Since the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT earlier this year, there has been a media frenzy – with AI suddenly becoming of mainstream interest and concern. In this episode, I spoke with Peter Hershock, a prolific scholar trained in Asian and comparative philosophy, who has had a long-term interest in the ethical dimensions of our relationship with technology. His latest book, Buddhism and Intelligent Technology: Toward a More Humane Future, is another example of Peter’s creative and penetrating way of approaching a very complex subject – where he draws from the deep well of Buddhist thought – with its rich histories of cultivating ethical intelligences, grounded in attention training, an understanding of karma, and the importance of developing a responsive virtuosity – for the purposes of eliminating value conflicts and suffering. Our conversation sheds light on why we need to see the ethical issues surrounding AI as a demand for more enhanced human capacities of predicament resolution, not as mere technocratic problems to be solved. Resolving such values conflicts, Peter tells us, requires clarity in understanding how we got to where we are, and a commitment to be present as in order to respond to in ways that are superlative – an improvisational.
We touch on a number of themes – why we should view AI more as a synthetic form of intelligence - which can helps us to see with more clarity how our own wants and desires are feeding a karmic loop, in effecting colonizing our consciousness; how our reliance on so-called smart services could inadvertently have unintended consequences in the forfeiture of our own social intelligence and capacities for open creativity and embodied presence – and much more.
Peter Hershock, Ph.D. is Director of the Asian Studies Development Program (ASDP) at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. Dr. Hershock is also the Director of the Center’s initiative on Humane Artificial Intelligence, with a focus on the societal impacts and ethical issues raised by emerging technologies. Trained in Asian and comparative philosophy, his research and writing draw on Buddhist conceptual resources to reflect on and address contemporary issues of global concern. His books include: Liberating Intimacy: :Enlightenment and Social Virtuosity in Ch'an Buddhism(1996); Reinventing the Wheel: A Buddhist Response to the Information Age (1999); Buddhism in the Public Sphere: Reorienting Global Interdependence (2006); Valuing Diversity: Buddhist Reflection on Realizing a More Equitable Global Future (2012); Public Zen/Personal Zen: A Buddhist Introduction (2014); Value and Values: Economics and Justice in an Age of Global Interdependence (edited, 2015); and Philosophies of Place: An Intercultural Conversation (2019).
I really enjoyed speaking with Martin Parker about his bold book, Shut Down the Business School: What’s Wrong with Management Education, published by Pluto Press. Yes, you heard that right – Shut Down the Business School, Bulldoze it over…flatten it! Sure, sounds a little hyperbolic, but this is a serious book and not some frivolous rant.
Even as far back as 1995, Martin Parker was criticizing the corporatization of higher education – what he dubbed, “The McUniversity” – the title of an article he published in the journal Organization. Soon thereafter, his book, “Against Management” came out, which landed him a Chair position at the University of Keele – a unique Department of Management composed of interdisciplinary scholars which became a radical hotbed.
I think what makes this conversation unique is that Martin and I are both Professors of Management; we’ve both been housed within a Business school at our respective universities. Martin is now at the University of Bristol in the UK. When he was the Chair at Keele, he spearheaded the formation of a fringe sub-discipline in the field of management, known as Critical Management Studies. We share a lot in common in that neither of us have an undergraduate or graduate degree in Business or Management…and as marginal outsiders.
So this conversation is very personal. There has been a great deal of criticism of Business Schools over the years, external critiques such as from the Carnegie Commission - but what’s quite remarkable that much of the criticism has come from insiders – prominent professors from such places as Stanford in the US and McGill in Canada. We reflect on the ironies of this, as Parker himself has been rewarded and promoted for his provocative articles and books. He has been biting the hand that feeds him for years, and that hand – the B-school, has seemed to have developed a natural immunity to such infectious assaults.
We briefly explore such topics as the history of the B-school, the problems with MBA programs, the various calls for reform that have fallen on deaf ears, along with why B-schools have been fiercely loyal and beholden to teaching managerial capitalism – and the inevitability of the corporatizied form as the one best way, even the only way, to organize. As our conversation evolves, Parker tells us straight up why the “student as customer” and such marketized notions as “student satisfaction” – are problematic. This insidious trend has been part and parcel of the corporatization of the university – where knowledge itself has become that which is purely utilitarian, relevant and which can be marketized and sold. Parker explains to us how B-schools have functioned as the loudspeaker for managerial capitalism – where Management has now come to be seen as absolutely necessary to all organizations, a claim of expertise which essentially denies that others have the capacity for managing their affairs. Finally, we come to the core questions – What should B-schools be for? Given the meta-crisis of climate change, gross global economic inequities, deteriorating mental health, and so on - why are B-schools accomplices to these meta-problems rather than their solution? Parker advocates that B-schools, given their tremendous reach and leverage, need to be shut down and reinvented as Schools of Organizing – where students can be introduced a wide range of approaches to organizing – and where the curriculum mandates that every discipline and course incorporates a fundamental imperative towards carbon reduction.
I hope you enjoy our lively and animated discussion – as well as few rants.
Martin Parker is Professor in the Department of Management at the University of Bristol. Professor Parker has held academic posts at the University of Leicester School of Management, Staffordshire, Keele and Warwick universities. His background is in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies. He is previously Editor in Chief of the journal Organization: The Critical Journal of Organization, Theory and Society. His recent books include Anarchism, Organization and Management (Routledge 2020) and Life After COVID19 (Bristol University Press 2020), as well his classic, Against Management (Polity Press, 2002). His other projects include leading the Bristol Inclusive Economy initiative, helping tilt the city towards low carbon, high inclusion and high democracy workplaces. He has also written about such odd topics - outlaws, angels, the circus, angels - and showing how they can be understood as relevant to thinking about organizing. He is currently writing about weeds.
Has the American Dream been built on a fundamental delusion – that we are all independent and autonomous individuals – that whether we become insanely wealthy or completely broke - is simply a matter of choice? That if we wish to be successful we just need to work hard, put our nose to the grindstone, and pull ourselves up by our own – well, Bootstraps?
Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream is the title of Alissa Quart’s new book, published by Ecco Books/HarperCollins. We cover a lot of ground in this conversation – from looking at the shadowy histories of Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand and the Americans icons of self-reliance – including Emerson and Thoreau – to debunking contemporary myths of the self-made man and woman, and examining how this American folk psychology of bootstrapping has fueled many rich fictions that have valorized a heroic independence, thus marginalizing a more social and interdependent understanding of human flourishing and wellbeing. Alissa points us to a way of embracing our dependence on others, not as something weak or shameful – but as a natural expression of our humanity – offering a more communitarian – a New American Dream.
Alissa Quart is the author of four other acclaimed books Squeezed, Republic of Outsiders, Hothouse Kids, and Branded, as well as two books of poetry Thoughts and Prayers and Monetized. She is the Executive Director of the non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She has written for many publications including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and TIME. Her honors include an Emmy, a Society of Professional Journalist award and a Nieman fellowship. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.
Can We Put an End to America’s Most Dangerous Myth? The New York Times – Opinion – Guest Essay
Remembering Barbara Ehrenreich, Acid Wit and Workers’ Champion, Alissa Quart, Time
Could it be the case that the Western Buddhists have lost touch with the radical questioning and the transformative power of transcendence? Has the focus on meditation, the mimicking of South Asian monastics with the necessity of engaging in long and austere silent retreats, and the dominant materialist view that Buddhism is a “science of mind” created an ecology that is elitist and exclusionary? Will worshipping at the secular alter with its fMRI brain scans satisfy our yearnings for transcendence? Is stress-reduction, neuro self-optimization and vague notions of individualistic ‘happiness’ and so-called “human flourishing” among the Secular Buddhist all we can expect from Buddhism modernism?
What if -- rather than science and psychology -- that the arts may a more fruitful path and gateway for us in the West to engage with the Transcendent, to rediscover our true nature, or what Paul Tillich called our “infinite passions” and the “joy of creative communion”? Rather than celebrating the mainstreaming of mindfulness as it has accommodated itself to the needs of capitalist ideology, can we engage in a politics of refusal and reclaim Buddhism as a countercultural force in the modern world?
