KAREN-CLAIRE VOSS

The University as a Space of Possibility *




Introduction

The university has the potential to become an infinitely creative space of possibility [1]. The problem is that while there is nothing which can change the innate force of such potential, there is much in contemporary academia which can appear, on the surface at least, to threaten it. The transdisciplinary attitude inherently constitutes a formidable challenge to the paradigm of scholarship prevailing in today's academy; in turn, the mere fact of that challenge constitutes the possibility of which I spoke. In this case, the simultaneous presence of possibility and problem naturally draws us to consider what a university is now, and what it could be in the future. Indeed it draws us even further to dare to envision what a university ought to be .

My experience as a scholar, writer, and university teacher, and most recently, as a teacher of English as a second language in Istanbul, has shown me that there is indeed an urgent need to rediscover a vision we have lost. All thinking men and women, whether directly involved with education or not, need to make a conscious effort to rediscover the vision of education as a process characterized not only by rigor, but by wonder; not only by closing, but by opening. Far from being a romantic, irrelevant fantasy, this vision is critically important. Without it, all of us inevitably lose sight of what real education means. In my view this is precisely what has already happened in much of North America and Western Europe. And now, largely as a concomitant of the media images which contemporary democratic capitalism unfortunately employs to market tawdry, distorted versions of its original self, the same thing seems to be what is in the process of happening in developing countries like Turkey, Rumania, and the former Soviet Union. Countries like these are all particularly (poignantly, painfully) susceptible to being seduced by an image of education as the mere acquisition of technical skills of one sort or another. Increasingly over the past three decades what one finds is a series of category mistakes which include thinking of the gathering, classification and organization of data as being the same as what used to be thought of as the seeking of wisdom and the mere fact of complexity as being the same as quality [2]. The implications of this last are extremely far-reaching and profoundly negative, and therefore should be considered with the utmost seriousness. Mistakes such as these can be rectified, however. Given the particular nature of human beings, I remain optimistic. I think that it is more a matter of remembering who we really are, rather than of somehow reinventing ourselves. It is my hope therefore that what follows will serve as a much needed mnemonic.


The University As It Is Now

In the conditions generally prevailing today, the university is a relatively closed space. I confess it strikes me as astonishing to find in the late 20th century universities which are far more parochial than universal, filled with scholars who are more or less officially prohibited from trying to study Reality. This seems all the more surprising when we remember that in centuries past the primary raison d'être of scholarship was to discover more about the nature of beings and things. A scholar was someone who sought wisdom. As for the purpose of universities, we need only a brief glance at the etymology of the word to gain a sense of what they were originally intended to do: universities were originally created for the purpose of studying the entire universe. We should also note that certain problems of epistemology, e.g., "Do I really exist, or am I dreaming?," did not begin until the time of René Descartes. Before the so-called Enlightenment, no one questioned the fact of the existence of the universe, of Nature, or of themselves. Certain knowledge of the existence of existence was not some arcane wisdom accessible only to the initiated -educated theologians and philosophers had it, but so too did women and children. Today however, things like Nature, the Human Being, Reality, and even, the Body, are "problematized" rather than explored, in an enterprise which is such that it is constitutionally unable to bear fruit of any kind. Today, instead of being encouraged to ponder the universe in a quest for wisdom, scholars are compelled to study a rapidly proliferating quantity of historical and cultural data. The task of the scholar has become more one which is dedicated to the classification and organization of raw data, and the acquisition of information, than one which is devoted to the development of wisdom. Today a scholar's lot is hard: we are not permitted to comfort ourselves with the thought that insight into the Real might someday result from our labors, nor with the idea that sooner or later Meaning will almost certainly show its face. To the contrary, the data we gather is doomed to remain forever raw; we are prohibited from attempting to cook it. The powers that be which are connected with the university in the contemporary world (administrators; search committees; retention, tenure and promotion committees; thesis directors and thesis committees; editorial boards of scholarly journals and presses; private and government funding sources; etc.) have apparently condemned us to revolve forever on what Basarab Nicolescu aptly names "the wheel of anguish" [3]. Not only that; no effort is spared in forcing us to embrace that wheel as befitting what is after all supposed to be the central focus of our endeavors.

