- Philosophy East/West: Exploring Intersections between Educational and Contemplative Practices ed. by Oren Ergas and Sharon Todd
Oren Ergas and Sharon Todd, the editors of Philosophy East/West: Exploring Intersections between Educational and Contemplative Practices, articulate the two main concerns of their project in the introduction. The first intent is to embrace a cross-philosophical approach that may integrate a wide spectrum of wisdom traditions the world over in order to maximize fruitful dialogue and cross-fertilization. The second is to take stock of the recent “contemplative turn” in education, as illustrated primarily by the growing contemporary trend to emphasize meditational and mindfulness practices. The main objective of the editors of this thoughtful and creative volume is to reflect upon the ways such a “contemplative turn” can provide, particularly when it is grounded in inter-civilizational awareness and knowledge, a suitable and integral framework for a truly “lived” model of education. Thus, the essays included in this book consider the zones of intersection between comparative philosophy, contemplative practices, and education in a contemporary context.
In her essay “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies in View of the Love of God” Simone Weil defines academic study as an education of the capacity for attention. Weil proposes that “the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies.” This remark could serve, in a way, as a common thread running through the nine essays included in this volume. The authors contend that a creative engagement with contemplative pedagogy and learning is the only way education could be integrally fulfilled, or restored to its [End Page 938] inclusive meaning and function. However, these essays reveal a keen awareness of the contemporary challenges to such an endeavor. Thus, they are particularly intent on debunking frequent reductionisms and recuperations of contemplative practices and mindfulness in the modern world. Among these are the recurrent concern for a validation of meditational practices by modern science and the compartmentalization and instrumentalization of contemplative practices within the logic of “economic imperialism” and its de facto secular marginalization and divorce from ethical and ontological concerns. Oren Ergas articulates these concerns very effectively when he asserts that “the discourse of justifications for contemplative practices accentuates this issue (of obsession with assessing performativity) because threading wisdom traditions through the eye of the needle of quantitative science so that they fit the bill of an economic-secular public educational ethos inevitably yields reductionism” (p. 51).
On the side of Western philosophical contributions, the book draws from ancient European wisdom traditions, but also from contemporary figures such as Heidegger, Foucauld, and Levinas. David Lewin sees in Heidegger’s “care for Being,” for instance—a contemplative corrective to the limitations and ambiguities of “the recent interest in mindfulness in education.” He contends that “for Heidegger the current interest in mindfulness would represent a concealment of the essence of attention and precisely the oblivion to being that needs to be overcome” (p. 84). As for Levinas, it is on the basis of his concept of the “traumatism of astonishment” in relation to the Other that Sharon Todd can suggest that his works may help induce a decentering of the self, and therefore foster the inner conditions for a true attention to others. Robert Hattam and Bernadette Baker, on their part, call for an understanding of the “contemplative turn (that) represents a ‘post-secular’ social theory based on robust critique of the secularisation thesis that has been the paradigmatic narrative of mainstream social theory for much of the last century” (p. 11). They, like other contributors to this volume, refer to Foucauld’s distinction between philosophy as determining “the conditions and limits of the subject’s access to the truth” and spirituality as a work of self-modification that is “the price to be paid for access to the truth.”
Although the authors tend to keep their distance from Foucauld’s reductively aesthetic understanding of the latter as an “elaboration of...