These thought-provoking questions are the subject of Curtis White’s new book, Transcendent: Art and Dharma in a Time of Collapse, published by Melville House. In this episode, Curtis White dives deep into these questions, showing us why the 60’s counter-culture was so open and receptive to Buddhism and it felt so familiar as if something lost was being returned to us. Curtis argues that our own native traditions – from the English Romantic poets to the American transcendentalists – were forms of social transcendence that opposed the alienating effects of rationalism, science and industry – social movements that were not only aesthetic, but liberative. Our conversation was wide-ranging – from trashing the Davos crowd to appreciating Blues music, to the wrathful compassion and performative enactment of comedy embodied in George Carlin, to the spiritual transcendence of a Vermeer painting – White shows us how our everyday world is where transcendence is always available and that we can play to be free and how art can model that freedom.
Curtis White spent most of his career has writing experimental fiction, and was formerly a Professor of English at Illinois State University. He is the author of some 16 books, including such titles as Living in a World That Can’t Be Fixed, The Science Delusion, We, Robots: Staying Human in the Age of Big Data. His essays have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Salon, the Village Voice, Tricycle, Orion, and In These Times. His newest book, Transcendent: Art and Dharma in a Time of Collapse was published by Melville House, 2023.
Our way of knowing seems seduced into seeing things – including ourselves as the self as the knower – as substantial. We believe and take for granted that the world is a myriad of things and objects, that the passage of time is real, and that we can rely on science to tell us how to live and what has meaning and value. Whether it’s our fascination with neuroscience or whether we are perpetual spiritual seekers, it seems the answers we find never seem to fully satisfy us. And that’s because we suffer from a fundamental and deeply rooted belief and set of assumptions that there is a substantial external world ‘out there’ and a substantially existing internal world ‘in here’ in its givenness as “I-me-mind-mind and my-self”.
This is what Zen Priest Steve Hagen calls "The Grand Delusion" – and it’s the topic of our conversation based on his book of the same title. Steve Hagen has been contemplating these deep existential questions and this great matter of liberation from delusion for nearly sixty years. Now semi-retired, Steve Hagen is founder of the Dharma Field Learning and Meditation Center in Minneapolis, and author not only of The Grand Delusion: What We Know But Don’t Believe (Wisdom, 2020) – but many other books, such as Buddhism Plain and Simple, Meditation Now or Never, Buddhism Is Not What You Think.
We cover a lot a difficult themes in this conversation, from how our modern worldview operates from unwarranted assumptions that perpetuates our belief in substantiality, to why our reliance on neuroscience to reveal the mysteries of the mind is a dead-end, to the challenge of using language to point out what cannot be grasped conceptually – and much more.
Roshi Steve Hagen continues to teach occasional courses at Dharma Field. Although Steve trained and received Dharma transmission in Soto Zen, he has no formal ties to any Zen or Buddhist hierarchy.
Is the climate crisis a reflection of our lack of understanding of our true nature as human beings in the cosmos? Could our inability to ask such difficult questions be at the root of our collective impotence to reduce carbon emissions and usher in the magnitude of cultural change necessary in order to avoid impending and irreversible tipping points?
Graham Parkes, thinks so. In fact, Graham Parkes’ new book, HOW TO THINK ABOUT THE CLIMATE CRISIS: A Philosophical Guide to Saner Ways of Living (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021) is exactly that - about how to think differently about the climate crisis – by learning from the great ancient wisdom traditions – particularly Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism. Contrary to contemporary positive psychologists and happiness industry gurus, so-called "human flourishing" is not individualistic in these ancient Chinese philosophical traditions, but rather, thriving is relational in and as a society - in a harmonious relationship with the natural world.
But as Graham discusses in his book and in our interview – our thinking in the West has been obstructed and taken over by very powerful libertarian ideologies and warped Far Right theologies with the backing of many billionaires and corporate special interests – particularly the fossil fuel industry. Graham painstakingly covers a lot of ground in his book – it’s a detailed, well researched and very sober analysis not only of the reality of global heating, but also of the social and political forces obstructing us, resulting in the predicament and political impasse we find ourselves in today.
Even in the hour and a half that we spoke, we still only scratched the surface of the many issues and ideas in his book, so I really do hope you get a chance to read his book.
A native of Glasgow, Graham Parkes has taught philosophy at universities in the United States, Europe, and East Asia, and is now Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Vienna. He has published widely in the fields of European, Chinese, and Japanese thought, with a long-standing emphasis on environmental philosophy.
