|Sufi leader Pir Vilayat Khan at
Memorial Hall in conversation with Chancellor David Scott. (T. Frare
I think, therefore I am. It
would be hard to find a sentence that more crisply defines the limits
of modern education. When René Descartes wrote those words in 1637,
he elevated the cerebral cortex above all.
The remaining parts of the human being
his heart, her soul, their intuition and physical vigor could be
taken or left, and preferably left outside of the academy. In a forum
held last November in Memorial Hall, two leaders wondered aloud whether
its time to invite them back in.
Chancellor David Scott, a nuclear physicist,
and Pir Vilayat Khan, the eighty-three-year-old leader of the World Sufi
order, sat in affably-angled armchairs and, in a thrilling hour of swapping
Really Big Ideas, all but called on every department at UMass to start
integrating new paradigms of science and spirituality into their courses.
Eighty-three percent of Americans believe in a god of some sort,
Scott reflected in the presence of a standing-room-only audience. Yet
weve managed to excise that fact entirely from the educational curriculum
in this country. How can we live with that?
While to outward appearances an unlikely
meeting, these two minds clearly vibrate to the same tuning fork. Both
are Oxford-trained. A native of a small and isolated island off the northeast
coast of Scotland, Scott originally came to the United States to work
at the Lawrence Berkeley cyclotron laboratory; his work in nuclear collisions
brought him international recognition as a scientist. Pir Vilayats
academic background is in psychology, which he studied at the Sorbonne
as well as in England. French-reared by English and Indian parents, he
spends most of his time today in France and Seattle, as the global head
of the mystical, ecstatic branch of Islam known as Sufism.
During the last three centuries, the two
men agreed, science has illuminated much of the workings of our world
the how of things. It has largely ignored the why.
Science studies just the surface of this great wholeness,
said Pir Vilayat. Quantum physics now suggests a unity of matter, mind,
and energy; breakthroughs in medicine and genetics point to a unity of
mind, body and spirit. A biospheric perspective demonstrates how exquisitely
the web of life is interconnected. But higher education has not kept pace
with the paradigmatic shifts that are rocking the new frontiers, said
Public higher education has conveniently
hidden behind a rigorous constitutional separation of church and state,
suggested the chancellor. Weve sequestered the discussion
of the spiritual into religious studies departments, which
has freed the other disciplines physics, chemistry, electrical
engineering, even nursing from having to touch that dimension at
Scott said he would like to see teaching
at UMass dare to acknowledge the elusive mystery of life. If I had
my way, I would have us do away with GenEd courses and specialized learning
in favor of integrating spiritual ideas about the humanities and sciences
into every one of the majors, said Scott. That would produce
a totally different type of person coming out of this institution.
Upcoming and related
A three-day conference on spirituality in the workplace, sponsored by
a school not automatically associated with the numinous: the Isenberg
School of Management. Going Public with Spirituality in Work and
Higher Education, is open to the public and runs June 4-6. The $300
registration fee ($150 for full-time students) includes meals. For more
information call Karen Manz at 413.577.3355 or go to the conference website