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Meditation and Modern American Life
/ REL 277
The first English translation of a Buddhist text was published in the United States in 1844. At the time, few Americans knew the first thing about what Buddhism was, but now, a little over a century and a half later, Buddhist ideas and practices (meditation, in particular) can be found everywhere. In this class, we’ll explore how Buddhism came to be the profoundly important cultural force in American life that it is today, looking particularly at the increasingly mainstream role of meditation in modern American life. We’ll study how traditional Buddhist meditation practices were transmitted to the West, and then track the way those practices changed over time, as they were adapted to the radically new context of American culture. And we’ll study the way meditation is impacting a wide array of cultural domains, including: literature, psychology, education, environmentalism, Western attitudes towards death and dying, and the fight against racism. A key part of the course will be an introduction to the theory and practice of meditation: we’ll learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we¿ll spend a significant amount of time each class practicing and reflecting upon those practices. This course is a part of a joint program between Williams’ Center for Learning in Action and the Berkshire County Jail, in Pittsfield, MA. The class will be composed equally of nine Williams students and nine inmates. An important goal of the course is to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. Classes will be held at the jail, with transportation provided by the college. *Please note the atypical class hours, Thursdays, 4:45-8:30 pm.*
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
full attendance and participation; meditation 2-3 times a week outside of class; a meditation journal; and a final 10-page essay
final selection will be made on the basis of (a) statements of interest sent via email to [email protected] by June 26 and (b) brief interviews with the instructor.
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit: