Multiple Spiritual Intelligences: Connecting Howard Gardner to Spirituality


I was recently wondering why certain rituals appeal to me in meaningful ways and others do not. Is there something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be able to adapt to and enjoy any nature-based, earth-based, goddess-driven ritual?

Or do we put too much pressure on ourselves to fit into one small box? Do I beat myself up because everyone around me seemed to be enjoying ecstatic ritual and I was not? (Does everyone need to enjoy it?)

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner revolutionized the way educators look at individual learning when he wrote about Multiple Intelligences. He claimed that each individual is drawn to certain ways of knowing or ways of seeing the world, and that learning and teaching can cater to those strengths. (Yes, strengths!) Here are the original seven of his intelligences, with three that he later added (from Infed):

  1. Linguistic Intelligence
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence
  3. Musical intelligence
  4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  5. Spatial intelligence
  6. Interpersonal intelligence
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence
  8. Naturalist intelligence
  9. Existential intelligence
  10. Moral intelligence

You can even take a Multiple Intelligence test to see which ones you are strongest in, though you probably already know. My strongest to weakest after taking the test were:

  1. Intrapersonal
  2. Visual/Spatial
  3. Naturalistic
  4. Musical and Logical (tied)
  5. Kinesthetic
  6. Linguistic
  7. Interpersonal

I would have guessed most of this before taking the test, knowing myself to be introverted, visual, and very drawn to nature. Taking the test reinforced this self-understanding, but also made me think more about spirituality and ritual.

For someone who is not kinesthetic or extroverted, should ecstatic ritual be a way to push myself outside of my comfort zone, or should I try to find ritual that works with my strengths? And what would a personal, visual ritual even look like? Perhaps it looks like my meditation and ritual spot:

gems 5


I am obviously most comfortable alone, with a lot of visual and spatial beauty around me. I knew this already. What I still don’t know is how to connect with the larger spiritual community in a meaningful way, a way in which I feel comfortable and enriched.

How does someone with intrapersonal (i.e. introverted) intelligence embrace regular community gatherings? How does a person with very little kinesthetic intelligence find any enrichment in ecstatic ritual? How does someone with logical intelligence find spiritual rituals that speak to their strengths? (I am picturing a Unitarian Universalist sermon, or a lecture-style meeting.) How does a strength in naturalist intelligence translate to urban, or even suburban life?

These are questions that perplex me. Even in mainstream religion, there are often only one or two of these intelligences that are really visible. A Protestant church service will be music-heavy and sermon-heavy; Roman Catholic services will be more kinesthetic; Eastern Orthodox is very kinesthetic as well, but also adds a great deal of visuals and artwork; Reform Judaism incorporates music, chant, and linguistic intelligences (especially if Hebrew is not your first language!).

Is it any surprise then, that so many scientists are agnostic or atheist? Religion simply does not honor the logical intelligence in any ritual or dogma. Do earth-based religions?

Starhawk instantly comes to mind, specifically her work on incorporating scientific knowledge into environmental activism and earth-based spirituality. The Earth Path was an important bridge that helped me connect my logical side to my nature-based spirituality.

So I have no better answers to these questions than when I started writing this. I hope it is a conversation others will join. What is your strongest intelligence? Do you see it reflected back in societal norms, in religion, in education? What would a world look like in which your strongest intelligence was most honored?


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