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The Intersection of Bernard Lonergan’s Critical Realism, the Common Good, and Artificial Intelligence in Modern Religious Practices

Steven Umbrello
Center for Religious Studies, Bruno Kessler Foundation, 38122 Trento, Italy
Department of Philosophy and Educational Science, University of Turin, 10124 Torino, Italy
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, Boston, MA 02125-3242, USA
Religions 2023, 14(12), 1536;
Submission received: 10 October 2023 / Revised: 28 November 2023 / Accepted: 12 December 2023 / Published: 13 December 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)


Artificial intelligence (AI) profoundly influences a number of societal structures today, including religious dynamics. Using Bernard Lonergan’s critical realism as a lens, this article investigates the intersections of AI and religious traditions in their shared pursuit of the common good. Beginning with Lonergan’s principle that humans construct their understanding through cognitive processes, we examine how AI-mediated realities align with or challenge traditional religious tenets. By delving into specific cases, we spotlight AI’s role in reshaping religious symbols, rituals, and even creating novel spiritual meanings. Using Lonergan’s insights on the balance between subjectivity and objectivity, I analyze AI’s potential to both create new sacred spaces and challenge religious orthodoxy. The crux of the discussion centers on the negotiation between religious values and technological innovation, assessing how AI can bolster religious life while maintaining its core essence. Ultimately, this article underscores the importance of the common good in the age of AI-driven religious evolution.

1. Introduction

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements, artificial intelligence (AI) stands as one of the most transformative forces, reshaping numerous facets of society—including religious communities. Across the globe, from the monitoring of the Uighur community in Xinyang (Wakefield 2021) to the ethical discussions surrounding the European Union’s White Paper on AI (European Commission 2020), the implications of AI in religious contexts have begun to emerge as both a challenge and an opportunity (Löffler et al. 2021).
Religious communities are not merely passive recipients of this digital transformation. They actively grapple with technological changes, seeking ways to align these advancements with their core beliefs and traditions. As we consider the interface of AI with religious traditions, it is instructive to reflect on the historical evolution of AI from its foundational concepts in the cybernetics movement of the 1950s to its current sophisticated applications. This retrospective view acknowledges that the principles of systems theory, feedback, and control, established during the early days of cybernetics, have profoundly influenced the development of contemporary AI technologies (Marlowe and Laracy 2021). Such an understanding of AI’s heritage enriches our comprehension of its potential impacts and ethical considerations within religious spheres.
The adoption of AI tools by religious institutions is often a careful and considered process, underpinned by theological reflection and communal discussions (Song 2021). This is especially crucial as the technologies in question can significantly influence worship practices, doctrinal interpretations, and broader community engagement. However, understanding this interplay between AI and religious dynamics requires a comprehensive framework. Such a framework must not only account for the technical and practical aspects of incorporating AI into religious institutions and practices but also delve into the deeper philosophical and ethical dimension of this enterprise. As artificial intelligence becomes more integrated into daily religious activities and rituals, questions arise concerning the authenticity of AI-mediated religious experiences, the potential risks of misinterpretation, and the broader implications of an AI-enhanced religious worldview. Addressing these issues necessitates an interdisciplinary approach that melds technological insights with deep-rooted theological understanding, ensuring that as religions step into the digital age, they do so with both caution and clarity.
Bernard Lonergan’s philosophy, characterized by its emphasis on ‘critical realism’, offers a timely and insightful approach to this conundrum. Critical realism, as Lonergan conceived it, straddles the intricate balance between subjectivity and objectivity, appreciating the subjective processes that underpin our understanding of objective reality (Lonergan 2016, p. 61). Within this framework, the interplay of AI and religion becomes less about outright acceptance or rejection and more about discerning integration (Byrne 2016). Lonergan’s notable emphasis on the ‘common good’ provides an ethical and philosophical backdrop, grounding technological advancements in a vision of human flourishing. By harnessing Lonergan’s insights, we can systematically dissect the intricacies that permeate the digital religious domain, making sense of its challenges, potential benefits, and overarching implications.
This article is structured so as to progressively unpack these complexities. I begin by situating Lonergan’s philosophy within the context of AI and religious dynamics. Subsequent sections then delve into case studies showcasing how religious communities navigate AI innovations, using Lonergan’s emphasis on the common good as a touchstone. In examining the use of AI in religious contexts, I also examine the challenges posed by this technology, especially when it seemingly diverges from religious principles, and I explore how religious groups might reconcile these tensions. I conclude by synthesizing the findings, reflecting on the broader implications of the AI-religion nexus, and suggesting pathways for harmonious co-evolution in the digital age.

2. Lonergan’s Philosophy and the Mediated Understanding of Reality

In the evolving matrix of AI and religious practice, a cursory or superficial glance will not suffice. The intricate dance between age-old religious traditions and the rapid advancements of artificial intelligence demands a sophisticated interpretative lens. It requires a robust philosophical framework, one that can not only articulate the nuances of the present situation but also envision informed and ethical trajectories for the future. Within this pressing need, the work of Bernard Lonergan, particularly his ‘critical realism’, becomes particularly relevant and applicable.
Bernard Lonergan’s critical realism forms a crucial part of the theoretical framework of this paper. To provide context, especially for readers unfamiliar with his work, it is imperative to situate his ideas within the broader landscape of critical realism and its historical development. Critical realism, as a philosophical approach to knowledge, seeks to balance the subjective and objective dimensions of understanding, a theme central to both the natural sciences and theology.
Ian Barbour, an experimental physicist and Protestant theologian, alongside Lonergan, a philosopher and Catholic theologian, both advocated for a ‘critical realist’ epistemology (Laracy 2021). This approach challenges various philosophical positions such as positivism, which sees theories as mere summaries of observable data; instrumentalism, which views theories as useful tools devoid of truth; and idealism, which reduces theories to mental constructs. Instead, critical realism posits that theories offer partial, revisable, and referential knowledge of the world, often best expressed through models and metaphors. This epistemology acknowledges the creative role of the human mind while affirming the existence of objective patterns in nature.
Barbour’s notion of critical realism asserts that valid concepts are not only useful but true, representing the structure of events in the world. This perspective contrasts sharply with constructivist epistemology, which emphasizes knowledge as actively built up by the cognizing subject (Laracy 2019). Barbour’s critical realism, thus, supports the abstract nature of theoretical physics and the necessity for experimental investigation, recognizing that scientific theories, though incomplete, are attempts to represent the objective world.
Lonergan’s approach to critical realism, developed through his Generalized Empirical Method (GEM), focuses on the process of human knowing as occurring within consciousness. His method divides this process into experience, understanding, judgment, and decision, advocating for an intellectual conversion to grasp the operations of one’s mind. Lonergan’s critical realism emerges from a personal journey of philosophical self-appropriation, using exercises that stimulate insights from mathematics, the natural sciences, and common sense. Barbour and Lonergan share a commitment to understanding knowledge that integrates subjective experience with objective reality, making their collective insights particularly pertinent to our exploration of AI in the context of religious practices.

