CIIS has a unique curriculum, partly because of its distinctive academic programs, including Asian and Comparative Studies, Women’s Spirituality, Somatic Psychology, and many others. The singular course offerings also reflect the interests of the CIIS faculty, who have deep expertise in research areas that most other universities don’t even touch on.
In summer and fall 2011, CIIS has featured a number of courses that you can only find at the Institute. They include Professor Don Hanlon Johnson’s class on The Body Experienced, Conceptualized, and Verbalized, part of the curriculum of the Somatic Psychology program. Johnson is a cofounder of somatic psychology, which emphasizes the study of the body, somatic experience, and the embodied self. According to Johnson, “This course represents the core of the somatics field. That core consists of a deep transformation of self-experience in which cultural distinctions among body, mind, and spirit are dissolved in awareness of breath, joints, movement, touching. In that transformation, somatics is more akin to older spiritual practices than to alternative medical and psychotherapeutic practices.”
Johnson’s course syllabus explains this further: “Religious, philosophical, medical and scientific languages shape both our bodies and our experiences. The range of our experiences—ordinary body usage, accidents, illnesses, sexual encounters, etc.—generate and support certain ideas of the body and call others into question.…This course will be an introduction to methods for wending one’s way through the labyrinthine complexities of these relationships among experiences, concepts, and language. It is a basic introduction to the methodological path of embodiment and to ways of nurturing the body’s authentic voice, allowing its ancient intelligences to speak forth their wisdom.”
In fall 2011 CIIS students are also taking Professor Charlene Spretnak’s class in the Women’s Spirituality program on Luce Irigaray: An Ethics of Sexuate Difference. Who is Luce Irigaray? She’s an important contemporary philosopher (born in Belgium in 1932). “Luce Irigaray holds that we could experience a dynamic ‘culture of intersubjectivity’ between the two sexes...if only both halves were present,” according to Professor Spretnak. “To arrive at that goal, a culture of female subjectivity needs to be cultivated, as has the culture of male subjectivity (a.k.a. the monoculture) in order to be able to arrive at the dynamic possibilities of intersubjectivity.”
In Professor Spretnak’s syllabus, she addresses the students directly, clarifying the aims of this unique course on Irigaray, and making an unusual plea for philosophy to be artistic: “Primarily, I want to expose the students in this course to selections of her work that are vital, passionate, and utterly incisive—in the hope of demonstrating that the philosophy you write as students can be poetic, dynamic, and playful, as well as profoundly necessary. In this course, we will opt for the depth and the art of Irigaray. I also hope to show students interested in gender fluidity that many of Irigaray’s insights are relevant to their vision of greater options for individuals in society.”
Another course specific to CIIS being offered in fall 2011 is Professor Yi Wu’s class on The Zen Classics: The Record of Blue Cliff. This class is offered by the Asian and Comparative Studies program. According to Professor Wu, “The Record of Blue Cliff was a classic book of Chinese Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, written by Ch’an master Hsueh-Tou, who lived from 980 to 1052 C.E.” In his book, Hsueh-Tou collected 100 koans, or Zen riddles, most of them dialogues between masters and students. Each koan was followed by a poem.
Professor Wu continues the story of this remarkable book: “Later, Ch’an master Yuan-wu, who lived from 1063 to 1135 C.E., discussed this book with his students for more than twenty years.” All the lectures that Yuan-wu gave were added as a commentary to the original text.
“Master Yuan-wu gave his lectures in a place called the Temple of Blue Cliff,” explains Professor Wu, “so the book is called The Record of Blue Cliff. At that time, many monks borrowed its witty words when their masters tested them with questions. As a result, their masters couldn’t tell whether their students were enlightened or not. Because of this, the great monk Tai-hui, who was a student of Yuan-wu, burned his own teacher’s book. The book was transmitted to Japan, and became the bible of Rinzai Buddhism. Now people consider The Record of Blue Cliff the first text of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. In my class, I discuss all the koans and poems with the students. If you want to get the mind of Ch’an (Zen), you need to study this book.”