My former grad-school colleague Justin McDaniel recently ran into an interesting bout of media attention and controversy over a course he teaches at Penn, and an Associated Press article written about it. It is a comparative course on monasticism, entitled “Living Deliberately”. Nothing unusual so far; but what makes this course innovative is it contains a practicum. A practicum is relatively standard fare these days for many university courses on meditation, in which students are encouraged to meditate and thereby get a firsthand grasp on the course content. But McDaniel’s course is the first one I’ve heard of in which students attempt to get firsthand experience of being a monk.
What does that mean? As part of the class, students are required to live for various periods of time according to various restrictions, each one followed by an actual monastic order of some tradition or other. No technology beyond electric lights; no reading news from the outside world; no eating after dark; no caffeine or alcohol; no vegetables that grow underground (a nod to Jainism). Breaking the rules requires confession. Continue reading