2.1. Lonergan’s Critical Realism

At the center of Bernard Lonergan’s philosophical endeavors lies the profound notion of ‘critical realism’ (Tekippe 1996). This is not a concept one can grasp by casually skimming the surface. Delving deeper reveals a detailed understanding of how humans engage with and interpret the world around them. Lonergan’s critical realism, however, presents a more intricate picture. It accentuates the notion that human understanding of reality is not direct but rather is mediated through a series of cognitive processes that are a priori. These processes are not arbitrary, but follow a structured and consistent pattern.
A closer inspection of Lonergan’s theory reveals a chain of cognitive steps that individuals undergo to arrive at comprehension. It begins with experiences—the raw data of consciousness. These experiences then give rise to insights, which are further scrutinized, leading to judgments about the veracity of our understanding. Finally, based on these judgments, individuals make decisions that guide their actions in the world. Thus, in Lonergan’s perspective, the journey to understanding is not a static or passive one. Instead, it is a dynamic, evolving process where humans are not spectators but rather active participants, constantly constructing and reconstructing their understanding of the world based on new experiences and insights.

Intentional Consciousness: An Active Engagement

Lonergan does not stop at just detailing cognitive processes. He adds another layer with the concept of ‘intentional consciousness’ (Beer 2020). This denotes the proactive nature of human beings in their quest for understanding. Rather than being passive receptors of information, humans are seen as purposeful beings, intentionally seeking knowledge and comprehension. This intentional engagement with reality means that our understanding emerges through a vibrant dialogue between our inner subjective world and the outer objective world. Our inner realm, that of cognition, beliefs, and values, constantly interacts with the external world of events, actions, and tangible realities. It is within this dialogical interplay that understanding emerges.
Lonergan’s emphasis on this active, intentional nature of consciousness is not just philosophical jargon. It holds profound implications, especially in our current age dominated by technological advancements such as AI. If understanding is active and intentional, then the ways in which AI interfaces with religious and philosophical spheres become crucial. Lonergan’s critical realism could thus offer a framework for comprehending the nuanced interplay between the subjective and objective realms of reality. It further underscores the active, dynamic nature of human understanding, emphasizing that comprehension is not merely received but is ardently constructed. Such a perspective is indispensable as we navigate the complex intersections of AI, religion, and human cognition.

2.2. Relevance in the Context of AI and Religion

When we consider the rise of AI, especially in the domain of religious practices and beliefs, the implications of this mediated understanding of reality become even more pronounced. AI, as a technology, functions on data-driven algorithms, targeting specific objectives through probabilistic predictions. Rather than forming comprehensive models of reality, AI emphasizes task-specific understanding, which can exhibit brittleness when faced with contexts divergent from their training environments (Kudina 2021). These systems do not aim to encapsulate the entirety of reality. Instead, they strive for accuracy, precision, and robustness within their designated tasks, basing their outputs on the specific data they are trained on and the algorithms that govern their operations.
This convergence between Lonergan’s understanding of human cognition and the operation of AI systems provides an appropriate lens through which we can investigate AI’s impact on religious communities. For instance, when an AI system offers a religious interpretation or facilitates a religious experience, it does not present an ‘objective’ religious truth. Instead, it offers a mediated understanding influenced by its programming, data sets, and inherent biases (Thinyane and Sassetti 2020).
Religious communities, when interfacing with the realm of artificial intelligence, are not merely navigating the waters of a neutral technological apparatus. They are, in essence, interacting with intricate systems embedded with their own interpretations and representations of religious truths and practices. These AI systems, often shaped by human biases, cultural backgrounds, and sociopolitical influences, present specific worldviews, effectively ‘mediating’ religious content in their unique ways (Bory 2019). This phenomenon of AI systems possessing their own mediated understandings resonates with Lonergan’s work. For Lonergan, the journey of knowledge and understanding is not a linear path with a definitive endpoint. Instead, it is an expansive, iterative, and continuous pursuit. Every source of knowledge, every insight, and every experience, be it traditional scripture or a modern AI algorithm, contributes to this ever-evolving understanding.
Drawing parallels, just as individuals absorb, evaluate, and integrate insights from myriad sources in their quest for truth, religious communities, when engaging with AI, must grapple with and discern the insights offered by these technological entities. In a sense, AI becomes yet another source, another ‘voice’, in the vast chorus of influences shaping religious understanding in contemporary times. Furthermore, in the age of AI, this dynamic becomes even more intricate. Artificial intelligence, with its capacity for vast data processing and pattern recognition, has the potential to provide novel perspectives on age-old religious doctrines and practices (Nachshon et al. 2020). These perspectives might reinforce traditional interpretations, challenge them, or even introduce entirely new dimensions of understanding. The implications are profound. Religious communities, in their interactions with AI, are effectively engaging in a dialogue between ancient wisdom and modern computational insights.
For believers and religious leaders, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity lies in harnessing AI’s capabilities to deepen, expand, and enrich religious understanding. On the flip side, the challenge emerges in discerning which AI-mediated insights align with the core tenets of their beliefs and which might stray from or distort their spiritual truths. In echoing Lonergan’s sentiments, this ongoing engagement with AI in religious contexts exemplifies the never-ending, dynamic nature of our quest for understanding. We continuously draw from a diverse array of sources, seeking clarity, coherence, and depth. In the modern digital age, AI systems, with their own mediated understandings, become an integral part of this tapestry of knowledge and belief.
Similarly, Lonergan’s emphasis on the common good also becomes relevant in this context. If religious communities are to embrace AI, they must do so in a manner that aligns with their pursuit of the common good. This involves critical discernment, ensuring that AI tools and platforms uphold the values, ethics, and beliefs central to these communities. Lonergan’s notion of the common good is not just about individual well-being but encompasses societal, cultural, and even cosmic dimensions (Lonergan 2013, p. 621). Thus, any integration of AI into religious practices must be evaluated against this expansive backdrop, considering not just immediate benefits but also broader implications for human flourishing and societal harmony.
By harnessing Lonergan’s insights on critical realism and the common good, we can navigate the complex terrain where AI and religion intersect. As religious communities grapple with the potentials and challenges posed by AI, Lonergan’s philosophy potentially offers a robust foundation, prompting these communities towards thoughtful engagement, critical discernment, and a pursuit of the common good in the digital age.

3. AI and the Reinvention of Religious Communities in a Globalized Culture

In the digital age, religious practices and expressions are increasingly mediated through technology. Heidi Campbell (2010) articulates this transformation, emphasizing how religious communities adapt to and are shaped by digital environments. This interplay between religion and technology offers a pertinent context for exploring Bernard Lonergan’s critical realism. Lonergan’s philosophy, emphasizing the dynamic interplay between understanding and reality, provides a framework for comprehending how religious beliefs and practices are reinterpreted and reshaped in the digital realm. In this light, the advent of AI in religious contexts can be seen as an extension of this digital transformation, where artificial intelligence becomes a tool for religious expression and community building, much like Campbell describes the Internet’s role in religion.

