March 20, 2008

Reading Questions for Session #11

Reading Questions Week #11 -- Finishing Shadow Culture, exploring web sites, and reading or skimming the Study Guide for What The Bleep Do We Know

Prior to reading these (short, readable) chapters, take a look at the web sites (especially read or skim through the study guide for the movie What The Bleep Do We Know). The Reading Response question at the end of these questions should encompass your response to the ideas in the Study Guide as well as those in the final chapters of Shadow Culture.

(We'll be watching clips from the movie later in the course, and by that time you will be more familiar with some of these contemporary emerging "new consciousness" -- Mind Cure/Healthy-Minded Religion -- movements and their core ideas.) - this group wrote the "Bleep" study guide, and if you do a search (upper right corner of their page) you can search for it and get their revised version if you are willing to give them your e-mail address. If not, explore their site to see what they are up to.

This is a mail-order source of audiovisual materials reflective of a fair number of "new" spirituality leaders, including some (like Pema Chodron) who are established within historical religions, and others who blend traditions or focus on spiritual healing or practices outside any tradition. For the most part, they seem fairly positive folks to me. The thing to think about is the trends, the similarities, that these individuals exemplify - very much a "once-born" positive-thinking sort of approach, with lots of variations. Just skim through and get a sense about some of these people and their ideas.

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Taylor reading questions

1. (236-237) From Leonard's remarks from 1966, what were some of the hopes and expectations of those involved in the early days of the "folk psychology" movement?

2. (237-238) What are some long-standing and contemporary accomplishments of the movement, according to Taylor?

3. (238-240) What were some influences on Michael Murphy's thinking prior to founding Esalen?

4. (242-246) What were some important "West Coast" and "East Coast" individuals and therapies coming into Esalen in the 1960s? In particular, what were the three "experiential therapies" that featured prominently in this time?

5. (246-249) Who were some especially strong personalities ("gurus") in Esalen's early days, and what did they contribute?

6. (250-254) What was the content and impact of EST?

7. (254-257) What were some components of the unique Esalen therapeutic culture?

8. (261-273) What is "humanistic psychology" and who were some key figures in the development of this movement? What were some of their core ideas?

9. (274-278) How was "transpersonal psychology" different from humanistic psychology? Who were key writers, and what were their core ideas?

10. (279-280) What are the current splinter groups and different ideas in contemporary transpersonal psychology?

Note (283-284) that Mitchell is cited as the founder of the Noetic Institute -- see web links for this.

From the What The Bleep Do We Know Study Guide:

1. Summarize the worn-out paradigm that the movie and authors believe we need to change, and summarize the incoming paradigm that the movie-makers and Noetic Science commentators believe is coming into being.

2. What do these writers argue are some important insights presented by writers in the field of quantum physics that support a need to change our understanding of "reality"?

3. What do these writers suggest are some important insights from mind-brain research, especially on the relationship between intentionality and brain wiring?

4. Practically speaking, what activities or changed attitudes are involved in the practices of "creating your day" and "healing the past"?

Reading Response Question (please include attention in your response both to Taylor and to the Study Guide for What The Bleep Do We Know):
-- Summarize what you think are the most interesting predictions Taylor makes in his summary chapter. What evidence from class reading, as well as additional reading you have done or observations about contemporary developments in non-mainstream religion and psychology movements, would you cite in supporting Taylor's views?
-- What do you think are any potential negative features of the "folk psychology" movement? Are there any opposing tendencies in contemporary society that could change or influence these very optimistic emerging traditions?
-- Do you see evidence of widening acceptance and incorporation of these traditions into the mainstream? What sorts of things? Are there contradictory things going on as well? What personally do you take away from your exposure to these ideas? What are your reservations or concerns about these ideas? What would James have to say about them?

March 28, 2008

Channeling and Creating Our Own Realities - reading questions for Week 12

Beyond A Course In Miracles: Channeling and Creating Our Own Reality

Assignment: browse some of these sites (especially those with discussion questions following them in bold italic).