Profesor Parkes was educated at the Queen’s College Oxford, in philosophy and psychology, and the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a PhD in philosophy in 1978. He he taught Asian and comparative philosophy for almost thirty years in the Philosophy Department at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University, at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and the Center for the Study of World Religions. In 2008 Parkes moved to University College Cork in Ireland, where he was the Professor of Philosophy and then Head of the School of Philosophy and Sociology. He founded the Irish Institute of Japanese Studies and served as Director for four years, until leaving Ireland in 2015. He has also held research appointments in France, Italy, and Japan, and has been a visiting professor in Austria, China, Japan, and Singapore.
Why is everything now about wellness and “self-care”? And it’s not just about Goop – the global wellness industry – from leech therapy, MCT oils, to yoga, clean eating and New Age manifestation coaches -- is now a booming $4 trillion-dollar global industry. In this Episode, I spoke with Rina Raphael about her new book, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop and the False Promise of Self-Care.
Rina comes to this topic as a former wellness consumer herself, and as journalist working long hours under tight deadlines – she, like many other women today suffering from the stress of modern lifestyles, was in search for that silver bullet remedy or regimen, that magic natural supplement that would give her an competitive edge and extra boost. Consumed with her own health, Rina tells us how she eventually unshackled herself from this obsession when she began reporting on the wellness industry for Fast Company – gaining access to marketing insiders and publicists at wellness brands, along interviews with such self-help gurus like Gwyneth Paltrow, bio-hacking entrepreneur David Asprey of Bullet Coffee fame.
Rina Raphael is a journalist who specializes in health, wellness, tech, and women’s issues. She was a features contributor for Fast Company magazine and has also written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, NBC News, and Medium’s Elemental, among other publications. Her wellness industry newsletter, Well To Do, covers trends and news and offers market analysis. Raphael has spoken on the wellness industry at national conferences such as the Global Wellness Summit and the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Previously, she served as a senior producer and lifestyle editor at TODAY.com and NBCNews.com.
In Episode 40, I spoke with Gail Stearns about her new book, Liberating Mindfulness: From Billion-dollar Industry to Engaged Spirituality (Orbis Books, 2022). Our conversation explored Gail's journey into the contemporary mindfulness world as she earnestly sought ways it could enhance her chaplaincy and counseling work with students at Chapman University. She soon encounters the unsavory highly individualistic aspects of the mindfulness movement, along with its crass commercialization. As an ordained Presbyterian minister and a long-time interest in the Christian mystical tradition, we venture into what's missing from modern mindfulness from a spiritual perspective, along with her unique deep dive into silent Insight Meditation Vipassana retreats.
Gail J. Stearns is The Irvin C. and Edy Chapman Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Peace Studies at Chapman University. She is also an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Stearns is co-editor of Invest Your Humanity: Celebrating Marvin Meyer (Wipf & Stock 2015) in honor of Meyer, the renowned Gnostic Gospel Scholar. She is also the author of Writing Pauline: Wisdom From a Long Life (Hamilton Books, 2005) and Open Your Eyes: Toward Living More Deeply in the Present (Wipf & Stock, 2011). Gail also holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from Washington State University, with emphasis in gender theory.
With a certification in Mindfulness Facilitation from UCLA and experience practicing meditation for over 30 years, she works with businesses, healthcare agencies, university students, women’s groups and more. An ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA), She is a certified teacher with the International Mindfulness Teachers Association.
In this episode, I spoke with Pierce Salguero, Ph.D., about his new book Buddhish: A Guide to the 20 Most Important Buddhist Ideas for the Curious and Skeptical, published this year by Beacon Press. Pierce is a Professor of Asian History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, and is Editor-in-Chief of Asian Medicine: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine. Pierce received his PhD in the History of Medicine at at John Hopkins School of Medicine, his Masters of East Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. He is a transdisciplinary scholar who is fascinated by historical and contemporary intersections between Buddhism, medicine, and cross-cultural exchange. He is a prolific scholar and has a fascinating background that includes a former career as a practitioner of Traditional Thai Medicine, along with having been a monastic for a few years in the Thai Buddhist Forest tradition.