Closely related to this is the fact that in academia today there is often far more focus on methodology than on substance, an emphasis on something which could be called "methodolatry." While much is made of the fact that the artifacts we study are all necessarily historically and culturally conditioned (true), the fact that all of those artifacts emerge from human encounters with Reality (equally true) is largely ignored. One can attend (as I have more than once) a cocktail at the Sorbonne following a lecture in philosophy and enjoy discussions with learned and eminent scholars, but the topics of these often brilliant discussions are limited to the historical or theoretical. If one is talking with historians and an historical observation is made it is invariably qualified since all the data is not yet in. If one is talking with people whose heads have been turned by superficially understood postmodernism and deconstructionism [4], the same observation will be mixed with metahistorical observations and will thus lead quickly to a maze of theoretical issues. Once embarked on a discussion of these one is rapidly led to rarefied metatheoretical discussion where one is forced into a struggle to grasp increasingly gossamer strands of theories about theories. The glittering discussion then becomes a scenario rivaling those described in The Glass Bead Game . I daresay if Socrates himself were to happen upon such a gathering and have the temerity to try to enter into any of these discussions, he would be quickly dismissed as either a madman or a fool, and elegantly attired backs would be contemptuously, albeit politely, turned to him.

Reality simply is not taken seriously in contemporary academic circles. At best, it is deemed an historically and culturally relative conceptual construct; at worst, it simply is never mentioned at all. To depart from this norm entails departing from the "scholarly approach;" thus, one does so only at risk to one's "career," since those sufficiently foolhardy stalwarts who do depart from the norms are liable to censure, or worse.

This last statement might sound paranoiac or exaggerated, but it is not. Documented accounts concerning such incidents (occasionally involving tactics which sound more suited to the Russian KGB, the Turkish MIT, or the Rumanian Securitate than to academia) are sometimes reported in periodicals in the United States [5]. The so-called "scholarly approach" is an especially virulent animal. Having recently been bitten painfully (although fortunately not fatally) by this creature, I can attest to its awful nature. This creature will do its utmost to ensure that we scholars (who, along with artists, writers, poets, and musicians, are presumably among those at a stage far beyond that of merely being "able to distinguish mama from papa") [6] are dissuaded from considering the most meaningful questions on the grounds that such questions lie beyond the scope of genuine scholarship. What I have sketched is rapidly becoming the dominant paradigm in today's university, perhaps in particular, in European universities [7].

Variations on the command "Stop. Put it down. You don't know where it's been," have issued from the mouths of mothers for centuries. It's what you say when your toddler, who, like small children everywhere, persists in being fascinated by almost everything in his or her universe, has just picked up something -- a pebble, a shiny bit of glass, whatever -- from the street and proceeds to put it in his or her mouth. With respect to mothers of small children, words like these arise from out of the desire to protect the child from harm. Lately, a far less benign variation on the same theme is coming from the mouths of those who hold academic power [8]. Allow me to explain.

As I have already said, the prohibition on attempting to study Reality is a widespread phenomenon within the contemporary academic world. In short, the paradigm of scholarship which is currently advocated functions to prohibit authentic engagement on the part of scholars and thus very effectively prevents an entire constellation of related behaviors and existential conditions which would serve to upset the academic status quo. Some of the most vociferous debates occur within the field of religious studies, no doubt because of its long struggle to establish an identity separate from theology and to legitimate its existence alongside other disciplines within the humanities. Personally, I am particularly concerned with the way I see this prohibition affecting esotericism because it is my own field of specialization.

Years ago, before beginning to write my comprehensive examination papers, I was required to give what amounted to a defense of several elements, among which was the area in which I intended to specialize. After long and careful consideration about what it might mean for my academic "career," etc., etc., etc., I chose esotericism. The underlying reasoning for my choice was quite simple: I chose esotericism because I loved all that it encompassed. It appeared to me to be the field in which I could most fruitfully combine all of my research interests. I also knew that because esotericism was just beginning to emerge from out of the discipline of religious studies meant that it was a long way from suffering the hardening and codification which other fields tended to manifest. Save for an ongoing debate between "perennialists" (those who believed that there was an historical, "perennial tradition" of esoteric teachings) and "evolutionists" (those who dismissed that belief on the grounds that there was no historical basis for believing in the existence of such a tradition), there was no "party line" in esotericism. The field was characterized by possibilities, by openings of all kinds.

