Institute of World Culture
Past Discussion Groups and Study Circles

Examples of past discussion groups

Philosophy & Medicine
the For two weeks in June, the Study Circle focued on an essay on "Philosophy and Medicine" by Professor Bernard Phillips. The subject was first dellivered as a lecture in India on May 28th, 1951. At the time, Professor Phillips was Chairman and Head of the Department of Philosophy in the University of Delaware, USA, but was working in India as a Research Scholar under the American Fulbright Act, with his headquarters at the Benares Hindu University. He later expanded his talk into the 25-page essay we will be taking up for discussion. In this essay Bernard Phillips creatively fuses together the deepest intent of philosophical inquiry with the art of holistic healing. Using sources of Platonic and Vedic thought, he replaces the limited, analytical ends of much of contemporary philosophy with philosophia, the life-long quest of the individual to harmonize his being with the universe as a whole. Rejecting the positivism of modern medicine and its specialist approach to treating disease, Phillips presents an integrative approach to human health that expands self-knowledge and provides timely cures. He delcares that the ultimate end of all philosophy and medicine is to help the individual restore dynamic harmony between himself and invisible Nature. The restoration of one's inner rapport with the Divine in nature as well as within one's inner self is the surest path to wholeness and holiness. Links to essay:
Click here for a printer-friendly version of the essay, Part 1
Click here for a printer-friendly version of the essay, Part 2

IThe Universal Appeal of Shakespeaere
In Spring 2016 (April 12th through the end of May) the Study Circle focued on three of Shakespeare's plays looking for what it is about the author and his writings that is so universally appealing, those themes that touch on all aspects of the human situation. We spent two weeks each on three of Shakespeare's playing, including Macbeth, The Tempest and Richard III. Richard III was being performed by the PCPA Theatrefest in Santa Maria at the time so some members of the Study Circle attended a very fine matinee performance on Saturday, April 30th and met at a local restaurant after the play for dinner and discussion. At each Tueday evening meeting of the Study Circle we viewed selected clips from each play and after each clip took time for discussion. Selected readings from "The Meaning of Shakespeare" by Harold C. Goddard and a brief synopsis of each plays main plot and characters were provided for consideration.

In Winter 2016 (January 12th through April 5th) we took up the study of the Philosophy, Literature and Culture of India, one of the oldest, largest and most diverse cultures in the world. As a primary source of readings to prepare for the discussions, we looked at many of the chapters is the book "India" (Fourth Edition) by Stanley Wolper. In some cases the primary readings were taken from other sources including a video by Houston Smith on "India and the Infinite: The Soul of a People", and read passages from Gandhi's "Testimonials by Eminent Men on Indian Culture". We looks at India's history from pre-Aryan times onward. Hinduism's ethics including the concepts of duty, dharma and the four aims of life were elucidated by an articls by Radhakrishnan on "The Spirit of Indian Philosophy" and a short video clip from the "Ramayana" stimulated discussion on the topic of love and duty. We moved on to Buddhist ethics with an article by Radhakrishnan on the concepts of the Four Noble Truths and the Middle Way. Topics related to family and society, arts and sciences, the modern Democratic spirit exemplified by India's Walking Saint, Vinoba Bhava, in an article by Tennyson. Polity and foreign policy, challenges of modern civiliation, including "Hind Swaraj" (Gandhi), contemporary social experiments by Vandana Shiva and the Muslim contribution and impact were followed by reading and discussion a contemporary story "The Guide" by R.K. Narayan.

Chinese Philosophy, Culture and Literature
Beginning in October and ending in December 2015 the Institute formed a Study Circle which focused on the philosophy, culture and literature of China. Readings taken from "Scriptures of the East" by James Fieser and John Powers (eds.), McGraw-Hill included the history and teachings of Confucius; Mencius, Hsun-Tzu, Yang Hsiung; the philosophy of Daoism and the teachings of the Tao Te Ching; the section "The Book of Wisdom" from the Introduction to the I-Ching translated by Richard Wilheim. The group enjoyed reading and discussing several classical short stories including "The Blind Boy", "Egotism" and "The Tale of Demon Nian". The contemporary short story discussed was "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" written by Yiyan Li taken from a collection of short stories by the same name.

Discussion Circle
Winter 2014 through Spring 2015 the Discussion Circle focused on numerous contemporary topics that included both science, philosophy and ethics from a variety of authors, speakers and cultures. During this time, the group took up the book on Science and Spirituality by the 14th Dali Lama.

Individualism, Social Conscience and Science
September through December, 2013 Articles included:Essay on Civil Disobedience by Thoreau; Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, by Martin Luther King Jr.; An Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story (DVD; The Paranormal and Skeptics at Cal Tech by Nichael Crichton. Selected chapters of the book "The Universe in a Single Atom" by H.H. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, including Encounter with Science (chpt 2), Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics (chpt 4), The Question of Consciousness (chpt 6), Ethics and the New Genetics (chpt 9) and Science, Spirituality and Humanity (chpt 10).