We had a fascinating discussion about his new book Buddhish – and how approaches this topic in ways that offer newcomers – both those curious and the skeptics – a way to get tour-bus ride of the vast terrain of Buddhist philosophical ideas and practices across various schools and traditions. I enjoyed my conversation with Pierce and I think you will as well.
I spoke with Johann Hari – whose new book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again – is already a New York Times best-seller. I was fortunate enough to meet Johann in September 2019 when he was writing this book. He came to my house here in Pacifica, California – and we spent the whole day together and discussing a range of topics – from cruel optimism to the privatization of mindfulness as the new neoliberal, capitalist spirituality.
Johann Hari is the author of three New York Times best-selling books, and the Executive Producer of an Oscar-nominated movie and an eight-part TV series, The Fix, starring Samuel L. Jackson. His books have been translated into 38 languages, and been praised by a broad range of people, from Oprah to Noam Chomsky, from Elton John to Naomi Klein.
His latest book, ‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention’, was published in January 2022, and received rave reviews everywhere from the Washington Post to the Irish Times to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Johann’s first book, ‘Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’, was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film ‘The United States Vs Billie Holiday’.
I first came across Johann’s work when I read his , ‘Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions’
Johann’s TED talks have been viewed more than 80 million times. The first is named ‘Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong’. The second is entitled ‘This Could Be Why You Are Depressed or Anxious’.
He has written over the past decade for some of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Politico and many more. He has appeared on NPR’s All Thing Considered, HBO’s Realtime With Bill Maher, The Joe Rogan Podcast, the BBC’s Question Time, and many other popular shows.
Johann studied Social and Political Science at King’s College, Cambridge, and graduated with honors. Check out our show notes on The Mindful Cranks for links to his website.
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In Episode 37, I spoke with Kathleen Gregory about her chapter “The Modern Mindfulness Movement and the Search for Psychological Redemption” recently published in Richard Payne’s new edited volume, Secularizing Buddhism (Shambala Publications, 2021).
Kathleen offers a unique perspective on modern mindfulness as she is both a licensed therapist and clinician, as well as long-time Buddhist practitioner. Our conversation explores the process by which mindfulness was psychologized, which accounts very much for its widespread diffusion and popular appeal in Western cultures. One of the key lines of inquiry in this conversation is how mindfulness meditation was reimagined and repurposed as a technique – that speaks to familiar ways of how we see ourselves. Mindfulness became a tool for fixing the self, namely, for addressing the seeming deficits that are in need of improvement and psychological redemption.
A little more about Kathleen Gregory…Kathleen is an Australian psychologist with a PhD in Comparative Philosophy; she has taught for many years as an associate professor in graduate counselling programs both in Australia and the US. She currently works in the graduate careers development program at RMIT University. She is also former Dean of the Graduate School of Counselling and Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She has been a student of late Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche IX.
Richard Payne is the Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California and the Graduate Theological Union. I spoke with Richard about his new edited volume, Secularizing Buddhism: New Perspectives on a Dynamic Tradition, published by Shambala. Our conversation explores how the discourse of secularization with its binary oppositions such as "religious" vs. "secular" are constructed categories that are influencing how modern people are understanding Secular Buddhism. Richard explains how the legacy of Protestant theological ideas are overlayed on what we now view as "modern" Buddhism, as well as how so-called "traditional" Buddhism is a response to such modernization.
In this episode I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Sarah Shaw, who is an Honorary fellow of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies; and lecturer for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. We spoke about her new book, Mindfulness: Where It Comes From and What It Means – published in paperback by Shambala. This is a very accessible and very well researched book – and we explored the history of mindfulness as it first appeared in the English language, the important role of memory and the oral chanting tradition in early Buddhism – to the multiple functions of mindfulness. We also touch on the significance of the Abhidharma and Abhidharmakosha – and how mindfulness is situated and functions in these schools.
Sarah draws from her decade of practicing, researching, and teaching the history of mindfulness.
Sarah read Greek and English at Manchester University, where she took a doctorate in English. It was later in her career that she decided to study Pali at Oxford, and she has a deep interest in Early Buddhist (Pāli) suttas and Abhidhamma material on meditation, the Pali chanting traditions. In addition, Sarah practices with the Samatha Association of Britain.
