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.
How many times have you heard people claim that Buddhism isn’t really a religion, that it’s a philosophy, a way of life, that its spiritual but not religious, or even that it’s a “science of mind”? These familiar tropes are a legacy of Buddhist Modernism, what Evan Thompson aptly has coined “Buddhist exceptionalism.” In this episode we explore these common claims, especially how they have been taken up by Secular Buddhists, mindfulness teachers and even scientists. We explore in this interview the historical reasons for why Buddhism has received special treatment, with its modernist claim that it is fundamentally different than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism. We dive into the confused understandings of mindfulness meditation which has been portrayed as a privatized “inner telescope” to objectively view our interior minds (brains), along with the misguided attempt to map meditative experiences onto brain states and neural correlates (Neural Buddhism). Evan challenges the popular view that Buddhism is compatible with science, and that science can validate Buddhist insights. Drawing on his intimate friendship and collaboration with the late Francisco Varela (a key founder of the Mind & Life Institute) he takes aim at how the so-called Buddhism – Science “dialogue” has been one-sided and stifling of mutual learning.
Evan Thompson is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He writes about the mind, life, consciousness, and the self, from the perspectives of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy (especially Buddhism and other Indian philosophical traditions). As a teenager, Evan was home-schooled in Southampton, NY and Manhattan at the Lindisfarne Association, an educational and contemplative community founded by his parents, William Irwin Thompson and Gail Thompson. He received his A.B. in Asian Studies from Amherst College (1983) studying with Robert Thurman, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto (1990). Evan has been actively involved as one of the leading researchers and advisers for the Mind & Life Institute.
We spoke today with Evan about his new book, Why I Am Not A Buddhist, published by Yale University Press in 2020. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); He is also the co-author with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition 2016).
In this Episode, I spoke with Dr. Michael Ungar, who is a Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University and Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience, as well as a family therapist – about his new book, Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and The Path to Success (Sutherland House Book, 2019). Michael dispels the myths of the self-help industry with its victim-blaming messages and emulation of the rugged individual. For too long, the familiar tropes have espoused a cruel form of optimism, telling us that our success and happiness can all be self-determined by simply pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and that all change comes from within us.
Based on his years of research on children, families, and communities, Michael tells that resilience has more to do with the resourced individual – and changing the environment.
In Episode 21, I speak with Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World and editor of Tikkun magazine. Lerner's social activism goes far back to when he was a leader of the Free Speech Movement at UC, Berkeley in 1964. Rabbi Lerner shares with us his vision for a Caring Society, and how to address the unmet psychological and spiritual needs that the Left has ignored. He explains the importance of developing 'prophetic empathy' as a means for building a progressive movement that infused with love and caring for all.
In Episode 20, I speak with Winton Higgins, a scholar of political science and Dharma Insight Meditation teacher in Australia and New Zealand. We explore the importance of politics within Western Buddhism, socially-engaged Buddhism, and the notion of the "Dharmic citizen".