My agonizing over the decision to specialize in esotericism was only the first step. The next was to convince my northern California graduate school to permit me to do it. Success was by no means guaranteed. While there was a chair of History of Esoteric and Mystical currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe in the Sciences Religeuses section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne [9], even in Europe the academic study of esotericism was still regarded as esoteric! In any case, I persevered and eventually succeeded. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first and only graduate student in North America to make esotericism my official field of specialization.

All that took place during 1983-85. During the past several years there has been a major change in the field: the "methodolatry" which I had always considered the bane of other specializations has now pervaded esotericism. Methodological pluralism is of critical importance since the field is relatively new and is therefore still very much in the developmental stage. But at this writing what can most precisely be described as definite party lines have begun to be and are continuing to be drawn, with the result that rather than seeing an emergence of methodological pluralism, what I see instead is the emergence of a kind of methodological dogmatism [10]. One method is being held up as the only approach to the study of esotericism. This is certainly the case in Europe, and I have reason to believe it is rapidly becoming the case in the United States as well. Since the study of esotericism, just as the study of religions, deals with a truly dazzling array of phenomena, practices, and beliefs, it seems to me we would do well to consider an observation made by mythologist Wendy Doniger in 1980 apropos of her study of Hindu myths :

: … almost everything in the realms of the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences is relevant to the study of myths. A myth is like a palimpsest on which generation after generation has engraved its own layer of messages, and we must decipher each layer with a different code book. The different aspects of myths pose different problems, requiring different methods of approach. To be "rigorous" under these circumstances is to ignore the complexity of the subject [11].

Doniger's advice to the scholar of myths is to "carry about with you as wide a range of tools as possible, and reach for the right one at the right time" [12]. From the moment I read this, it struck me as exceedingly sensible advice for the scholar of esotericism, advice which certainly helped me avoid falling into the trap of "methodolatry." Now, my sense is that the transdisciplinary approach is the most fruitful approach to esotericism by virtue of the character of the field itself, and it certainly seems clear that the transdisciplinary attitude entails the kind of freedom which enables one either to pick up a methodological tool or discard it according to what seems called for.

The implications of what I have just described are not only relevant for other scholars in history of religions; there are profoundly important implications for the academy as a whole. Where there should be a series of openings, time and time again, we have a series of closings instead. Yet the fact remains that neither a single scholar, no matter how eminent, nor a single school of thought, can presume to "own" a field. How can progress be made if there is no context for truly open dialogue and discussion, if there is no atmosphere of real respect for ideas and intellectual positions which differ from our own? In fact, it is precisely the quality of respect to which I refer here which is at the center of the Charter of Transdisciplinarity.

Before turning to a consideration of the university as a space of possibility, I want to recapitulate what has been said thus far. First, I am convinced that if we limit our study of the data amassed within the various disciplines by thinking of each datum as a mere product of social, cultural, and historical conditions, rather than as a manifestation of unique human encounters with Reality, we will most certainly miss a great deal [13]. Second, within academia at present such attempts are generally prohibited, usually on methodological grounds which are based on insufficiently examined (hence, nearly always tacit) philosophical assumptions which function as premises. Third, I am nevertheless insisting, as did Mircea Eliade *vis a vis* the history of religions, that it is urgent that we abandon the currently prevailing timidity, the failure of nerve, which has resulted in the wholesale retreat of academia from Reality [14].