Human Needs in a Changing World
July through August, 2013 Articles included:Principles of Human Living by Leo Tolstoy; The Problem of Too Much and Too Little, an interview with Ralph Nadar; Agrarian Justice and Distributing Wealth by Thomas Paine; Human Rights as a Foundation of Global Community by Giles Gunn.

Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World
January through June, 2012
Coordinator: Carolyn Dorrance
Veteran and prize-winning journalist Robin Wright reports on recent cultural and political movements that are feeding the protests and demands for change across the Islamic world. Wright has traveled throughout the Middle East and Asia for over 30 years and interviewed hundreds of activists ranging from clerics to rock stars. Her reports indicate the widespread but invisible sources of change that are challenging, in her view, the jihadist opposition to social freedom and self-defined transformation of authoritariam societies.

The Empathic Civilization
September through December, 2011
Coordinator: Maurice Bisheff
In this extensive study of the history of civilizations and the human capacities developed over the centuries, the influential author and international advisor, Jeremy Rifkin explains a paradox arising from biological, technological and environmental changes in human lifestyles.  As human beings have nurtured heightened empathic sensitivity, they have unleashed entropic effects that may destroy civilizations.  The result is a contemporary crisis of global dimensions. All are welcome to join in this provocative discussion and contribute to the shaping of a vision of future civilizations. 

American Veda
June through August, 2011
Coordinator: Carolyn Dorrance
American Veda by Philip Goldberg offers a fascinating description of cultural transfer. Subtitled "How Indian Spirituality Changed the West", this survey starts with an account of how the American transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau made use of "Hindoo" texts and continues through the 20th century documenting how a variety of spiritual seekers, radicals, celebrities and contemporary clerics brough Indian religious ideas and meditation techniquest into Western consciousness.

Shopclass for Soul Craft
February through May, 2011
Coordinator: Joseph Miller
Following up on a January IWC Forum based on the virtues and hardships associated with manual labor, and its relationship to education in America, this Book Circle took a deeper look at the two books discussed in the Forum: Shopclass for Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford, The Mind at Work by Mike Rose. In addition, the Forum discussed Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and Gandhi's pamphlet Unto This Last, a paraphrase of John Ruskin's classic.

Stones into Schools
One Saturday a month in February, March, April and May, 2010
Coordinator: Dr. Carolyn Dorrance
The Institute will sponsor a study of Greg Mortenson’s new book, Stones Into Schools, in which he describes his efforts to bring education to a country beset by war and poverty. Vivid portraits of the political and social challenges he encounters while organizing the building of schools offer insights into cross cultural interactions as well as the universality of human values. In reading the book, you will meet the heroic people who are making Mortenson’s vision successful and fulfilling for thousands of students and parents. Greg Mortenson will be in Santa Barbara in May. The final meeting will focus on his presentation.

Vision and Change
Four Tuesday evenings in October, 2008
Coordinator: Dr. Carolyn Dorrance
Can campaign promises of new vision and change be translated into meaningful accomplishments? What kind of vision and change might promote the universal welfare of humanity? What are voices from abroad suggesting as a way of promoting social, cultural and economic change? Join in the discussion of these and other questions during the month of October, so that you can evaluate the presidential election debates from the perspective of an emerging world culture. Essays from David Bornstein’s book, How To Change the World, will be among the readings discussed (see below for more information).

Poetry and Vision
December, 2007 through July, 2008
Coordinators: Joe Miller and Robert Moore
Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (1923):
Robert Henri (pronounced 'hen-rye') was an American painter and teacher Robert Henri (1865-1929). You don't have to be a painter to enjoy the vitality of Henri's original and aphoristic thought on art and life. Henri believed art was but a sign-post toward greater knowledge, an indicator useful in recalling and communicating our greatest moments of beauty and wisdom. Meetings of his group of realist painters, "The Eight", frequently included literary and cultural discussions, readings from Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau.
The Study Group read and discussed exerpts from the following Henri essays: "An Address to the School of Design for Women", " The Bonds of a Great Brotherhood", "A Particular Line", "Memory and the Vital Moment", and "Landmarks of the Human Spirit" among others.
• William Blake, various readings.
• Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  Stephen Mitchell’s translation, which can be found in paperback and a Modern Library hardcovercan also be found free online:
• Walt Whitman's Song of Myself
According to Stephen Mitchell, “Song of Myself is by far the greatest poem ever written by an American. The poem is available online at:  

Inspirational Themes in Contemporary Music
July through November 2007
Coordinator: Gerry Kiffe
This group listened to recordings and discussed a group of songs related to a theme. Themes included: Jackson Browne on social justice, including songs such as: Lives in the Balance, Soldier of Plenty, Looking East, The Rebel Jesus, I am a Patriot and others, the Beatles on love, Joni Mitchel on art and poetry, James Taylor on the pathos of the common man, and Cat Stevens on the spiritual path. Those who played instruments or enjoyed singing were welcome to contribute.