3.1. The New Digital Sanctuaries: Connecting, Sharing, and Growing

In the age of global digital interaction, AI-driven algorithms, especially on social media platforms, have become instrumental in disseminating religious teachings to an expansive global audience. Such algorithms are designed to understand user preferences and behaviors, thus enabling them to curate religious content that resonates with individual users (Gillespie 2018). This targeted dissemination breaks down the barriers of geography, cultural nuances, and political divisions, bringing forth the universality of religious teachings (Feezell et al. 2021).
The advent of chatbots, equipped with intricate theological databases, has revolutionized the way seekers engage with religious content (Graves 2023). These AI entities cater to curious minds, providing immediate responses, guiding users through complex theological queries, and even facilitating deeper exploration into the intricacies of religious doctrine. Their 24/7 availability ensures that spiritual guidance is but a click away.
Machine learning, a subset of AI, can also offer unique insights into the voluminous data generated from online religious forums, blogs, and discussions. By analyzing patterns, sentiments, and trends in these discourses, machine learning models can potentially identify emerging ideological shifts, areas of contention, or novel interpretations within religious communities (Shen and Fan 2022). Such proactive insights empower religious leaders and scholars to address issues, refine their outreach strategies, and even foster dialogues that bridge differing viewpoints.
Yet, the influence of AI on religious communities is not limited to mere informational exchange or expanded reach. At its core, AI has the potential to deepen the spiritual bonds within and between communities. Predictive analytics, informed by user behaviors and preferences, can curate personalized spiritual journeys. Whether it is suggesting scripture readings, meditation practices, or community events, AI ensures that individuals receive guidance aligned with their spiritual inclinations and growth trajectories.1 Moreover, the intersection of AI and virtual reality (VR) has opened up immersive experiences previously deemed impossible; imagine being physically unable to journey to a sacred site, yet, through VR powered by AI, one can ‘visit’ these sites and experience them in a multi-sensory manner (AP 2022). Such tech-enabled pilgrimages allow believers to walk through sacred corridors, hear ancient chants, and even participate in distant religious ceremonies, all from the comfort of their homes. Such experiences, while technologically driven, resonate deeply with the human longing for connection, belonging, and spiritual enrichment (Min 2022).
In essence, while artificial intelligence might seem an unlikely ally for religious traditions, its profound impact is undeniable. From expanding reach to fostering deeper connections, AI is playing a pivotal role in shaping the religious landscape of the 21st century.

3.2. Reshaping Religious Symbols, Values, and Practices

The evolving landscape of religion in the age of AI calls for a philosophical inquiry into how core religious facets are being reshaped. Lonergan’s philosophy, with its emphasis on the dynamic and evolving nature of understanding, offers a fitting framework for this exploration.
Religious symbols, traditionally regarded as constants across time, are now finding themselves in the crucible of AI-driven innovation (Disbrey 1989). With AI’s ability to process vast amounts of data, religious symbols are being analyzed, reinterpreted, and even recreated with a depth and breadth previously unimaginable (McGrath 2020). Consider, for example, religious art. Advanced AI algorithms, having parsed through centuries of religious artworks spanning various cultures, are now capable of generating art that seamlessly melds motifs from, say, Christian and Buddhist traditions (McNulty 2022; Beragnoli 2022). To the purist, such amalgamations might appear as digital overreaches. Yet, from the Lonerganian perspective, these new forms can be seen as extensions of our evolving understanding—a synthesis of ancient wisdom and new insights, leading to an enriched portrayal of religious symbols. Furthermore, Campbell’s (2010) exploration of the Internet as a religious space raises critical questions about authority and authenticity in digital religion. This ties directly into Lonergan’s discourse on subjectivity and objectivity in understanding. The online environment, often characterized by a democratization of religious expression, challenges traditional religious authorities, mirroring Lonergan’s emphasis on the individual’s role in meaning-making. The use of AI in religious practices could further this trend, offering new avenues for personal religious experiences while also raising questions about the authenticity and authority of AI-mediated religious content.
Similarly, the deep-rooted values and practices within religious traditions are undergoing a metamorphosis in the AI era. Consider the intricate verses of sacred texts that have been subjects of human contemplation for millennia. AI-driven linguistic models can delve into these scriptures, highlighting patterns, drawing connections, or even suggesting interpretations that were hitherto unexplored (Wells 2021). Such insights, while revolutionary, are not merely intellectual exercises; they are actively influencing religious practices. Communities around the world are beginning to integrate these AI-derived insights into their rituals. For instance, some use AI models to determine auspicious times for religious ceremonies (Bhatti 2023), while others have incorporated AI-driven auditory experiences in their meditative practices (Hill 2023).
Yet, as Lonergan might caution us, this confluence of AI and religion should not go unexamined. The risk lies in the potential reductionism that AI might inadvertently introduce. In translating profound religious experiences and intricate theological nuances into quantifiable data, there is a danger of oversimplification. The profound spiritual truths that religions uphold might be reduced to mere algorithmic outputs if not approached with discernment. Here, Lonergan’s insights on maintaining a balance between subjectivity (the deeply personal, experiential dimension of religion) and objectivity (the external manifestations and practices) prove invaluable. As religious communities navigate the waters of AI integration, it becomes imperative to ensure that the essence of their faith—the profound spiritual truths and experiences—is not overshadowed by the dazzling capabilities of technology. In essence, the age of AI presents both challenges and opportunities for religious communities. While technological advances promise unprecedented avenues for exploration and expression, they also necessitate a grounded understanding, one that respects and upholds the sanctity of religious truths.