Scholarship as It Is Now

At present, we typically understand scholarship to be a rather mechanical enterprise which entails conceiving of the teacher, the facts, and the students as if they were separate parts within a machine-like structure (the educational institution). It is an enterprise consisting of acquiring information about a given subject so as to be considered qualified to regurgitate it in a variety of ways. To that end, a person embarks on a course of preparation which can take many years. It includes undertaking the study of languages enabling access to the relevant primary and secondary sources [15], and attending classes in order to acquire facts. These classes are taught by persons who know a large quantity of facts) (i.e., "experts"). The facts are presented as if they were food (i.e., "teaching"). Students chew them and swallow them (i.e., "learning). At the end of this process, they focus on one topic to the exclusion of all others and become familiar with everything that has been written about that topic (i.e., "research" [16]) in order to produce a dissertation. Once the dissertation is finished, its theoretical premises and its substance must be defended [17]. If the defense is successful, the author receives a Ph.D. He or she is then approvingly referred to as a "specialist" of that particular area. The European system works somewhat differently, but in the United States, he or she then proceeds to attempt to find a tenure-track position at a good university, preferably one with a well-regarded doctoral program in the person's discipline. This having been accomplished, he or she must publish in order to be awarded tenure -- articles at first, later books. The number of publications, followed by the prestigiousness of the journal in which they appear or of the press which prints them, are among the most important criteria for judging the merit of the scholar. The successful teacher-scholar passes on his or her knowledge of the "rules of the game" to the most promising students (i.e., those students who appear to have the same qualities as the scholar). At least in the United States, the most highly regarded scholars are those able to attract the most funding. Among prestigious funding sources are entities like the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In the United States, the system described above has produced a phenomenon I call the "scholar-entrepreneur," a sort of "merchant of knowledge" [18]. Admittedly, the above description is something of a caricature, but not entirely. Close examination of the dynamics of our present educational system reveals structural relations analogous to those in professional sports or conventional warfare. To begin with, just as in athletics or war, the aim is to be the best, to win. Winning entails playing against a series of obstacles which are all considered external to the participant. For example, the student begins by reading books in order to gain facts. The books and the facts which they contain are objects. The term papers and dissertations produced by students are too often written for the grades they will earn, in the same way that the articles and books he or she will later publish are too often written for the promotions, prestige, and honor they will bring. The thesis committee; the retention, tenure, and promotion committee; the editorial board of the journal or press; and the committee that accepts or rejects grant proposals are all regarded as the opposing team, the enemy. Competition means one sets out to vanquish or to kill the other side. Is it any wonder that in the context I have just described, so-called "objective scholarship," a form of scholarship in which the subject, i.e., the human being with body and feelings as well as intellect, "drops out" of the process altogether, has become a desideratum [19]?


An Alternative Vision of Scholarship

The enterprise described above is by no means the only possible way of doing scholarship. We can instead begin to conceive of scholarship as being a multi-leveled and never-ending process characterized by curiosity, wonder, creativity, love and joy. On this view, one major characteristic of scholarship is that it entails openings, not closings. Education then becomes an adventure and learning a process of discovery, an exploration of previously unknown territory. It is also a process in which the subject is appropriately restored to his or her rightful position, because by virtue of our constitution as human beings, each of us is a locus for the transmission of knowledge about the networks which link the various systems comprising Reality together on different levels. In other words, simply by virtue of being human , each of us is able to play the role of translator, of mediator, between that which is known and that which is unknown. If we approach scholarship in this fashion, we are well on our way to becoming who we really are, and thus, we are also well on our way to finding our proper place in the whole.

There are important implications here for our concept of objectivity as a constant desideratum too. When a subject opens onto an object from out of the desire to know it he or she experiences a change of being as a result. We become transformed by new knowledge, the knowledge makes a difference in who we are, we are enlarged, so to speak, by our knowledge of what was previously the "other;" in short, learning becomes an ontological process because it is accompanied by a change of being [20]. Scholarship then becomes an existential process, a way of growth, through which one hopes to acquire wisdom; in esotericism we would call it a way of gnosis.

There are also implications for our current understanding of the teacher/student relation. Now, the teacher is someone who knows; the student is someone who does not know. The teacher is regarded as an "Other" by the student; the student is regarded as an "Other" by the teacher. However, in contrast, as a correlative to thinking of learning as an exploration of unknown territory, we have the image of a teacher as an experienced guide who accompanies students into a territory (the unknown) with which he or she is intimately familiar (the known). Instead of being an adversary, the teacher becomes someone who participates in a process of discovery with the student.


The University as a Space of Possibility

Rather than embodying a closing off from possibility, the university can become the occasion for an opening up of possibility. Awakenings of all kinds can occur within the space of the university. Books can encourage wonder and a sense of questioning and delight, rather than skepticism, smug certainty and pessimism; teachers can impart enthusiasm rather than cynicism to their students; classrooms can have an atmosphere which is charged with excitement rather than apathetic boredom.

According to historian of religions Mircea Eliade, a good history of religions text occasions an "awakening" [21]. I happen to share his view. Moreover, not only the best texts, but the best teachers occasion just such awakenings. Two brief anecdotes from my own undergraduate days will help illustrate.

