Integral Studies

Consciousness Studies Focus

The focus on Consciousness Studies is a specialization within the Transformative Studies doctoral program.

This Focus leads to a Ph.D. in Consciousness Studies grounded in the well established and successful Transformative Studies online Ph.D. Program. Courses in this program provide the student with a foundation in transdisciplinary scholarship and complexity thinking imparted by some of the world’s leading scholars in these fields. In this way students learn to integrate an “ecology of consciousness” approach, originally suggested by visionaries such as psychologist Frank Barron and systems thinker Gregory Bateson, with contemporary understandings of consciousness, ecology, and complexity.

While traditional universities often include courses on consciousness in their psychology or philosophy curricula, and occasionally in neuroscience, actual doctoral programs in consciousness studies are rare. Since its earliest beginnings in the 1950s, however, CIIS has been a center for international interest in the study of consciousness, an interest that continues to this day and permeates nearly every degree program in the Institute. The webpage for the CIIS Center for Consciousness Studies conservatively lists six programs offering degrees explicitly informed by the study of consciousness, and about 20 interested faculty members distributed throughout the entire Institute.

William James (1916/1958), the first U.S. psychologist of eminence, held that "normal waking consciousness" is only one special type, and "parted from it by the filmiest of screens" lie different forms that "forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality." After nearly a century of ignoring the issues raised by James about the topic of consciousness, scholars and researchers are again paying attention to such fundamental questions as the definition of consciousness, the components of conscious experience, and the mechanisms of consciousness.

Preparation for the “Real World”

Students who choose the Consciousness Studies Focus will take the basic two-year sequence required of all doctoral students in the Transformative Studies Program, and continue to specialize in required and elective courses and in choosing appropriate doctoral research topics and committee members.

Course of Study

Students who choose the Consciousness Studies Focus will take the basic two-year sequence required of all doctoral students in the Transformative Studies Program, and continue to specialize in required and elective courses and in choosing appropriate doctoral research topics and committee members.

Required Courses for Consciousness Studies

TSD 0000: Dialogues on Consciousness

All Consciousness Studies students will participate in an ongoing non-credit online forum in which current topics in the study of consciousness will be informally discussed, facilitated by core and other invited adjunct faculty members.

TSD 0000: Introduction to Consciousness Studies

This will be a new course created for the Consciousness Studies Focus. It should be taken during the student’s second term, or as soon as she or he can schedule it.

Introduction to Consciousness Studies will examine the many ways the word consciousness has been used in professional and popular literature, and the hidden as well as explicit assumptions held by consciousness scholars about the nature of consciousness. It will explore the field from diverse approaches: cognitive science, neuroscience, cross-cultural studies, existential-phenomenological methodologies, and other related disciplines. It is designed to provide students with the opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of consciousness studies. In doing so it will examine the most widely celebrated theories and problems concerning the nature of consciousness, and encourage students to examine their personal beliefs about consciousness based on their individual experiences.

TSD 0000: Consciousness and the Brain

This course that offers an introduction to the large issues concerning the nature of consciousness and the brain. It will survey the most prominent theories of how the brain and consciousness are related and how they interact. It will also explore current topics such as consciousness in the left and right hemispheres, mirror neurons and the social brain, and the nature of emotion, thought, memory, and perception, much of this through fascinating case studies such as those by Oliver Sacks, Vilayanur Subramanian, and Michael S. Gazzaniga. The course will use a variety of readings. No previous experience in the study of the brain is required.

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Examples of Elective Courses

TSD 8225: Evolution of Consciousness (3 units)

Through art, literature, archaeology, and history, this course explores the evolution of human consciousness from its pre-human origins through the Neolithic and Paleolithic periods, through ancient history, and on down through the Renaissance to modernity and postmodernity. It begins with the origins of the human mind as depicted in the writings of Merlin Donald and David Lewis-Williams, and continues with an inquiry into cultural and historical structures of consciousness with Jean Gebser, Ken Wilber, and Allan Combs. The course is based in an ongoing dialogue and exploration of these topics on the web, as well as requiring midterm and end-of-term papers.

TSD 6302: Art as a Mirror of Evolving Consciousness (3 units)

Art tells us what we were, what we are, and what we are becoming. This course explores the superstructure of expanding consciousness through the lens of art and artifacts shaped by the magical, mystical, modern, and postmodern mind. Wilber, Combs, Gebser, and others create compelling frameworks from which to interpret the meaning of mankind's works of art. Students use these frameworks to arrive at a deep understanding of the consciousness of the artisans that created these works and the times in which they lived. Utilizing the learning domains of both cognitive understanding and affective feeling the class will enter the worldview of other stages of consciousness to develop a new sense of appreciation and wonderment for what has gone before, and a hopeful anticipation for where the path of expanding consciousness is leading.

TSD 0000: Art, Consciousness, And Diversity

This course is an exploration of visual arts through unique culturally grounded forms of consciousness in societies such as India, China, Japan, Islamic, African and indigenous cultures. The class will enter the worldviews of other kinds of consciousness to develop a new sense of cultural diversity as well as the historical roots of contemporary art. No prerequisites. All CIIS students with an interest in art and consciousness are welcome.