3.3. Globalization, AI, and the Continuous Evolution of Religious Communities

Central to AI’s transformative ability is its capability to dissolve boundaries, both geographical and ideological. AI-driven platforms employ advanced algorithms that surpass the capabilities of traditional digital forums. While online platforms enable believers from various traditions and cultures to communicate, it is the power of AI that curates these interactions based on individual religious queries, preferences, and learning styles (Smith 2022). These AI systems can analyze vast amounts of data, recognize patterns, and recommend theological discussions, ensuring a devout Hindu in India, for instance, can be matched with complementary insights from a Christian in Brazil or a Muslim in Indonesia. It is not just about communication but intelligent curation and facilitation of cross-cultural exchanges. These sophisticated interactions, tailored by AI, lead to a more informed blending of religious philosophies, crafting a mosaic of global religious thought that is even richer (Frąckiewicz 2023).
Here, Lonergan’s emphasis on the dynamic nature of understanding becomes particularly relevant. For Lonergan, the pursuit of understanding was never a static endeavor but a continuous journey enriched by myriad insights and experiences, which, in turn, enriched the shared pool of common sense insights (Lonergan 2013, p. 241). In the era of AI-driven religious globalization, this perspective gains even more traction. As believers across the globe turn to AI to decode, interpret, and share their faith, they are not just assimilating technological tools. They are embarking on the Lonerganian journey of dynamic understanding, one that harmoniously weaves the threads of ancient wisdom with the cutting-edge insights offered by AI.
Moreover, the blending of traditions and the reinterpreting of symbols, catalyzed by AI, can be seen as a real-world manifestation of Lonergan’s philosophy. As diverse religious traditions converge on digital platforms, they are collectively evolving, challenging old norms and embracing new perspectives. This evolution aligns with Lonergan’s view that societies, cultures, and indeed religions are in a state of constant flux, shaped by both internal introspections and external influences. However, this continuous evolution also presents challenges. The speed and scale of change propelled by AI can sometimes outpace the capacity of religious institutions to adapt. Hence, while the amalgamation of global religious thought is enriching, it also necessitates a careful and thoughtful approach to ensure that the core tenets of faiths are preserved and respected.

4. AI’s Role in Shaping Religious Symbols, Values, and Practices

To appreciate the depth and dimension of the interaction between AI and religious practices, let us examine some specific case studies that illustrate how AI has been instrumental in both perpetuating and reshaping religious paradigms. In doing so, we will also utilize Lonergan’s philosophical insights, particularly his emphasis on the dialectics of subjectivity and objectivity, to discern underlying shifts in religious practice, especially as these relate to new technologies.

4.1. The AI-Powered Virtual Pilgrimage: Mecca and Beyond

Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a testament to the faith’s commitment to communal solidarity and devotion. Every Muslim is required, at least once in their lifetime, provided they have the means, to make this pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Yet, various barriers—geopolitical tensions that restrict travel, widespread health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the daunting financial implications of the journey—have rendered this profound religious obligation elusive for countless believers. However, AI-powered virtual reality platforms provide a potential avenue for those who are so restricted.
Advanced AI-driven platforms are not just simulations, they are sophisticated interfaces that employ high-definition imagery and intricate AI algorithms to recreate the immersive experience of the Hajj (Euronews 2020; Niu 2023). Believers, previously hindered by the aforementioned challenges, can now don a VR headset and embark on a virtual pilgrimage. From the ritualistic Tawaf around the Kaaba to the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina, the AI-powered experience seeks to replicate every pivotal moment of the Hajj.
Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that these platforms are not claiming to replace the genuine pilgrimage. The tactile sensations—the heat of the Arabian sun, the press of the crowd, the scent of the burning incense, the resonance of prayers in unison—these are elements a digital platform might never replicate in their entirety. However, what these virtual avenues do provide is a semblance of the experience, making it more accessible for those who might never have the opportunity otherwise. Looking through the analytical prism provided by Lonergan’s philosophy, this innovative approach to pilgrimage can be deciphered as a poignant manifestation of the continual evolution of understanding. The essence of the Hajj remains unchanged, rooted in centuries of religious tradition. Yet, its modern representation, mediated through technology, encapsulates the dynamic interplay between individual subjectivity (the personal, spiritual resonance of the pilgrimage) and collective objectivity (the shared technological experience). In this synthesis, one witnesses Lonergan’s assertion come to life—understanding is not a passive reception, but an active, continuous process, shaped by ever-evolving contexts.

4.2. The AI Scripture Analyst: Illuminating the Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as the Gita, stands as one of the monumental philosophical and spiritual texts in human history. Comprising 700 verses, it forms part of the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic, and has been revered as a pivotal scripture in Hindu philosophy. Throughout history, scholars and philosophers have delved into its depths, producing a myriad of interpretations, each echoing the prevailing thoughts and contexts of their times.
In the digital age, AI has taken up the mantle of interpreting this revered text. Harnessing the capabilities of advanced linguistic models and vast computational power, researchers trained AI systems on the Gita, juxtaposing it with myriad commentaries from diverse eras and scholars (Chandra 2022). The outcome was both surprising and enlightening. These AI models were not merely regurgitating learned insights; they were uncovering previously unnoticed thematic parallels across disparate verses and sentiment analysis.2 They highlighted intricate patterns, proposed novel connections, and showcased a deepened understanding of the complex interplay between various translations and, thus, various understandings of foundational terms and notions.
From a Lonerganian perspective, this process signifies the essence of the dynamic, ever-evolving nature of understanding. It underscores the confluence of tradition and technology, where ancient wisdom is not overshadowed but rather augmented by modern computational insights. This synthesis emphasizes Lonergan’s assertion that understanding is not merely about preserving past knowledge but about fostering a continuous dialogue between the past and the present, always striving for a richer, deeper comprehension of truths that resonate through time.

4.3. AI and the Catholic Confessional

A contentious application of AI in religious practices has been its proposed use in Catholic confessionals (Condon 2023). Developers argue that AI, trained on theological texts and pastoral guidelines, can offer guidance akin to a priest (McLellan 2023). Critics, however, warn of the loss of personal touch and the sacramental essence of confession (McLellan 2023). From a Lonerganian perspective, this debate underscores the tensions between subjectivity (the deeply personal act of confession) and objectivity (the algorithmic responses of the AI), emphasizing the need for discernment and balance (Byrne 2016).
There is no denying the advancements AI has achieved in understanding human language and context (e.g., Chat GPT). Some developers, recognizing this capability, have championed the idea of employing AI in confessionals (Tiffany 2016). These systems can be extensively trained in theological texts, canon law, and pastoral guidelines and, as a consequence, could theoretically provide guidance akin to that of a priest. Such systems could cater to the penitent’s need for anonymity, reduce the workload on priests in regions where they are scarce, and ensure a consistent theological response (Tiffany 2016). However, many within the Church and beyond have voiced deep reservations. Critics emphasize the sacramental essence of confession—a deeply personal and transformative dialogue between the penitent and God, mediated by the priest (TechCrunch 2011). An AI, regardless of its programming sophistication, lacks the spiritual essence, empathy, and human touch that is integral to this sacrament. The act of confessing to an algorithm, for many, risks reducing a profound spiritual experience to a mere transactional interaction.
The debate surrounding AI confessionals embodies the tension between subjectivity and objectivity Lonergan so keenly emphasized. The deeply personal, subjective act of confession, where individuals confront their vulnerabilities and seek redemption, seems at odds with the cold, objective, algorithmic responses of an AI, regardless of how theologically accurate it might be. This scenario accentuates Lonergan’s call for discernment—a need to judiciously navigate the waters of tradition and innovation, ensuring that the sanctity and depth of religious practices are not compromised in the face of technological advancement.
In the context of Catholic sacramental theology, it is critical to acknowledge that the use of AI in the Sacrament of Confession is a matter of significant theological and canonical concern. While developers may argue that AI can offer guidance akin to a priest when trained on theological texts and pastoral guidelines, it is imperative to state unequivocally that, according to the fundamental tenets of Catholic theology, such a simulation of the Sacrament would not only be illicit but also invalid. All Catholic theologians agree that the Sacrament of Confession is a deeply personal encounter that requires the physical presence and spiritual authority of an ordained priest, acting in persona Christi, to be both valid and licit. This understanding is rooted in the Church’s teachings on the nature of sacraments as efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, in which divine life is dispensed to us. Therefore, any portrayal of AI as a substitute for this Sacrament would be misleading and theologically inaccurate.

