"What it's like to be a monk," revisited.
GetReligion, Terry Mattingly offers his own response to the AP story that I shared yesterday about a course at Penn that purports to give students "a firsthand experience of what it's like to be a monk." As Mattingly admits, there could be much more to the course than meets the journalistic eye - that is, the focus on physical discipline that AP reporter Kathy Matheson highlights in her story might be balanced by a close reading of monastic texts that explain the spiritual purposes of practices like celibacy and fasting. If that deeper content is missing, though, then students enrolled in a course like this may fail to grasp what religious life is really about, as Terry Mattingly observes:
Monks, you see, have to have tradition. Tradition is the frame that surrounds the life of a monk. The goal is to live a tradition and to be transformed by it.To read the rest, click here. I think that Mattingly is making the same point that I sought to make yesterday, which leads me to a concluding question: can a course solely focused on a do-it-yourself approach to "experiential learning" really provide an adequate sense of "what it's like to be a monk"? Can one hope to understand and appreciate a complex tradition merely by imitating some of its external practices, without dealing with doctrine or history? As you can probably tell by now, I have my doubts. AMDG.
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. . . it’s easy to see that this story has a gigantic hole: It contains no information whatsoever about the prayer and worship life of these monks. There is no hint that this class teaches any spiritual disciples, that it attempts to introduce students to any particular worship tradition or to a fusion of several traditions.
Monks without prayer? Monks without worship? This is something like birds without air, fish without water, journalists without questions that yield crucial information.
So what is the bottom line? What is the point of monasticism, if not transcendence, submission and union with Another? What is the purpose of this class?