Docere, Delectare, Movere, Soul-Learning, Reflexivity and the Third Classroom by Angela Voss
In ’Reenchanting the Academy, eds A. Voss & S. Wilson, Auckland & Seattle: Rubedo Press, 113-138
‘It is as if we can study everything about religion, except what makes it fiercely religious’ observes Rice University religious studies professor Jeffrey Kripal. Well, what does make religion fiercely religious? Should this highly-charged, sensual, devotional, or emotive impulse indeed find a place in academic studies?
In this chapter I will direct the theme of re-enchanting the academy towards an exploration of ‘fierce religiousness’, not only in relation to the study of spirituality, but also as an intrinsic part of all experiences which make us aware of a deeper, mysterious, or extraordinary dimension of reality, experiences which we may label paranormal, visionary, erotic or inspirational. Such an intuitive or imaginative apprehension of something other than the consensus norm can be shocking, even life-changing, and may arise from engaging deeply with texts, images, and music which are explicitly concerned with awakening a mysterious and elusive sense which we could term ‘sacred’. Narratives such as scripture and poetry, cultural mythologies, or the symbolic writings and images of our esoteric wisdom traditions (for example Kabbalah, astrology, alchemy, or magic) all carry this potential because they speak in figurative language in order to evoke meaning through engaging the imagination. But they also require interpretation through engaging the rational mind, and therefore carry great potential for bringing intuitive apprehension and critical analysis into a harmonious relationship. I want to show that moments of awe, love, desire, or awakening do not have to be left outside the classroom, but can give rise to a learning process which is hermeneutically rich and personally transformative. Indeed, I find connections here with both contemporary explorations of the cultivation of spirituality and wisdom in higher education, and with the transpersonal branch of the transformative learning movement, and I would suggest that the principles I will discuss could apply to all human learning contexts, insofar as they might aim to achieve a balanced relationship between the representation of knowledge as information, and its living presence as an internally realised truth.