In this episode, I was fortunate to speak to Gregory Kramer who is the founding teacher of the Insight Dialogue Community. Back in 2015, I invited Gregory to be one of the keynote speakers at an international conference that I organized on Mindfulness at SFSU. I knew of his work on Insight Dialogue. I recently stumbled upon his new book, A Whole-Life Path: A Lay Buddhist’s Guide to Crafting a Dharma-Infused Life, and I immediately knew that I had to have him on the podcast.
In this deep and free-flowing conversation, I explore with Gregory how he came to a pragmatic understanding and creative application of the Eight Fold Noble Path into his daily life. This conversation was itself a living example, perhaps a spontaneous unfolding in real-time of the power of dialogue – when the intention is turned to full awakening. We explore the importance of the first path factor – Right View – and why it is critical to getting all of the other path factors right. We also riff on how many Western Buddhists have acquired a wrong view – a meditation-fixation, a mindfulness-only approach to practice – that not only lacks a guiding Right View, but fails at integrating a small fraction of time that is spent in sitting meditation with their daily life.
We both get a little geeky at times pondering the meaning and implications of scriptural terms and teachings – but I think you will feel the intensity and dynamism of this down-to-earth conversation on the Buddhadharma. I think you will enjoy this episode very much. But first, a little more about Gregory Kramer.
Gregory teaches meditation, writes, and is the founding teacher of the Insight Dialogue Community. He is also author of Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, from Shambhala Publications; Dharma Contemplation: Meditating Together with Wisdom Texts; Seeding the Heart: Practicing Lovingkindness with Children; and other books and articles. Gregory has practiced meditation since 1974 and studied with esteemed monastics, including Anagarika Dhammadinna, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayaka Thero, Achan Sobin Namto, Ven. Punnaji Mahathero, and others.
In this episode, I spoke with Daniel Simpson about his wonderful new book, The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga’s History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices, just published by North Point Press. It’s an easy read because Daniel is a professional writer having left a burgeoning career in journalism after he became disillusioned with mainstream media. Our conversation dives deep into the complex and patchy history of Yoga, swimming through early, classical and hatha yoga – along with some interesting observations on modern yoga, including whether Silent Disco Yoga is a thing! Kidding aside, this is a serious conversation – and I learned a great deal, especially just how fertile the soil was when the yogic traditions were taking hold – and the creative cross-fertilization between classical yoga traditions and the Buddhists at the time. This episode is a nice complement to our previous episode with Andrea Jain whose book was a scholarly critique of modern, global yoga.
A little more about Daniel….
Daniel Simpson teaches yoga philosophy at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, and at Triyoga in London. He earned his Master's degree from SOAS (University of London), and his thesis critiquing mindfulness in schools was published in the journal Contemporary Buddhism. He previously worked as a foreign correspondent – for Reuters, then the New York Times – after studying at Cambridge. His interest in yoga developed in parallel, including frequent trips to India since the 1990s.
I hope you buy his book, The Truth of Yoga – it’s well written and researched – but accessible and a quick read. Enjoy this episode!
In this episode I spoke with Andrea R. Jain, Associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis about her new book Peace Love Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality, published by Oxford University Press. Our conversation explores how modern, commodified yoga serves a neoliberal agenda by containing social activism and political dissent, something she calls gestural subversion. As a religious studies scholar, Andrea takes modern yoga seriously – viewing its practitioners not as passive dupes but as people with agency – but whose identities have been shaped and formed to serve neoliberal ends. We touch on a range of topics and issues – from the “feel good” neoliberal discourse of yogaware – such as Spirtual Gangster clothing products, cultural appropriation and contested claims of spiritual “authenticity,” the global spread of capitalism where even in India neoliberal forces have led to coopting yoga for extremist and exclusionary nationalist agenda, as well as QAnon’s followers attraction to yoga.
Andrea is also author of a previous book - Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture and is currently the editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Her areas of research include religion and capitalism; global spirituality and modern yoga; the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion; and theories of religion.
