The Monastic University

Posted by on Feb 10, 2011 in Otherhood | 2 Comments

Is there room for monasteries on university campuses these days?

More and more, I envision joining the work we’ve been doing at the Art Monastery Project to existing academic institutions. Imagine artmonks & postgrads, exploring the wide world of (secular/interfaith) monastic living together.

Especially if you convinced them that being a monk didn’t have to mean being silent, celibate & sober, I imagine that there would be plenty of graduate students (perhaps in religion, philosophy, business, neuroscience, art, art history, physics, music, mathematics…) interested in living an experimental monastic life for a semester or two, alongside artmonks and monks from existing monastic traditions.

How could universities not benefit from fostering self-sustaining contemplative communities?

Contemplative Studies

Timothy Morton of Ecology Without Nature points out:

There’s a brand new field of “contemplative studies” opening up, which will play a big part in the American Academy of Religion’s conference next year. It involves humanists and scientists working together to think about practices such as meditation.

Morton references a promising program at Brown University:

The Contemplative Studies Initiative is a group of Brown faculty with diverse academic specializations who are united around a common interest in the study of contemplative states of mind, including the underlying philosophy, psychology, and phenomenology of human contemplative experience… Our goal is to develop a coordinated program in this rapidly emerging field that focuses on many of the ways that human beings have found, across cultures and across time, to concentrate, broaden and deepen conscious awareness as the gateway to cultivating their full potential and to leading more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

A New Nalanda

Last September, Indian parliament approved plans to rebuild the campus of Nalanda University, a monastic university in northern India that existed for almost a millenium before it was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders in 1193 CE. The new university, “aimed at advancing the concept of an Asian community…and rediscovering old relationships,” will serve as a post-graduate research university with programs in:

  • Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religion;
  • Historical Studies;
  • International Relations and Peace;
  • Business Management and Development;
  • Languages and Literature;
  • and Ecology and Environmental Studies.

I’m curious if Brown’s program or the new Nalanda will be open to incorporating the institution of the monastery, at some level.

Given the current economic situation most universities are facing (especially here in California) and the low-cost nature of monasteries (especially ones that grow their own food or produce a sellable product…), it seems like an experiment worth making.Is there room for monasteries on university campuses these days?

More and more, I envision joining the work we’ve been doing at the Art Monastery Project to existing academic institutions. Imagine artmonks & postgrads, exploring the wide world of (secular/interfaith) monastic living together.

Especially if you convinced them that being a monk didn’t have to mean being silent, celibate & sober, I imagine that there would be plenty of graduate students (perhaps in religion, philosophy, business, neuroscience, art, art history, physics, music, mathematics…) interested in living an experimental monastic life for a semester or two, alongside artmonks and monks from existing monastic traditions.

How could universities not benefit from fostering self-sustaining contemplative communities?

Contemplative Studies

Timothy Morton of Ecology Without Nature points out:

There’s a brand new field of “contemplative studies” opening up, which will play a big part in the American Academy of Religion’s conference next year. It involves humanists and scientists working together to think about practices such as meditation.

Morton references a promising program at Brown University:

The Contemplative Studies Initiative is a group of Brown faculty with diverse academic specializations who are united around a common interest in the study of contemplative states of mind, including the underlying philosophy, psychology, and phenomenology of human contemplative experience… Our goal is to develop a coordinated program in this rapidly emerging field that focuses on many of the ways that human beings have found, across cultures and across time, to concentrate, broaden and deepen conscious awareness as the gateway to cultivating their full potential and to leading more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

A New Nalanda

Last September, Indian parliament approved plans to rebuild the campus of Nalanda University, a monastic university in northern India that existed for almost a millenium before it was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders in 1193 CE. The new university, “aimed at advancing the concept of an Asian community…and rediscovering old relationships,” will serve as a post-graduate research university with programs in:

  • Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religion;
  • Historical Studies;
  • International Relations and Peace;
  • Business Management and Development;
  • Languages and Literature;
  • and Ecology and Environmental Studies.

I’m curious if Brown’s program or the new Nalanda will be open to incorporating the institution of the monastery, at some level.

Given the current economic situation most universities are facing (especially here in California) and the low-cost nature of monasteries (especially ones that grow their own food or produce a sellable product…), it seems like an experiment worth making.

2 Comments

  1. Tim Morton
    February 10, 2011

    Yes, total agreement. I heard a talk by Alan Wallace in which he argued for a contemplative aquarium of sorts, in which contemplative practices would be funded by neuroscience observers. Such a symbiotic feedback would be easy to set up alongside existing campuses. I’m not saying this is the only or even the preferred way to do it. But it’s interesting that people are starting to think about it.

    In answer to your question on mine: I strongly believe that it’s to do with a fear of inner space. Alan Watts says something to the effect that only Jesus was allowed to be a Son of God, eventually, when the original idea was that we all could be. To use his memorable terms, he was “kicked upstairs”—which is what they say of someone who has been “promoted” to the British House of Lords…

  2. Nathan Rosquist
    February 11, 2011

    It might not be as effective to set up such an aquarium (i love the image) on a college campus as on Google or Microsoft’s corporate campus. But since college students are already familiar communal living in dorms, frats and sororities, etc, and universities are familiar with the need to house students in a cost- and space-effective way, something like a monastery might be a good way to go about it. I do have a hard time envisioning it for more than a minority of grad students, though.

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