The first concerns Eliade's point about what a good history of religions book can do. My own undergraduate major was religious studies. During a stage in which I wanted to read only texts written by women, my professor, a well-known feminist theologian, assigned none other than Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and Profane [22]. My protests were to no avail; the text was required for the course, so I bowed to the inevitable, went to the campus bookstore, bought a copy, and took it home. To my astonishment, it proved to be a watershed. After only a few pages I was caught up in a veritable sea of living ideas (e.g., breaking the planes, hierophany, the axis mundi, etc.), a sea in which I have been swimming delightedly ever since. I still have the same copy and numerous margin notes attest to my initial exhilaration. I first read this book in a single sitting, occasionally exclaiming aloud, although there was no one to hear me. It was this text more than any other which helped me formulate what it was I wanted to study and helped shape the kind of scholar I have become.

Just as a text, the space of a classroom can also occasion an awakening. The space of a classroom is comprised of a constellation of things among which are the particular presence of the teacher, the quality of his/her interaction with the ideas being considered, and the quality of his/her interaction with the students. I remember a course given by an anthropologist entitled "Symbol, Ritual, and Performance." The teacher was a brilliant man who is renowned for his work with the untouchables in India [23]. One day, the professor introduced the concept of a spectrum . Drawing a line on the blackboard he marked each end with an "X". The "X"'s represented the conceptual dichotomies which characterize ordinary thought: black and white, up and down, male and female, right and wrong, left and right, etc. When the idea of a spectrum is introduced, he explained, we are thereby afforded a powerful conceptual tool. We are no longer forced to conceive the world in terms of "either/or", but can begin thinking in terms of degrees of things, of nuance. He then went on to discuss some of the implications of that, and successfully conveyed to us his sense that the implications were exciting as well as important. He closed by eliciting student responses. I literally sat trembling, on the edge of my seat for the entire hour. I remember that I was smiling. I remember that at different times I raised my hand excitedly, impatient to be given leave to speak. I remember that my mind was virtually flooded with new ideas and possibilities. Finally, I remember that when I left the classroom that day, having no other classes, I walked through the campus until I found a quiet space where I could sit undisturbed and think. Years later, I would describe this phenomenon as the "Eros and the dialectic of gnosis." [24].

Both these experiences constituted what Mircea Eliade would term "awakenings", and both were connected to the space of a university classroom. The excitement which I experienced then has never left me (in spite of the warning given me by a fellow student when I began my graduate work who told me that, as a concomitant of advanced training, I would eventually become "acculturated" and would lose my enthusiasm. He also implied, without actually saying so, that this particular quality was not appropriate for a scholar, or at least, that it shouldn't be manifested openly. He was wrong on both counts.) In my case, the enthusiasm kindled within me so many years ago led me to esotericism; then to an ongoing exploration of commonalities between that field and others; finally, it still impels me to follow the openings which lead beyond whatever I am researching at a given time.

What a University Ought to Be

Above all, the university of the future should be a place explicitly dedicated to awakenings of all kinds. The introduction of transdisciplinary research into the university can do much to further that process. The university of the future should be characterized by a genuinely scientific spirit as Basarab Nicolescu defines it; a spirit

based on questioning, and on the refusal of all a priori answers and all certitude which is in contradiction with the facts … a permanent questioning related to the resistance of facts, images, representations, and formalizations [25].

In his book, La transdisciplinarité, manifeste, Nicolescu explains that since transdisciplinarity is not a new discipline, it requires neither new departments nor specialists. This may present something of a conundrum to many people. How then can transdisciplinarity be introduced into the university? Nicolescu calls for the inclusion of an "atelier for transdisciplinary research" within every teaching institution :

these ateliers would be the locus for gathering together a continually self-organizing group of teachers and students from a particular institution who are all animated by the transdisciplinary attitude [26].

The choice of the word "atelier" is apt. In English and in French we normally use the word to refer to a place set apart for an artist. An atelier is a place in which works of art are created. Since the formation of a human being is certainly akin to the process of creating a work of art, what better term could there be for a gathering place for students and teachers, "all animated by the transdisciplinary attitude" who are accompanying one another and guiding one another on a journey of exploration ?