In this episode I spoke with Michal Pagis who is an associate professor of sociology at Bar Ilan University, Israel about her new book Inward: Vipassana Meditation and the Embodiment of the Self published by the University of Chicago Press in 2019. Using micro-sociological analysis through participant observation and auto-enthnography, Michal studied Western Vipassana practitioners of SN Goenka 10-day SILENT meditation retreats. We explored a range of questions and topics – especially her observations of socialization process of these practitioners into modes of collective solitude, as well as the tensions, conflicts and complexities these practitioners face with such a secularized practice. It was a lively and deeply engaging conversation that I think you will enjoy.
Dr. Pagis studies the transformations in self and identity in contemporary post-industrial culture with a focus on the intertwining of religion and psychology. Her research includes the modern practice of Buddhist meditations, life-coaching, spiritual care in the medical system and the penetration of popular psychology into ultra-religious and anti-liberal communities.
In this episode I spoke with Adrian Daub about his new book, What Tech Calls Thinking, published by FSG Originals. I discovered Adrian’s fascinating book in a New York Times review which called it ‘scintillating.” Adrian examines the philosophical traditions tech leaders and their boosters draw on to make plausible and inevitable their industry’s resistible rise. His book is an engaging critique of an industry that is blinded by its own elitism and privilege while exploiting and distorting intellectual ideas in ways that function to erase cultural memory and blunt our analysis or skepticism. Diving deep into the intellectual history of Silicon Valley, we explore tech’s rhetorical strategies that have disabled critical thinking and critical analysis. We touch on various motifs such as the “dropping out” of college media hype, Marshall McLuhan’s influence on tech and its valorization of the platform, tech and the counterculture (including Esalen), the hegemonic imperative of disruption, and the fake “fail better next time” trope among the Silicon Valley privileged – and much more.
Adrian is an academic and writer and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Adrian's writing on history, technology, pop culture and philosophy has appeared in The Guardian, n+1, The New Republic, Logic, Longreads and elsewhere.
I often get the question – “Well, who is doing innovative and leading-edge work on social and civic mindfulness – who is teaching mindfulness outside of the clinical, biomedical, and individualistic framework? I kept hearing Paula Haddock’s name pop up.
Paula Haddock is a long-time social activist and spent many years working in non-profit fundraising and with NGOs – and she is a seasoned training manager – working worldwide in supporting civil society in capacity building. She is the co-founder (with Luke Wreford) of the Mindfulness and Social Change Network which is a collective of international academics, activists, humanitarian workers and socially engaged mindfulness practitioners who are exploring the potential for secular mindfulness training and practice to contribute to more sustainable, caring and socially just societies.
David Forbes in Brooklyn joins me in this episode as we explore with Paula her unique social framework for teaching mindfulness, along with her work with the Ulex Project which delivers training on movement building, impact and resilience for European based change makers. Paula has also been actively involved in EcoDharma training. We touch on a number of other issues such as whiteness in mindfulness communities, cancel culture, and our reactions to Trump getting Covid.
Paula has delivered social-mindfulness related sessions for the Atlantic Fellows Programme, University College London, The Mindfulness Association and written for the Transformation Series of Open Democracy: Mindfulness and Social Change and Don’t wait for the future of Mindfulness – it’s already here.
This conversation explores an obscure historical figure, Dhammaloka, who was perhaps one of the first Westerners ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1901 in British occupied Burma. Laurence Cox is co-author of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire, published by Oxford University Press. Based on ten year of archival research, it’s fascinating tale about the extraordinary life of this Irish working-class migrant worker, who was also a hobo and sailor, an anti-colonial activist and a devout defender of Buddhism against the onslaught of Christian missionaries and the British empire.
Laurence Cox is a long-time social movement activist and practicing Buddhist who has been involved in many different movement struggles in Ireland and internationally since the 1980s. He co-edits the activist/academic movement journal Interface, works with the Buddhist-based Ulex activist training centre in Catalonia and with low-impact child-friendly meditation retreats in SW England. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the author/editor of ten books and many other academic and activist pieces on social movements, revolutions, modern Buddhism and new religious movements, including Why Social Movements Matter; Buddhism and Ireland: from the Celts to the Counter-culture and Beyond; and Voices of 1968.