At the end is the reflection question for you to write on. You might also appreciate this link to an academic Web page with links to a variety of alternative religious movements you might enjoy browsing. I'll post another listing with some YouTube examples of well-known and rather "mainstream" speakers/writers in Shadow Culture spirituality.

More Sites on Channeling - and reading questions for discussion

Here’s a brief overview of contemporary channeling highlights from the very skeptical Skeptics Dictionary (on-line fad-buster) – read this one for sure.

A channeler describes what channeling is and how it feels for her to do it -- also links to a great deal of transcripts from channeled beings (notice the typical portentous, repetitive, and archaic language) --

Here's a Wikpedia article that isn't too bad --

Read some of the Web articles above about new religions and channeling. Then read the ones below, especially where I have attached discussion questions.
Archangel Michael says that everything that happens to you is for your spiritual education, that your spirit guide ‘nudges’ things along, but that you still have complete free will. Huh?
An informed and skeptical look at channeling by a Christian writer, written in 1988
Another brief overview and critique from a Christian source.

What seems valid in these Christian critiques? What do you think these authors might be missing?
This presents a set of links to channeled messages. Read at least several of them. What ideas do these have in common? What do they and have in common with the work of Starhawk, Jean Houston, or the Institute of Noetic Sciences (in the Bleep guide) or the work of other contemporary ‘Shadow Culture’ writers? What is different about them?

How would William James suggest we understand the claims of the people who are channeling? Should the ideas they channel have authority for others? How should we evaluate these channeled messages (in William James’s view)?
The entire Urantia book online. Do a little browsing in it. It blends many of the same ideas (how we shape our own reality) with Christian language, similarly to the Course in Miracles, as we'll see later. How does adding Christian language affect the ideas presented, in contrast to non-Christian channeled material?

Now, for this week’s reflection question:

In what ways are these examples of channeling a continuation of ancient or long-standing religious phenomena? In what ways are they a reflection of uniquely contemporary circumstances? (Use some examples in your comments.)

April 11, 2008

What the Bleep Critiques - and Ramtha readings for Session #14

Read these critiques and responses in preparation for watching the movie in Session #14. Also glance over the Bleep Study Guide again. NOTE: No reading reflection this time - the questions below and the ones at the very end are for class discussion. We'll be watching a big chunk of the movie (which has J.Z. Knight in full Ramtha mode as one of the talking heads).

For classroom discussion:
1. Why do you think the Bleep movie was so successful?
2. What are the main criticisms that have been published about the movie?
3. Looking over the material on Ramtha, how much of the Bleep movie's premises come directly from the Ramtha movement?
4. Discuss the Ramtha movement and the leadership of J.Z. Knight as an example of a "Shadow Culture" movement. What are some striking features of it? What is the role of spiritual authority and channeling in establishing the movement?
5. What are some considerations about gender in a religious movement founded by a woman channeling a supposedly ancient male spiritual authority?
6. Look at the last site listed and the questions posed.

Critiques and responses to What The Bleep Do We Know and Ramtha

Columbia blog article summarizing critique

Another overview of the movie's success and critical responses:

The biggest splash in criticism is this Salon article --which includes more details and links that are critical (in short, the movie is being presented as a long advertisement for Ramtha) -- try the link that switches back and forth between Ramtha and J.Z. Powers.

A review that talks about the marketing strategy -- making it clear what niche the film was intending to reach:

Critique of approach as too focused on 'mind' and not 'heart'

LONG and very informative history/critique of Ramtha movement, including a discussion of how to test a channel. Skim this unless you are completely captivated by this subject.

Here’s the link to the Study Guide again --

As we discussed in class, the Study Guide was put together by individuals from the Institute of Noetic Scienes, which is also a great central collection of Shadow Culture ideas and ongoing research. Here is their website again (

Here's what the Skeptics Dictionary says about Ramtha --

Here's his? her? website -- skip the main page, though, and go right to these histories --

This is another summary of Ramtha ™’s teachings and description of Ramtha™ from the Ramtha™ web site (J.Z. Knight). Looking at this will make it clear where many of the What The Bleep ideas came from. What are the core beliefs? What can you guess about the self-development exercises from extrapolating by looking at other parts of the Web site (pictures, trade names of practices, etc.)?