On Friday, April 15, California Institute of Integral Studies sponsored its third annual Symposium on Integral Consciousness. This year’s event honored the founders of CIIS, Haridas and Bina Chaudhuri, who served as the Institute’s first two presidents.
The 2011 symposium featured many of the Institute’s faculty, students, and alums, presenting research and reflections on the current state of their disciplines. I didn’t get to every event, but here are a few of the highlights I did attend.
CIIS President Joseph L. Subbiondo kicked off the symposium with a talk on “The Need for Interreligious Dialogue in Higher Education.” He argued forcefully for the importance of religious pluralism in today’s world. Quoting numerous spiritual leaders from a variety of faiths, Subbiondo made a case that the United States is one of the most religiously diverse countries, and that higher education has a leading role to play in expanding understanding among different faiths, and spiritual literacy.
Don Hanlon Johnson, founder of the CIIS Somatic Psychology program, followed with a talk on “Embodied Spiritual Practices and Socially Transformative Service.” He spoke about the importance of finding common humanity with people of a variety of faiths and cultures through focusing on our shared experiences, lived through our bodies. Participants experienced this first-hand by greeting another person next to them with a warm touch of hands and a person-to-person exchange of information.
Jorge Ferrer of the CIIS East-West Psychology program provided a thought-provoking overview of the future of religion. He noted that religions were becoming more and more hybridized, learning from one another. He also showed how religions are rapidly changing in response to developments in society, from feminism to gay rights to the ecological crisis.
At a panel on "Goddesses in Conversation," Mara Keller, cofounder of the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS, advocated for including feminine forms of deity in worship and ritual, recounting her own path to the goddess. Jim Ryan of the Asian and Comparative Studies program spoke about the Institute’s sri yantra symbol, describing how it actually represents a tantric union of the goddess Kali with her consort, as well as the intertwining of the sacred and mundane. He also chanted in Sanskrit the opening verses of a prayer with the thousand names of the goddess. Hilary Anderson, an early alum of CIIS who studied with the Institute’s founders, spoke about the spiritual lessons inherent in life, from the daily existence of couples to archetypes of the goddess.
There were dozens of other speakers at the conference. Many participants praised and thanked CIIS Archivist Bahman Shirazi, who organized the event. This was the third annual Symposium on Integral Consciousness, and as CIIS Library Director Lyse Dyckman said, “When something happens once, it’s innovation. When it happens twice, it’s a trend. When it happens a third time, it’s a tradition.”