Spirituality and Reality Today

Freshman Seminar

“Spirituality” in many forms has recently pushed itself forward as a major concern of the contemporary mind and as a significant influence on life. While it makes strong claims concerning what we ought to do, what the good life is, and who is a good or bad person, it frequently runs counter to traditional morality and religion.

Our object in this course is to achieve clarity on what this is all about. Some basic questions: What is “spirituality”? Who is a “spiritual” person today? Indeed, What is spirit? Does spirituality have anything to do with God or gods. What about spirituality and sports? Spirituality and business? (Just google them—or any “spirituality and…”—  to see what a big deal they are.) We will briefly look at “spirituality” in major religions, but mainly to secure a contrast of religious spiritualities with the more free-standing, free-flowing “spirituality” of individuals now common.  We shall consider how a spirituality mainly functions (or claims to function) to provide energy (“power”) and identity to meet a felt need in contemporary life. Spirituality promises to fit the individual into a “larger context” where meaning is experienced. But is there, after all, such a thing as “spirit”—is “spirituality” something real—and how is it known? Or is it just a popular fantasy called forth by wide spread alienation and loneliness in today’s mass society? No doubt it is a “brain thing”?  “Mindfulness” is one current preoccupation in many quarters, and we will want to look at its relationships to “Spirituality.” Also, the reception of Harry Potter and of the Vampire flicks is useful to think about in connection with “Spirituality.” Student interests may determine much of what gets taken up in our sessions. 

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Freshman Seminar: Spirituality and Reality Today

“Spirituality” in many forms has recently pushed itself forward as a major concern of the contemporary mind and as a significant influence on life. While it makes strong claims concerning what we ought to do, what the good life is, and who is a good or bad person, it frequently runs counter to traditional morality and religion.

Spirituality is a very broad term that in the current social context refers to accessing resources for life that are not physical in any straightforward sense, which might refer to something dealt with by the science of Physics or to something that is perceptible by sense perception.  These “resources” might just be attitudes to be assumed (“mindfulness,” grasping your unity with everything, etc.), or some deeper realities of the self, or of a spiritual realm separate from the individual (God, religion).

Our object in this course is to achieve clarity on what this is all about. Some basic questions: What is “spirituality”? Who is a “spiritual” person today? Indeed, What is spirit? Does spirituality have anything to do with God or gods. What about spirituality and sports? Spirituality and business? (Just google them—or any “spirituality and…”—  to see what a big deal they are.) We will briefly look at “spirituality” in major religions, but mainly to secure a contrast of religious spiritualities with the more free-standing, free-flowing “spirituality” of individuals now common.  We shall consider how a spirituality mainly functions (or claims to function) to provide energy (“power”) and identity to meet a felt need in contemporary life. Spirituality promises to fit the individual into a “larger context” where meaning is experienced. But is there, after all, such a thing as “spirit”—is “spirituality” something real—and how is it known? Or is it just a popular fantasy called forth by wide spread alienation and loneliness in today’s mass society? No doubt it is a “brain thing”?  “Mindfulness” is one current preoccupation in many quarters, and we will want to look at its relationships to “Spirituality.” Also, the reception of Harry Potter and of the Vampire flicks is useful to think about in connection with “Spirituality.” Student interests may determine much of what gets taken up in our sessions. 

 

Topics include:
  • Some reflections on Spirituality and Religions: Can you have one without the other and how would that work.  Do you know of specific cases/people who separate them? What difference does such a separation make? Can an atheist be spiritual? Is there a secular spirituality?
  • Discussion of the “reality” side of the topic “Spirituality and Reality Today.”
  • Discussion of student findings from bookstore sections on “Spirituality”
  • How is “the spiritual” known?
  • The contribution of Dark Green Religion to “radical environmentalism.”
  • The emergence and importance of “Surfing Spirituality,” and the importance of media (“nature” documentaries, videos) and theme parks (Disney in both) in “globalization” of nature spirituality.
  • “Nature Spirituality”

 

The only book we read in the course is Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, by Bron Taylor. There will be a few short handouts. Our focus will not be on criticizing spiritualities, though that is not ruled out for the participants. We want to understand, and sometimes comparison is helpful to that end.

The time “in class” will focused on student explorations, participation, and a couple of presentations, depending on the size of the group. Very little lecturing. We will not meet every week, and a complete schedule of meetings will be provided the third meeting, when we have a sense of the group and their interests. 


 

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