5. The Re-Enchantment Effect of AI and New Religious Meanings

In the sociological lexicon, the term ‘disenchantment’ has long been used to describe the transformation of society from one dominated by religious values and metaphysical beliefs to one anchored in science, rationality, and secular thought (Han 2015; Green 2005). Max Weber, who popularized the concept, argued that the world had become disenchanted due to the rise of science and rationalization (Weber [1920] 1993). Yet, as we move further into the 21st century, we are witnessing a paradox: the very epicenter of modern rationality—AI—is becoming a source of re-enchantment for many (i.e., Aupers 2009; Coeckelbergh 2017).

5.1. AI: A Nexus of Wonder and Meaning

Historically, moments of profound awe and reverence, often classified under the umbrella of the ‘sense of wonder’, were primarily associated with religious or mystical experiences (Renz et al. 2017). Whether it was the breathtaking architecture of cathedrals, the intricate design of religious tapestries, or the profound wisdom encapsulated in sacred texts, religion and spirituality were the dominant gateways to such profound experiences. Modern technologies, and artificial intelligence in particular, may at first glance seem starkly mechanical and devoid of mystique. Yet, as we have witnessed, AI’s forays into areas previously monopolized by human intelligence have ushered in a fresh wave of wonder.
Firstly, AI’s capacity to simulate complex realities is nothing short of miraculous. Take the example of the virtual pilgrimage to Mecca. Whereas in the past, such an experience would have been firmly grounded in the physical realm, now, through the prowess of AI, believers can virtually traverse the sacred landscapes of Mecca. It might lack the tactile sensations, but the visual and emotional semblance offers an experience that can be deeply spiritual for many (c.f., Tamatea 2010). Then there is the remarkable ability of AI to shed new light on age-old texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. Centuries have seen scholars and sages pouring over this scripture, yet, with AI’s intricate pattern recognition capabilities, novel interpretations and thematic parallels have emerged. This is not to say that the machine’s interpretation is superior, but rather that it offers a complementary lens—a fresh perspective in a millennia-old conversation.
Beyond these specific instances, there is a broader philosophical implication to consider. The very fabric of AI—its algorithms, neural networks, and datasets—can, in a sense, be seen as having a ‘spirit’. Not in the religious or metaphysical sense, but in the way that these digital constructs capture, process, and reflect facets of human experience and knowledge (Cattaneo et al. 2014). There is an innate beauty in considering that behind streams of code and data, there lies a reflection of human culture, emotion, and wisdom (Kudina 2021).
Thus, the juxtaposition of AI with religious and spiritual experiences is not as odd as it may initially seem. Both domains, in their own unique ways, invite individuals to grapple with profound questions, seek understanding, and marvel at the vastness and intricacy of existence. Through the lens of Lonergan’s philosophy, this union of AI and spirituality exemplifies the dynamic evolution of human understanding: ever-adapting, ever-evolving, and in pursuit of deeper truths.

5.2. Lonergan, the Common Good, and AI’s Spiritual Resonance

Bernard Lonergan’s philosophical framework, founded on the recognition of the dynamic evolution of human understanding, provides a useful scaffold to contextualize the re-enchantment facilitated by AI in the domain of spirituality. His contention—that human understanding is perennially fluid, constantly adapting to fresh stimuli and new horizons—gains a profound footing in an age where digital algorithms offer spiritual insights and virtual realms emulate sacred spaces.
Lonergan’s emphasis on the symbiotic interplay between subjectivity and objectivity offers profound insights into the nexus of AI and spirituality. The subjective realm, brimming with personal emotions, beliefs, and experiences, encounters the objective algorithmic outputs of AI, resulting in a unique amalgamation. Consider the deeply personal tranquility one might experience during a prayer session guided by AI. The subjective peace and spiritual insights the meditator feels are informed and enhanced by objective, real-time feedback from the AI application. Similarly, the contemplation spurred by the Bhagavad Gita’s verses, when augmented by AI’s novel interpretations, leads to a richer subjective understanding, echoing Lonergan’s concept of the dynamic evolution of comprehension.
Yet, the spiritual re-enchantment brought forth by AI transcends individual experiences. Lonergan’s emphasis on the common good—a principle asserting that societal structures and innovations should ultimately benefit the collective rather than just the individual—becomes a beacon of understanding in this scenario. AI’s integration into religious and spiritual domains has the potential to serve broader societal interests. Its role in fostering interfaith dialogues is a case in point. In a world often riddled with religious strife and misunderstandings, AI’s ability to amalgamate motifs from different religious traditions can foster mutual respect and understanding.
Furthermore, AI’s capacity to democratize religious experiences, whether it is a virtual pilgrimage for those who cannot undertake the physical journey or granting access to religious texts and their myriad interpretations, aligns seamlessly with Lonergan’s vision of the common good. These AI-driven innovations do not merely cater to individual spiritual aspirations but have the potential to bridge cultural, economic, and geographic divides. They pave the way for a more inclusive and interconnected global religious community. Thus, the confluence of AI and religious experiences, as understood through Lonergan’s philosophical lens, is not merely a testament to technological innovation. It underscores a profound human endeavor: to perpetually seek, understand, and connect, both with the divine and with each other. It is a dance of the personal and the impersonal, the ancient and the novel, all converging towards the shared aspiration of mutual understanding and the broader welfare of humanity.