A Republic of Reason
July through September 2007
Coordinator: Carolyn Dorrance.
This group explored former Vice President Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason, on the importance of a commitment to reason for authentic public dialogue in a democracy.  
Introduction and general aims of the group

Stories and Poems of Transformation
January through December 12, 2007
Coordinators: Joe Miller and Robert Moore
This group looked at stories and poems on the following topics: Japan, the Greek Myth of Orpheus, Resurrection and Cycles, Summer and the Summer Solstice, The American Dream and the Revolutionary Spirit, Sonnets, Comedy and the Human Experience, and the poetry of Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi.

Gandhi on Truth, Non-Violence and Self-Renewal in Civil Society
April 2004 through July 2005
Coordinator: Robert Moore
This group met to explore the luminous thought and revitalizing practice of Mahatma Gandhi. It examined Gandhi’s penetrating insights into the possibilities as well as the diseases of modern civilization, the compelling need to purify politics and the rediscovery of the true, religious impulse. It considered Gandhi’s foundational principles of truth and non-violence, together with their correlate concepts of human nature, perfectibility, vows, conscience and heroism. It studied the dynamics of Gandhi’s moral and social vision within the alembic of his communal experiments in South Africa and India. Finally, it explored Gandhi’s revolutionary principles of social transformation, ranging from Satyagraha (truth-force) to trusteeship, culminating in his utopian vision of non-violent socialism. The principal text was The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Raghavan Iyer. This brilliant selection of Gandhi’s letters and speeches was our magical touchstone for contemplating the expansive and therapeutic teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. A companion reading was Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Each week a brief biographical sketch of Gandhi's life was presented. Click here for notes

The American Promise
March 2004 through February 2005
Coordinator: Carolyn Dorrance
The American Promise
This group took up the following subjects for discussion:
The American Experience as Transformation
Primary Thinker: J. Hector St John de Crevecoeur
Religious Liberty & Primacy of Conscience*
Primary Thinker: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Natural Law and the Oversoul as Teacher and Guide
Primary Thinker: Ralph Waldo Emerson
Natural Rights, Political Liberty & the Right of Revolution
Primary Thinker: Tom Paine
The Social Contract as a Foundation of Civil Society
Primary Thinkers: Thomas Jefferson & James Madison
Volunteer Association: Charities, Cooperatives & Communes
Primary Thinker: Edward Bellamy
Progressive Legislation as a Source of Human Welfare
Primary Thinkers: Jane Addams & Herbert Croly
Patriotism & Non-Violent Civil Disobedience
Primary Thinkers: Walt Whitman & Henry David Thoreau
Leadership: Creative Initiative & Responsibility
Primary Thinker: Abraham Lincoln
Tolerance, Fraternity and Multiculturalism
Primary Thinkers: William E. DuBois & Carey McWilliams
Principles & Aims of a Humanitarian Foreign Policy
Primary Thinkers: To be decided
Assessments: Universal Values in The American Promise
Primary Thinkers: Members of the IWC Study Group, The American Promise*Religious Liberty & Primacy of Conscience
Primary Thinker: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Religious Liberty and Conscience: Expressions of the Human Potential for Moral Thought and Action
Early in the history of the English colonies established in North America during the 17th century, voices of dissent from the authoritarian interpretations of religious puritanism, articulated principles of religious liberty and primacy of conscience. Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island, and William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania included religious liberty and freedom of conscience as principles in the founding charters they wrote. Although the affirmation and defense of these moral imperatives was couched in the language and assumptions of Christianity, both men spoke of conscience as an innate potential in all human beings. Also, both men included non-Christians such as Native Americans, Jews even Muslims and Hindus in their vision of a civil society. Spiritual equality and brotherhood or brotherly love would flourish where religious liberty and freedom of conscience were honored. An essential founding brick of a civil society is that government not coerce religious belief or practice. Later, Thomas Jefferson as part of his vision of the new American Republic, insisted on the inclusion of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights (1791) attached to the new Constitution of the United States (1787). It is interesting that a right of conscience was excluded from the proposed Bill of Rights by a congressional committee. Five years earlier, Jefferson had joined with James Madison to secure passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty (1786) in which the freedom to proclaim one's religious beliefs is defended as a natural right of mankind. Jefferson adopted a concept of "moral sense" as a way of explaining the potential of human being to use their liberty to "do good". Both these ideas of religious liberty and primacy of conscience would show up in Supreme Court reports of the 20th century in response to conflicts spurred in large part by the means and prerogatives the national government used to conduct war and sustain "national unity". More visible and influential claims of conscience were invoked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his evolving protest of substantial violations of The American Promise. In tribute to the principles and moral courage of Dr. King, three major expressions of the imperatives of conscience are included in this month's reading. Note that King links his invocation of conscience with a vision of universal brotherhood, social justice and a world wide "true revolution of values".  April 4th marks the 36th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination.  Not included in this set of readings is the provocative essay On Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau.

Plato Discussion Circle
February 2003 through January 2004
Coordinator: Joseph Miller

Teaching Stories

Envisioning Futures

Study Group on Sufism
Coordinator: Carolyn Dorrance

Writings of Simon Weil
Coordinator: Christine Nolt

Meaning in Movies
Coordinator: Russ Lewin and Robert Moore

The Aims of the Institute of World Culture
Coordinator: Russ Lewin