In this Episode, I spoke with Daniel Nehring, who is an Associate Professor of Sociology at East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. Daniel is, in my opinion, an ascending and prolific scholar in the field of critical sociology, and an amazing networker who has brought together a diverse group of international collaborators from multiple disciplines who are doing cutting edge research on therapeutic cultures across the globe. Our conversation explores how therapeutic discourses have not only penetrated a range of institutional regimes, but also how such discourses have a global reach, with mass consumption in China, for example. We talk about the rise of the “self-help entrepreneur,” and how such figures as Jon Kabat-Zinn utilized various rhetorical and discursive strategies to bolster his narrative authority and commercial success. We also talk about the relevance and important of C. Wright Mills and his classic work, The Sociological Imagination, in contrast to what Daniel calls “the psychological imagination” which informs the self-help genre and the mindfulness literature – focusing on an article he recently published this year with Ashley Frawley in Sociology of Health and Illness. Our mutual admiration of C. Wright Mills is evident in that we both share in the view that academics have become beholden to a bureaucratic ethos and the stranglehold of neoliberal audit culture – and that academics need to wake up, speak up and become actively engaged as public intellectuals.
His recent publications in this area include Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry (Palgrave, 2016), Therapeutic Worlds (Routledge, 2019), The Routledge International Handbook of Global Therapeutic Cultures (2020), Imagining Society (Bristol University Press, ). He is also the convenor of several international academic networks ‘Popular Psychology, Self-Help Culture and The Happiness Industry’ and Open Minds. Daniel is an editor of the book series Therapeutic Cultures for Routledge and hosts the Global Therapeutic Cultures podcast.
In this Episode, I spoke with Matthew Ingram, author of, Retreat: How the Counterculture Invented Wellness – recently published this summer by Repeater Books. Reading Matthew’s book was like taking a walk down memory lane for me, revisiting many of the key figures of the counterculture – and discovering many unknown connections between such figures, as well as hidden histories, shadow elements, and colorful vignettes. We covered a lot of ground – from Mohandas Gandhi to RD Laing – from the German Nature Boys to the Dalai Lama being asked what he thought about LSD. We uncover and shed light on some the simplistic and naïve views of the counterculture, particularly how the ego was made into a boogeyman – and how the whole movement devolved into a kind of hedonism and attachment to a romantic sense of the mystical.
A fanatic record-collector, Matthew Ingram started blogging as WOEBOT in 2003. The cult blog featured in articles in The Guardian, Slate, FACT and The Wire. He ended up writing features and reviews for The Wire and a column for FACT. In this period Matthew co-founded the Dissensus forum with Mark "k-punk" Fisher and released critically-acclaimed music as WOEBOT. His last project was an animated documentary about Vitamin C and he also worked as a writer for the Teletubbies.
Christopher Titmuss is perhaps the most senior teacher of Vipassana and Insight Meditation in the Western modern world.
Titmuss was an ordained monk in Thailand, spending six years there from 1970 to 1976. During that time, he resided for three years in a monastery with Ajahn Dhammadharo, his Vipassana (Insight Meditation teacher) and Ajahn Buddhadasa.
Our conversation takes a deep dive into the themes in his insightful book, The Political Buddha. We explore just how central the role of critical inquiry is in the Dharma, Buddha’s position on wealth and war, the privatization of spirituality, corporate mindfulness, ethics and institutional change, and the importance of the community.
In this episode, I spoke with Dr. Miguel Farias from Coventry University in the UK on his seminal book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? (2nd ed. Watkins Media, 2019) (co-authored with Catherine Wikholm). Miguel was one of the first academic researchers to expose the dark side of meditation. Our conversation touched on the history of Transcendental Meditation (TM), the use of science as a means to justify the legitimacy of meditation, and the many parallels between TM and the modern mindfulness movement.
Miguel Farias received his doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford where he was a lecturer until 2014, and a research associate at the Psychology of Religion Group at Cambridge University. He currently leads the Brain, Belief and Behaviour research group at Coventry University. Dr. Farias has pioneered research on the analgesic effects of religious beliefs and the stress-buffering effects of science beliefs. He led the first randomized-controlled trial on the effects of yoga and meditation in prison and is the lead author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change -- a book that examines the science and myths about the effects of these practices, now in its 2nd edition published by Watkins Media. Dr. Farias is chief editor of the forthcoming Handbook of Meditation, to be published by Oxford University Press.