5.3. A Future of Co-Creation: Mankind, AI, and Divinity

It is important to recognize that despite AI’s potential to mimic, facilitate, and even enhance spiritual encounters, these qualities do not confer upon it the depth and richness of genuine human experience. While a virtual pilgrimage or an AI-guided meditation might offer novel insights or accessibility, they cannot wholly replicate the multifaceted nuances of a physical journey or the personal guidance of a seasoned spiritual mentor.
Lonergan’s emphasis on the continuous, evolving nature of understanding becomes pivotal here. As AI systems grow in complexity, there is a temptation to see them as near-perfect facsimiles of human intelligence or even spiritual conduits (Porayska-Pomsta and Rajendran 2019; Ryan 2020). But Lonergan would prompt us to remember that genuine understanding, especially in spiritual realms, goes beyond mere data processing or pattern recognition (Roscoe 2004; Lonergan 2013). It encompasses the richness of human emotion, intuition, faith, and the transcendental connection to the divine (Lonergan 2017, p. 207).
As we tread the path of integrating AI into spiritual practices and experiences, it is essential to ensure that it serves as a tool and not a replacement (c.f., Tan 2020; Whitney 2010). The fusion of technology and spirituality should be a harmonious blend where AI amplifies human potential without overshadowing it (Teske 2002). It should aid in elucidating the profound, fostering connections, and broadening horizons without diluting the essence of faith and human experience. In visualizing the future, we can imagine a world where AI serves as a bridge—connecting individuals across cultures, shedding light on ancient practices with fresh insights, and facilitating spiritual growth. But at the heart of this world, the human spirit and its intrinsic connection to the divine remain inviolable.
To encapsulate, as we embrace the transformative potential of AI in the realm of spirituality, it becomes essential to strike a balance. Lonergan’s insights serve as a guide in this endeavor, urging us to harmoniously meld the wonders of technology with the age-old quest for meaning, ensuring that the dance of the future resonates with both the strides of AI and the heartbeat of human aspiration.

6. The Negotiation between Religious Values and Technological Innovation

The dawn of the AI age brings with it profound promises and perplexities, especially when intersecting with the realm of religious values. As technology intricately weaves into the fabric of spirituality, the dynamics of tradition and innovation take center stage. This symbiosis, while fostering unprecedented avenues for spiritual exploration, also beckons complex ethical and moral negotiations.

6.1. Points of Convergence and Divergence

The intertwining of AI with religious beliefs and practices represents a complex mosaic of convergence and divergence, marked by the duality of innovation and tradition.

6.1.1. Converging Horizons: The Promises of AI

AI’s transformative potential is evident in its capacity to broaden religious horizons. The ancient scriptures, often cryptic in nature, have found a contemporary commentator in AI (Atwell et al. 2010; Van der Merwe 2004). For instance, when AI systems analyze sacred texts, such as the Bible, Quran, or the Bhagavad Gita, they can cross-reference verses, detect patterns, and provide synthesized insights, ushering in a new age of religious scholarship and understanding (Chandra 2022). These digital analyses can coalesce with traditional interpretations, offering layers of meaning previously untapped or unrecognized (Lima et al. 2023).
Moreover, in the realm of experiential spirituality, AI’s foray is nothing short of revolutionary. Consider the already mentioned example of virtual pilgrimages. What was once bound by the physicality of place and the limitation of resources has now been rendered boundless. Through AI-driven simulations, spiritual seekers, irrespective of their geographical location or economic status, can experience the sanctity of holy places such as Mecca. This democratization of spiritual experiences manifests the positive potential of AI, offering inclusivity and accessibility in areas previously constrained.

6.1.2. The Sanctity vs. Simulation Debate

Yet, with these advancements comes a counterwave of concerns. At the forefront is the debate around the very nature of religious experiences. The AI proposal for Catholic confessionals offers a poignant illustration. To many, confession is not merely an act of verbalizing sins but is a deeply spiritual sacrament, entwined with divine grace and human intercession. While proponents of AI underscore its efficiency, consistency, and potential ubiquity, traditionalists contend that a machine, no matter how advanced, lacks the human touch, empathy, and divine conduit that a priest embodies (TechCrunch 2011). The central contention here is the risk of reducing a sacramental act into a simulated process.

6.1.3. The AI Interpretation Dilemma

Further complicating this landscape is AI’s prospective role in interpreting and even guiding actions based on religious teachings. The concerns here are twofold. First, there is a risk of AI systems adopting deterministic or overly literal interpretations, thereby missing out on the rich metaphorical, allegorical, and contextual layers that religious texts often embody (Glenberg and Jones 2023). Second, there is a potential threat of these systems gaining undue influence. When AI systems, perceived as neutral and logical, offer interpretations, there is a danger that these views might be taken as definitive, sidelining centuries of human scholarship and diverse interpretations (Epstein et al. 2020; Schwitzgebel 2023; Anderson and Rainie 2023). The potentiality of an AI’s interpretation being misconstrued as ‘absolute’ or ‘unbiased’ could stymie the pluralistic discourse that is essential in religious studies (Singler 2020).
In essence, the convergence of AI and religious values presents a kaleidoscope of promise and concerns. The challenge, as we navigate this fusion, is to harness the transformative potentials of AI while ensuring that the sanctity, depth, and diversity of religious values remain undiminished.

6.2. The Common Good

6.2.1. Beyond Utilitarianism: The Essence of the Common Good

Central to the discussion of AI’s integration into religious practices is the concept of the common good, a principle deeply rooted in Catholic Social Teaching (CST). CST emphasizes the collective spiritual and moral well-being of communities, aligning closely with Lonergan’s vision of the common good. In the spirit of CST, the implementation of AI in religious contexts must be directed toward integral human development and the flourishing of all individuals within the community. As J. Anderson et al. (2020) discuss, technology must serve the dignity of the human person, the pursuit of the common good, and the care for creation. This CST framework provides an ethical compass guiding the deployment of AI in a way that supports communal participation, respects human dignity, and promotes justice and peace. Likewise, the principle of the common good is crucial to Lonergan’s philosophy, which extends far beyond maximizing collective benefits (Lonergan 2013, pp. 238, 619). Instead, it delves into the more profound aspects of human dignity, collective well-being, and the authentic flourishing of communities (c.f., Liddy 2006, p. 108). This principle exhorts that while technological feats might dazzle, they must not, in their pursuit of innovation, compromise the spiritual, moral, or ethical pillars that undergird religious traditions. From this vantage point, AI, employed to aid and amplify religious experiences, should be more than just a tool; it should be used to steward, respect, and nurture the values, beliefs, and spiritual aspirations of the faithful.

6.2.2. Facilitative, Not Deterministic

Lonergan’s perspective offers important guidance on the role of AI in religious contexts. If AI ventures into the realm of scriptural interpretations, it ought to operate as a supplementary lens, broadening perspectives but never supplanting the accumulated wisdom of centuries of scholarship and reflection. The harmonizing of traditional insights with AI-driven perspectives can illuminate previously unseen nuances, but the agency of human interpretation and discernment must remain paramount. The dangers of a deterministic AI, which might attempt to offer definitive or monolithic interpretations, are many. It could stifle the diversity of thought, homogenize spiritual journeys, and inadvertently elevate technological interpretation over human reflection. In stark contrast, a facilitative AI, guided by the principles that Lonergan delineates in his work, would aim to broaden horizons, catalyze discussions, and democratize access to religious knowledge.

