, personally important. And home may not be the only place the questions are raised. As many parents discover, sometimes to their chagrin, the highly gifted child's asynchrony is just as evident in religious training as in school. These are not children for whom pat, glib or simplistic answers (no matter how old or how authoritatively offered) will suffice.
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