California Institute of Integral Studies (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 one-of-a-kind courses 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 academic year 2011–12, CIIS is featuring a number of courses that you can only find at the Institute. Professor Renée Emunah is teaching a class that doesn’t seem that unusual from its title—Integrative Seminar—but the content is completely singular. The class is offered by the Drama Therapy program at CIIS, one of only two accredited and approved programs in this field in the entire U.S. Professor Emunah’s class focuses on a method in drama therapy that she herself pioneered: the self-revelatory performance. Students have the option of creating and performing a 35- to 40-minute self-revelatory performance as their capstone project. The pieces are performed in a theatre for an audience composed of students and graduates of the program, as well as invited guests. The CIIS community also receives an invite.
“Self-revelatory performance is a form of drama therapy that I created in the context of the program, years ago,” says Emunah. “But the students took to it naturally and greatly developed the form." In self-revelatory performance, students take hold of personal life challenges and fashion a theatrical piece out of those issues. It differs from autobiographical theater. “In self-revelatory performance,” Emunah elaborates, “the actor is dealing with current material and attempting to grapple with or heal these issues, using drama therapy methods within the piece itself, which can be very theatrically riveting. It’s immediate. There can be a sense of healing ritual for both actor and audience.” Emunah stresses that the performances are not self-indulgent. “There has to be some mastery of the material, both personally and aesthetically, and the personal must translate universally. The theatrical standards are high, as are the expectations for psychological depth and perspective."
Professor Steven Goodman teaches a series of courses on the Classical Tibetan language: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced. “These courses in Asian and Comparative Studies offer students a context for being able to delve into the rich and varied traditions of Tibetan culture, from 900 A.D. up through the present,” explains Goodman. The students in Professor Goodman’s classes get to read some of the great books of Tibetan culture and Buddhism in the original language: “Over the years we’ve studied texts as varied as Manuals on How to Gain Freedom from Suffering (Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Realization), Spiritual Songs of Realization (Milarepa, Longchenpa, Padma Karpo, and others), Advice on How to Dismantle Suffering as a Spiritual Practice (3rd Dodrubchen), and Eight Verses on Mind Training (Kadampa masters and commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and others). We study these texts with attention to how access to original works can serve as a catalyst for intellectual and emotional transformation, and we often find parallels with Western European traditions of philosophical inquiry.”
Tibetan is not a language you can employ in just any context, but graduates of Professor Goodman’s classes have found uses for their language skills. “Over the years students have gone on to a deeper study of these traditions in Asia and the U.S.,” Goodman explains. “Dirk Schmidt, who earned a master’s in our program, is currently studying at Deer Park in India. Michael Sheehy, who received his PhD from CIIS, is now the senior editor at the New York City-based Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center.”
Classical Tibetan language as a source for great treasures of spiritual, philosophical and psychological texts is evidenced by the creation in 2009 of a world-wide effort to translate major works in this language. Professor Steven Goodman was on the planning committee that launched this endeavor. “It all starts with delving into the delights of Tibetan language,” Goodman says. “The adventures continue.”
Professor Sandra Pacheco is teaching a course this fall on Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead, which coincides with its November 1 date. The course is offered in the CIIS School of Undergraduate Studies. In the class, the students construct a large ofrenda or altar at CIIS for the Day of the Dead, inviting members of the community to contribute photos of departed loved ones, and objects that were meaningful to them. In previous years, altars have included everything from pomegranates to corn to a tequila package to a Nina Simone CD case.
The altar also features numerous grinning skeletons and images of calacas, the Mexican equivalent of the Grim Reaper. “These symbols aren’t scary like Halloween skeletons,” explains Pacheco. “The idea of Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is to mock death, recognize that death is part of life, a continuum, not something ghoulish.” Topics in the class include traditional indigenous rituals, colonial influences, decolonized practices, healing practices, and the influence of the Mexican diaspora in the U.S. The high point of the class is a ritual celebration of the Day of the Dead. The event this year is open to the public and takes place on Saturday, October 22, 2011 from 6:00PM–9:00PM in Namaste Hall in the CIIS Main Building, 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco. Please feel free to bring a photocopied (non-returnable) photo of a loved one to include on the community altar.
Adjunct Distinguished Professor Philip Slater is offering a class in the Transformative Studies program in spring 2012 called Technology and the Future of Humanity. The class focuses on how technology is changing the human condition. “It tackles the big questions,” Slater comments. “Where are we going as a species?” The class explores transhumanist thinkers such as Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly, who see humanity transformed by biotechnology into bionic superhumans. In contrast, the class will study more traditional humanists such as Albert Einstein and Bruce Lipton, who view our species as having gone astray, but transforming psychologically to a more balanced kind of human.
Slater’s syllabus poses profound questions about the future: “…technology is no longer an inert tool, but a force with its own evolutionary dynamic and a seemingly unstoppable momentum, ever increasing in speed and complexity, even beginning to mimic life itself. But is this new force a natural extension of biological evolution, or a cancerous outgrowth of human hubris—our attempt to dissociate ourselves from, and dominate, the rest of nature, and deny our biological dependence on the planet we inhabit and its complex circle of life?” Slater himself is excited about his spring offering: “Questions like this are all-too-seldom addressed. I’m looking forward to it.”