360°: Contemplative Traditions

photo of students and professor painting a mural

Meditation is a hot commodity in contemporary American popular culture. Ever widening circles of people are becoming interested in the benefits that meditation can offer in stress-relief, regulation of blood  pressure,  pain control, and so on.  While meditation can be seen as a neutral technology, free of ties to any one spiritual path or worldview, we examine these practices through the cultural and religious contexts that gave rise to them.

This 360°, taught by professors of chemistry, psychology, and East Asian studies, examined the history, science and practice of meditation and other mindful practices. 360°: Contemplative Traditions comprised three classes that share an interest in contemplative or mindfulness traditions and practice. The courses brought together historical, cultural, psychological, and religious perspectives. Travel for the course included a trip to Japan to explore Eastern traditions. Locally, 360° participants worked with Philadelphia high-school students wrestling with the challenge of growing up in a sound-bite world in which multitasking reigns supreme.

Contemplative Traditions Courses:

East Asian Studies 260: The History and Rhetoric of Buddhist Meditation

Taught by Hank Glassman. This course examines a great variety of discourses surrounding meditation in traditional Buddhist texts. While meditation may seem to be something that there is not much to say about, we shall find that in ancient texts as well as in modern scholarship, much ink has been spilled on the topic.

General Studies 260: Silent Spaces: A History of Contemplation in the West

Taught by Michelle Francl. In the age of the iPod, wi-fi and the cell phone, silence and solitude have become a deliberate choice, not the default. Why would anyone elect silence as a way of life? This course explores elected silence and the ways in which it has shaped, and still shapes, people and places in the Western contemplative tradition from the desert hermitages of the third and fourth centuries through modern communities as diverse as an enclosed order of Carmelite nuns living outside Washington, DC to Quaker meetings.

Psychology 260: Listening to Mind and Body: The Psychology of Mindfulness

Taught by Marc Schulz. This course considers modern conceptualizations and implementation of mindfulness practices that have arisen in the West. The course focuses on psychological theory and research examining the potential health benefits of these practices as well as scientific study of more ancient meditative approaches.