Thursday, March 15, 2007


So, this is my last dispatch from the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I am sitting in the office of Stuart Sigman, Academic Vice-President of Naropa University in Boulder. Stuart and I go way back as colleagues in the field of communication, and this morning he had me give a talk to a group of his faculty and students on Marshall McLuhan and media ecology, which went very well thank you. Naropa itself is quite interesting, in that it was originally a Buddhist college, and retains much of that orientation. In fact, immediately before and after my lecture, everyone took a moment for silent contemplation/meditation, followed by a bow of the head--I was happy to join in with this, as it is a lovely custom, and one very much in keeping with media ecology's emphasis on stepping back and reflecting on situations. Naropa's mission is oriented towards bringing together the best of Eastern and Western philosophies, which is very much in line with McLuhan's observation back in the 60s about the East becoming Westernized while the West is "going oriental" (to use the non-PC language of his time)--Duke Ellington makes reference to McLuhan's east-meets-west concept in the introduction to his Afro-Eurasian Eclipse record album, which is easily available on CD:

Last year, we (about this time) premiered a new suite titled Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. And of course the title is inspired by a statement made by Mr. Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto. Mr. McLuhan says that the whole world is going oriental and that no one will be able to retain his or her identity, not even the "Orientals." And of course we travel around the world a lot, and in the last five to six years we too have noticed this thing to be true. So as a result we have done a sort of a thing, a parallel or something and we'd like to play a little piece of it for you. In this particular segment, ladies and gentlemen, we have adjusted our perspective with that of the kangaroo and the didgeridoo. This automatically throws us down under and/or outback. And from that point of view it is most improbable that anyone will ever know exactly who is enjoying the shadow of whom..."

Stuart referred to himself as a JewBu, a term I had not heard before, but I just Googled it and there's over 10,000 entries. It's essentially a Buddhist of Jewish descent, but not so much a convert as someone looking for a new synthesis. Putting my media ecology hat on, I can't help but note how this reflects a departure from the either-or approach to religion associated with literacy and religions of the book, where there are clear boundaries drawn between insider and outsider, and either you are a member or not, and conversion requires the renouncing of previous affiliations. In the electronic era, what others call postmodern culture (but "postmodern" just means we're no longer modern but we don't know what we are, whereas "electronic" identifies our new cultural grounding), multiple, overlapping affiliations become possible, in religion, and in citizenship. Anyway, Stuart is off to meet with Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, who is the founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, and who is associated with this "Jew in the Lotus" phenomenon. Checking
this out on the web,
I found this description:

Jewish Renewal is a worldwide, transdenominational movement grounded in Judaism’s prophetic and mystical traditions.

Jewish Renewal carries forward Judaism’s perpetual process of renewal. Jewish Renewal seeks to bring creativity, relevance, joy, and an all embracing awareness to spiritual practice, as a path to healing our hearts and finding balance and wholeness—tikkun halev

Jewish Renewal acts to fully include all Jews and to respect all peoples.

Jewish renewal helps to heal the world by promoting justice, freedom, responsibility, caring for all life and the earth that sustains all life —tikkun olam

The Jewish Renewal Movement was founded by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, and is dedicated to making the presence of G-d real and relevant in the lives of contemporary Jewish families, individuals, partners and friends.

We draw from the wellsprings of ecumenism, egalitarianism, personal prayer, ecological awareness, and a sense of the fundamental place of Jewish mysticism in our faith.

I am very intrigued by this. There certainly is a need for new syntheses if Judaism is to survive--we need a Judaism for the electronic media environment, a digital Judaism. Of course, we have been able to adapt ourselves to changing media environments many times before, so while there are no guarantees, we have a pretty good track record in this department.

Anyway, this has been a great learning experience for me, in addition to an opportunity to spread the gospel of media ecology.

1 comment:

Stuart Sigman said...

It was a pleasure hosting Lance at Naropa, and both having him lecture about media ecology and our being able to share a bit of the university's contemplative culture. My students, in a course on communication and the construction of reality, have been studying the practice of bowing-in and bowing-out of classes, as Lance described it above. Our goal is to understand the bow as a coded medium that defines membership in the Naropa community. Can a practice like the bow bring greater "intentionality" to the act of learning? Can time be stopped, or bracketed, so that events and their mental echoes don't stack up on top of each other? I don't know for sure, but that is what we are aiming for in our work of contemplative pedagogy.

Again, thanks to Lance for visiting Naropa.

Stuart Sigman
VPAA, Dean of Faculty, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
Naropa University