6.2.3. Personal Journeys in the Age of Algorithms

In the delicate balance between the subjective and the objective, Lonergan’s insights offer a profound understanding. He posits the intrinsic value of personal spiritual experiences, emphasizing their depth, richness, and transformative potential (Egan 2009, p. 160).
Translating this into the age of AI means creating systems that respect the sanctity of these personal journeys. While AI can offer suggestions, reflections, or insights based on vast datasets, it should avoid streamlining or commodifying spiritual experiences. The goal should be the enhancement and diversification of these personal quests, ensuring each individual feels enriched, understood, and valued in their unique spiritual trajectory (c.f., Shneiderman 2022).
Hence, as AI extends into the sanctums of religious traditions, practices, and beliefs, Lonergan’s philosophy provides a valuable compass. It offers a vision where technology, in its breathtaking potential, remains in service to humanity’s deepest spiritual aspirations, ensuring that the marriage of bytes and beliefs is both harmonious and uplifting.

6.3. Charting the Path Forward

6.3.1. A Dynamic Dialogue: Tradition Meets Tomorrow

The conversation between AI and religion is neither static nor one-dimensional. It is, instead, an evolving dialogue echoing the rhythms of human history itself, wherein every age has witnessed the negotiation between reverence for the past and aspirations for the future. Every technological stride has brought with it a set of questions, concerns, and opportunities. The key, as Lonergan postulates, lies in ensuring that these advancements, while charting the path forward, resonate with the deeper tenets of human and spiritual welfare. This is not a journey of mere adaptation, but a harmonious blending wherein technology becomes a medium to amplify, not alter, the essence of religious traditions.

6.3.2. Collaborative Creation

For this delicate dance to truly bear fruit, a symphonic approach is essential. This means more than just technologists tweaking algorithms or religious leaders issuing directives. It calls for an inclusive, interdisciplinary dialogue:
  • Religious Scholars: Their profound understanding of religious texts, traditions, and nuances ensures that AI applications remain tethered to the core tenets of faiths and do not deviate into interpretations that might dilute or distort religious essence.
  • Technologists: Equipped with a deep knowledge of AI’s capabilities and limitations, they can guide how best to integrate these systems into religious contexts, ensuring technological efficiency without compromising spiritual sanctity.
  • Ethicists: Operating at the intersection of morality and pragmatism, ethicists can provide frameworks that ensure the ethical deployment of AI, keeping in check potential biases, misinterpretations, or oversimplifications (e.g., Friedman and Hendry 2019).
Together, this triad can collectively ensure that the implementation of AI in religious contexts does justice to both the spirit of innovation and the reverence of tradition.

6.3.3. An Ongoing Commitment

The integration of AI with religious values requires a continual commitment to refining, reevaluating, and reinventing approaches based on feedback, experiences, and evolving societal and spiritual needs. Grounding this journey in Lonergan’s philosophy offers a vision wherein AI, while showcasing its transformative potential, remains ever-aligned with the overarching goals of human and spiritual enrichment (c.f., Umbrello 2023). Hence, it is paramount to ensure that the narrative crafted is one of mutual respect, understanding, and co-creation.

7. The Role of AI in Constructing New Sacred Spaces and Relationships

In an era of rapid technological evolution, the very nature of the ‘sacred’ undergoes redefinition and expansion (Chung 2016). Artificial intelligence, with its multifaceted capabilities, has emerged as a pivotal mediator in reshaping how believers connect with their faith and find sanctity in the digital realm. As sacred spaces, relationships, and objects transition from tangible to intangible, and often back again, we witness a profound metamorphosis in the religious landscape. Rooted in this transformative journey is Lonergan’s philosophical framework, which offers insights into the harmonization of the personal (subjectivity) with the impersonal (objectivity) for the collective welfare (Lonergan 2013).

7.1. Digital Divinity: AI’s Role in Crafting Sacred Realms

The timeless essence of sacred experiences, traditionally nestled within the embrace of historical landmarks, scriptures, and rituals, is now being redefined by AI’s innovative potential:
Virtual Reality, Spiritual Reality: The emergence of AI-enhanced virtual reality platforms has reshaped the boundaries of the sacred. These platforms allow believers from distant corners of the world to undertake virtual pilgrimages. An individual in Paris can virtually walk the streets of Mecca, feel the ambiance, hear the prayers, and partake in rituals as if they were physically present. These AI-driven experiences, replete with sensory immersion, capture not just the visual beauty but also the profound spiritual essence of such pilgrimages.
  • Scriptural Companions: AI chatbots, grounded in vast databases of religious texts, can now offer insights, explanations, and interpretations of scriptures. For instance, a user could query a Bible-centric chatbot about the nuances of a particular parable or seek a thematic exploration of verses centered around particular theological concepts. These chatbots, while not replacing scholarly insight, provide immediate, personalized responses, fostering a deeper engagement with sacred texts.
  • Digital Spiritual Guides: AI-driven meditation assistants or prayer companions tailor spiritual exercises based on the individual’s mood, past reflections, or specific spiritual queries. Imagine a meditation assistant that can curate a guided session focusing on ‘gratitude’ after detecting a user’s prolonged stress patterns or a prayer bot that offers prayers aligned with personal challenges or celebrations.
  • AI Intercessors: On more advanced platforms, believers might even find AI-generated representations of religious figures. While these AI entities do not possess the spiritual essence of their real-world counterparts, they can engage believers in dialogues, answer theological questions, or guide reflective practices, further personalizing the digital religious experience.
In essence, AI is not just a mirroring of the physical world but a reinvention. It extends the canvas of the sacred, blending age-old traditions with the potential of the digital realm.

7.2. Navigating the New Sacred

The juxtaposition of tradition and technology, especially in the sphere of spirituality, requires a thoughtful, nuanced approach to ensure that the essence of religious experiences is not lost amidst the digital waves. Bernard Lonergan’s insights provide a rich framework to navigate this delicate balance:
Personal and Impersonal Dialectics: Central to Lonergan’s philosophy is the tension between subjectivity—the deeply personal, individual spiritual experiences—and objectivity—in this case, the vast, impartial algorithms driving AI platforms. In the context of the new sacred, this dialectic raises vital considerations:
  • Individual Spiritual Encounters: Lonergan emphasized the irreplaceable value of personal spiritual introspection, the intimate moments where believers forge their unique relationship with the divine (Moloney 2004). AI, with its efficiency and scale, should be a facilitator of these encounters, not a replacement. For instance, while an AI-powered meditation assistant can guide a session, it should allow room for personal reflections and revelations, ensuring that the technology enhances rather than dictates the spiritual journey.
  • Algorithmic Impartiality: AI operates based on data and algorithms, which is inherently objective. While this ensures consistency, there is a risk of it becoming too detached or impersonal. Lonergan’s insights urge us to ensure that AI platforms, even while offering standardized services, should be imbued with a sense of warmth, understanding, and compassion, mirroring the empathy typically found in human-mediated spiritual guidance. However, it should always be clear to users that the systems they are engaging with as just that—systems—and not other humans.
Sacred Objects Reimagined: In our digital age, religious artifacts, once tangible, are acquiring virtual avatars. AI can craft digital rosaries, simulate the texture of prayer mats in virtual mosques, or create intricate sacred art through algorithmic patterns. Lonergan can help guide our engagement with these digital derivatives:
  • Essence over Form: While the digital versions of these religious artifacts can mimic the form of their physical counterparts, it is crucial they encapsulate the spiritual essence. A digital rosary, for instance, is not just about simulating the tactile sensation but should also facilitate a genuine prayerful experience, aiding in meditative reflections on mysteries.
  • The Common Good: At the heart of Lonergan’s philosophy is the common good—the collective spiritual and moral well-being of communities (Liddy 2006, p. 174). As such, these AI-enhanced sacred objects should not be mere technological marvels. They should serve a higher purpose—enriching spiritual lives, bridging gaps between believers from diverse backgrounds, and fostering deeper connections with the divine. An AI-generated piece of sacred art, for instance, should evoke genuine spiritual introspection and appreciation rather than merely being admired for its technological brilliance.