I imagine such ateliers at the center of the university of the future. Ateliers where enthusiasm would be the norm, not the exception, where students and teachers could read and think and contemplate, where they could explore ideas and experiment together. The university of the future should be a place where quality, not quantity reigns, a place in which the human being, the subject, with body and mind, intellect and feelings, is at the center. The university of the future should be a place "par excellence" which contributes to the "possible reenchantment of the world," as Basarab Nicolescu put it so beautifully [27]. Finally, the university of the future should be the place where seekers of wisdom -- no longer excluded and condemned to wander -- but are welcomed home.

KAREN-CLAIRE VOSS
Istanbul, February 1997



*   Communication au Congrès International "Quelle Université pour demain ? Vers une évolution transdisciplinaire de l'Université" (Locarno, Suisse, 30 avril - 2 mai 1997).


APPENDIX


    What can teachers do differently ? Here are a few basic guidelines :

  1. Learning as an opening onto the unknown. Begin to think of learning as a kind of adventure, a process of discovery, an exploration of unknown territory.

  2. The Classroom as a Space of Possibility. Instead of representing closing off from possibility, the classroom can actually become a space where possibilities open up. The space of a classroom is composed of many things: the particular character and personality and presence of the teacher, the quality of his/her interaction with the ideas being considered, and the quality of his/her interaction with the students. Three things to remember: 1) Regardless of your subject, it does not consist of a collection of dead facts, but an array of living ideas. 2) Your students are not just names and numbers on a class list. Sitting in front of you are human beings with minds and bodies, thoughts and feelings, fears, hopes and dreams. 3) Remember your own humanity. While humanity never compromises professionalism, confused notions of professionalism often compromise humanity.

  3. Textbooks as Alarm Clocks. The best teachers don't make students fall asleep. Instead, they make them wake up. By the same token, so do the best textbooks.

  4. The Teacher as Companion and Guide. A correlative to thinking of learning as an exploration of unknown territory, this image of a teacher is very different than the typical image. Usually, we think of a teacher as an expert who knows a collection of facts whose job is to give those facts to students. This entails thinking of the teacher, the facts, and the students as if they were separate parts within a machine-like structure (the school). However, recent studies have shown that learning takes place at the center of an interactive process between teacher and students. The image of a teacher as an experienced guide who accompanies students into a territory (the unknown) with which he or she is intimately familiar (the known) is very different than the typical image. The teacher then becomes someone who participates in a process of discovery with the student.

NOTES


[1] It is important to point out that when I writer here of a "space of possibility" I am not merely writing metaphorically; I am referring to the real potential which all universities have to become a very particular kind of actual space.

[2] The context which has produced this situation is often understood as being comprised of complex webs of connections between political, economic, cultural, and religious structures which inevitably vary from country to country. While there are indeed variations between cultures, Basarab Nicolescu has argued very persuasively that a single invariable logical concept has given rise to the epistemological framework which informs all of these contemporary structures. See the chapter "Grandeur et décadence du scientisme," in Basarab Nicolescu, La transdisciplinarité, manifeste (Paris: Éditions du Rocher, 1996), pp. 17-24 et passim.

[3] See Basarab Nicolescu, Science, Meaning, & Evolution. The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme , with a Foreword by Joscelyn Godwin and an Afterword by Antoine Faivre. Trans. from the French by Rob Baker (New York: Parabola Books, 1991), pp. 85-86.

[4] I say "superficially understood" because post-modern thought was initially inherently radical. It set out to question and deconstruct foundational assumptions about the very nature of reality, assumptions which no one, or almost no one, had ever thought to question, which had functioned to enslave all of us in the conceptual dualism based on exclusively binary logic (e.g., the "mind-body split"). However, what began life as a potentially powerful methodological aid for those who were seeking their way out of the labyrinth of the prevailing conceptual framework, has been perverted from its original liberating power and converted into one more tool for our enslavement, albeit veiled. A prison is a prison is a prison, whether it is made of literal stones like those in the prisons of the Inquisition, or comes in the form of metaphorical stones like books purporting to be about postmodernism (which are indeed stone-like in their opacity) which tell us that there is no reality apart from the processual structures of human conceptualization and symbol-making. Whereas previously, an entire generation of scholars had endeavored to raise our consciousness so that we would abandon conceptual dualism and revalue the material world and the human body, the present generation is apparently hell-bent on embracing a doctrine (based on misinterpretations and distortions) called "postmodernism" which not only entails the valorization of mind by means of the implicit devaluation of matter and the human body, but denies the existence of both of the former thereby implicitly reifying symbolic and conceptual structures in a negative way.