This is a new course, offered in the Spring term of 2014 by Professor Allan Combs, and Dr. Debashish Banerji, scholar, teacher, and historian of Asian art.

TSD 0000: Transpersonal Neuroscience.

This course examines transpersonal states of consciousness as seen through the eyes of contemporary Transpersonal Psychology and brain science, and the controversies that surround these topics. Sections of the course will examine the nature of consciousness itself, in brain science as well as the Philosophy of Mind and Transpersonal Psychology, and explore in nontechnical ways the fundamentals of transpersonal neuroscience and consciousness, looking toward how this approach sheds light on spirituality and higher states of awareness.

TSD 0000: Consciousness, Technology, and the Brain.

Exploring current discoveries that center around technology, consciousness, and the brain, with MIT bio-engineer Mikey Siegel. Mikey is interested in a range of technologies for exploring the relationship between consciousness and the brain, and implementing the brain’s activity with state-of-the-art bio-feedback techniques in order to facilitate higher states of human consciousness and brain functioning. The content of this course will change with ongoing developments in mind-brain technologies, and will include at least one field trip to actually explore and experience some of the current applications of these ideas.

TSD 0000: Krishnamurti, Consciousness and Transformation

An introduction to the person and ideas of J. Krishnamurti, this course examines his approach to time, thought, conditioning, religion, education, meditation, and personal transformation. The course is also an inquiry: Does Krishnamurti’s teaching constitute an integral approach to personal and societal transformation? Theoretical analysis of Krishnamurti’s ideas will be accompanied by attempts to experience his teaching in personal awareness. Basically, Krishnamurti teaches that awareness of oneself is the only device for personal transformation. We will work together on exercises that provide skills for increasing awareness as we read Krishnamurti’s ideas and the work of others in the class. Small groups will work together throughout the semester on a selected topic and will present their findings to the class in a “teach-in.” A portion of class time will also be spent exploring the process of dialogue developed by Krishnamurti and physicist David Bohm and discussing its implications for integrating Krishnamurti’s teaching and awareness within oneself. We will also inquire into what it means to be an intellectual and a scholar by comparing and contrasting the ideas of Krishnamurti and Edward W. Said.

TSD 0000: Consciousness and Spiritual Growth: Ordinary and Non-Ordinary States

This seminar will explore current and traditional theories about consciousness in its normal and altered states (ASCs) and their role in spiritual growth (spiritual experiences, spiritual openings and spiritual maturity). Special focus will be given on the modulation of consciousness within the context of psychotherapy, education and for creativity. We will explore different modalities of ASCs (e.g., sleep and dreams, meditation, psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs and plants, dissociative states, shamanic journey). As part the seminar, students will be doing a presentation of a self-chosen topic in consciousness studies.

Through readings, experiential practices, and structured dialogue, and student presentations participants will also gain deeper knowledge on how to address theoretical and practical issues surrounding states of consciousness. (Daniel Deslauriers)

TSD 0000: Integral Approaches to Dreams

This course provides a foundation for an integral approach to dreams and dreamwork, in both theory and practice. We will explore traditional and contemporary approaches to dreams as well as investigate models that attempt their integration. We will expand on Wilber’s four-quadrant model to inquire on dreams. The course interweaves the exploration of multiple perspectives on dreaming: scientific, phenomenological, interpersonal and societal. It also invites students to engage in personal exploration of their own dreams through selected experiential practices.

The course’s experiential component draws awareness to how dreams may be source of insights for the multidimensional self: body, emotions, mind and spirit. Besides the theoretical dimensions of dream studies, students will be involved in personal inquiry, conducted on their own dreams and that of others engaged in the course.

Important note: Students enrolling in this course should be willing to do self-inquiry based on their own dreams. The course involves a fair amount of voluntary practices with dreams. It is not recommended for those wishing to take an exclusively objective perspective towards the topic of dreams. (Daniel Deslauriers)

TSD 0000: Advanced Seminar in Spiritual Intelligence

Spiritual intelligence provides a conceptual bridge that helps integrate transpersonal psychology and contemplative psychology with contemporary models of the human mind including current research on contemplative practices. Spiritual intelligence implies a developmental perspective. It also underscores the central role of skill acquisition. After examining and discussing the central literature on the topic, students will be invited to work toward an original contribution on particular aspect of spiritual intelligence that connects to their personal and scholarly inquiry.

This course will introduce the origin and development of the notion of spiritual intelligence (SI). We will also look at the current debates in their attempts to elucidate how SI should be defined and properly approached. Examples of application SI will also be discussed as well as research avenues. Doctoral students are required to make an oral presentation situating their area of research/specialization in dialogue with the current literature on SI. (Daniel Deslauriers)

Note: There are numerous other courses offered at CIIS that might be taken profitably by TSD students in this Focus. These change from term to term.

Total units for the Focus on Consciousness 36

James, W. (1958). The varieties of religious experience. New York: Mentor Books. (Original work published 1916)