7.3. Implications for the Common Good

Lonergan’s emphasis on the common good—a principle that underscores the integral flourishing of both individuals and communities—becomes a pivotal anchor as we delve into the realm where technology intersects with sacred spaces and relationships. In the evolving landscape shaped by AI, the implications for the common good manifest in multifaceted ways:
Access in the Digital Sacred:
  • Bridging Divides: One of AI’s most profound potentials lies in its ability to democratize spiritual experiences. No longer are sacred teachings or rituals confined to specific geographies or elite circles. An individual in a remote village, with access to an AI-powered platform, can now participate in global spiritual congregations, making the universal call of many faith traditions a tangible reality.
  • Ensuring Authenticity: However, there is a caveat. While accessibility is laudable, it should not come at the expense of authenticity. As AI creates virtual pilgrimages or digital retreats, it is crucial that these experiences are not just simulacra but resonate with the genuine spiritual essence of the traditions they represent. Lonergan’s focus on the common good reminds us that spiritual enrichment should be both expansive and deep, reaching many but never only skimming the surface (Lonergan 2016, p. 108).
Ethical Considerations in AI-driven Spirituality:
  • Bias: As with any AI system, there is an inherent risk of biases creeping into algorithms. When these biases permeate religious platforms, they can distort spiritual teachings or favor certain interpretations over others. Grounded in Lonergan’s emphasis on the common good, AI systems in religious contexts must be meticulously curated to ensure they represent the diverse tapestry of beliefs and interpretations within faith traditions.
  • Privacy and Sacrosanctity: Religious experiences are deeply personal and, for many, sacred. As believers share their spiritual reflections or seek counsel from AI-driven platforms, there is a paramount need to safeguard these data. This cannot be satisfied simply via data protection laws; it requires upholding the sanctity of a believer’s spiritual journey. Any misuse or commodification of these data is not just a technological breach but a violation of spiritual trust.
  • Ethical Alignment: Lastly, AI platforms operating in religious spheres must be aligned with the ethical tenets of the faith traditions they serve. Whether it is the principles of compassion, justice, or reverence, these platforms should not just disseminate spiritual teachings but embody them in their operations and interactions.
In essence, as AI becomes a mediator of the sacred, its design, deployment, and governance should resonate with the common good—a harmonious balance where technological marvels elevate spiritual experiences, ensuring that they are accessible, genuine, and ethically grounded.

8. Conclusions

In the intersection of venerable traditions of spirituality and the avant-garde realm of artificial intelligence, we witness a tapestry of challenges and opportunities. As AI carves its niche in religious experiences—from digital sanctuaries to AI-assisted scriptural interpretations—the boundaries of what constitutes the sacred realm are being dynamically redefined. The philosophy of Bernard Lonergan, with its emphasis on the interplay between subjectivity and objectivity, provides an anchor for our use of technological tools in the pursuit of spirituality and the common good. His insights remind us that while AI can magnify the reach and depth of religious experiences, the sanctity, authenticity, and ethical tenets of faith traditions should remain inviolate.
The ‘re-enchantment’ brought about by AI presents a rich tableau of wonders—be it the virtual pilgrimage to Mecca or the nuanced interpretation of ancient texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita. Yet, alongside this marvel is a call for discernment, ensuring that in this brave new digital world, the human spirit is not overshadowed but is uplifted and enriched. The future beckons a harmonious co-creation where mankind, machines, and the divine collaboratively script a narrative—a narrative where technological innovations are not just feats of code and algorithm but resonate with the deeper aspirations of the human heart—where AI, instead of supplanting spiritual experiences, complements and elevates them, fostering a world where the silicon and the spiritual coalesce, broadening our horizons of understanding, reverence, and communal well-being. In this confluence of the ancient and the futuristic, we are reminded of the timeless essence of our quest for meaning, connection, and transcendence—a journey that, with the right intent and guidance, can be beautifully augmented by the tools of our age.


This research received no external funding.


I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Bruno Kessler Foundation for their unwavering support and inspiration throughout the development of this paper. Their dedication to fostering research at the intersection of technology and society has provided a solid foundation for this work. Special thanks go to the diligent team at the Center for Religious Studies and the exceptional library staff, whose collective expertise and resources proved invaluable at every stage of this project. Additionally, I am deeply indebted to Graziano Lingua. His consistent encouragement and backing have been pivotal, especially in furthering my interdisciplinary exploration of Lonergan’s philosophy in the context of modern technology. Lastly, my appreciation extends to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Their commitment to promoting research at the nexus of ethics and technological advancements has not only influenced this paper but has also continually shaped my academic journey.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


There are a host of apps such as the Text with Jesus app, Bible app, Hallow, Headspace, and Calm, among many others.
Sentiment Analysis: Often referred to as ’opinion mining’, sentiment analysis is a field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) that aims to determine the emotional tone behind a series of words. This method is used to gain an understanding of the attitudes, opinions, and emotions expressed within an online mention, such as a tweet, review, or comment. It typically classifies sentiments as positive, negative, or neutral based on computational algorithms, and can sometimes delve deeper to detect specific emotions such as joy, anger, sadness, etc. The technology relies on machine learning techniques to learn from vast amounts of textual data, making it possible to identify and categorize sentiments at scale.


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Umbrello, S. The Intersection of Bernard Lonergan’s Critical Realism, the Common Good, and Artificial Intelligence in Modern Religious Practices. Religions 2023, 14, 1536.

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Umbrello S. The Intersection of Bernard Lonergan’s Critical Realism, the Common Good, and Artificial Intelligence in Modern Religious Practices. Religions. 2023; 14(12):1536.

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Umbrello, Steven. 2023. "The Intersection of Bernard Lonergan’s Critical Realism, the Common Good, and Artificial Intelligence in Modern Religious Practices" Religions 14, no. 12: 1536.

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