[5] Lingua Franca , a self-styled "review of academic life," is a bimonthly publication which regularly publishes accounts of this or that scandal in academia.

[6] G. I. Gurdjieff, " All and Everything. Beezlebub's Tales to His Grandson " (New York: D.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.), 1964, p. 1066.

[7] In this context it is interesting to note that while western European scholars use the term "human sciences" to designate those disciplines which North American scholars generally refer to as the "humanities." The European designation is increasingly accompanied by methodological and other approaches which are anything but human; but rather, are increasingly dehumanized -- the scholarship which is currently considered the best is precisely the scholarship in which there is nothing to indicate that a human being -- a subject -- produced it.

[8] In some cases, such persons often, though not exclusively, justify their prohibition against studying Reality as such on Kantian grounds. Then the injunction becomes: "Not only do you not know where it's been but the nature of things is such that you can never know where it's been."

[9] This chair is held by Professor Antoine Faivre.

[10] Dogma is by no means not limited to religious belief. There are dogmatically held intellectual positions as well, and the phenomenon of the "true believer" can be observed inside as well as outside the academy. It is impossible to have a dialogue with persons whose doctrines, whether religious or intellectual, function as axioms. Such minds have ceased to function as minds; they are definitively closed to further revelation from outside, divine or otherwise.

[11] Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press), 1980, p. 4.

[12] Ibid. 5.

[13] We have only to consider how much would be missed were we to study a sculpture by Brancusi only in terms of it being an object comprised of a certain type of metal which was handled in a particular way (e.g., forged) or a book by Herman Hesse only in terms of its being the product of a man who was affected by psychological traumas undergone at a young age, rather than as works of art which say something universal about the human condition and thus extend far beyond the inevitably relativistic elements comprising the context from which they emerged. See also William James' comment on this type of reductionist thinking quoted in O'Flaherty, ibid., p. 9.

[14] Mircea Eliade, The Quest. History and Meaning in Religion (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1969; Midway Reprint, 1974), p. 71.

[15] It is generally expected that scholars in North America will know French in addition to their mother tongue. Many learn more. In Europe scholars are expected to know English, French, German and Latin. In addition, all scholars are required to gain reading competence in the language(s) of the primary texts they will study.

[16] In the U.S., this process is often colloquially referred to as "slogging through" the material, an entirely joyless process.

[17] It must be said that in the U.S. when students of history of religions propose a dissertation, they are usually expected to come up with an original hypothesis concerning their topic. This implies that there is hope for the educational system there since it means that in at least one respect students are encouraged to be imaginative and to think about what something means. This is by no means the case in Europe, where it usually suffices for a student to assemble hundreds of pages of data on a given topic, without articulating an hypothesis.

[18] For the complete text of the message on one very famous academic's voice mail see Lingua Franca , III No. 4 (1993), 11. See also Basarab Nicolescu, "La transdisciplinarité -- déviance et dérives" in La transdisciplinarité , op. cit., pp. 172-173 for a discussion of what he calls "la dérive marchande."

[19] The extent to which the scholar is able to abstract himself or herself from the process of research is a major criterion for judging the excellence of the work.

[20] Cf. the account of "transmutation" which is accompanied by a change of being in Antoine Faivre and Karen-Claire Voss, "Western Esotericism and the Science of Religions," Numen 42 (1995), p. 60 and Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 13-14.

[21] See Mircea Eliade, The Quest , op. cit., p. 62.

[22] The professor was Carol P. Christ. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1969).

[23] Anthropologist James M. Freeman was the professor.

[24] See Karen Voss, "Is there a Feminine Gnosis ? Reflections on Feminism and Esotericism," ARIES 14 (1992), pp. 16-17 and "Feminine Gnosis: Forms of Gnosis in Modern Feminist Thought," an invited paper presented at The Amsterdam Summer University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, August 15-19, 1994.

[25] See "Évolution transdisciplinaire de l'éducation," in Basarab Nicolescu, in La transdisciplinarité, manifeste , op. cit., pp. 192-193. English translation mine.

[26] Ibid., p. 202. English translation mine.

[27] Basarab Nicolescu, Science, Meaning, and Evolution . op. cit., p. 109.



Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études transdisciplinaires n° 12 - Février 1998

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