Path Workshops on Spiritual Classics
Dante and the Modern Mind
Recently offered at: Union Institute, Cincinnati
OH (5-day seminar/retreat), Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati
OH (10-week class)
Meeker, Ph.D., John Tallmadge, Ph.D.
Some 700 years ago, Dante Alighieri envisioned the cosmos as a
whole system and left a comprehensive account called simply the La
Commedia (“The Comedy”). Since then, total
views capable of integrating scientific knowledge, personal
experience, psychological understanding, and spiritual insight
have been hard to find in our culture. Like the thirteenth
century, ours is a period in search of integrated perspectives
linking persons, the Earth, and the cosmos. To guide our
search, we can learn from Dante, the last successful practitioner
of the art of cosmic integration.
Dante’s great poem, known in English as the Divine Comedy,
describes an epic journey through the three realms of the Christian
afterlife. It provides a model for personal growth that connects
the individual not only with his or her own historical moment,
but also with world history and the very structure of the universe. The Comedy is
also a study of the many states of the human soul and psyche. Hell
has to do with the ways in which people cause pain and limitations
for themselves. Purgatory is about the therapeutic process
of recovery from suffering and the acquisition of broader understanding. Paradise
is Dante’s account of the nature of joy as it grows from
a clear vision of the whole and of one’s role within it. The
overall pattern, in Dante’s words, is the growth of the soul “from
misery toward felicity.”
Our seminar will seek to follow that path. We shall consider the
meaning of “comedy” as a cosmic phenomenon in Dante’s
world and in our own. We shall explore his notions of evil
and his idea of therapy as they relate to our own understanding
of addiction. As Dante’s time looked to theology for
a model of the universe, so our time tends to look to science. We
will examine contemporary cosmic stories as presented by such disciplines
as quantum physics, evolutionary theory, ecology, systems theory,
psychology, and anthropology. Our purpose will be to consider
the ingredients necessary for a modern cosmic story that addresses
our own experiences of wholeness and integrity.
After an overview and introduction to Dante’s life and art
on the first day, the seminar will devote three complete days to
reading the Comedy. Mornings and afternoons will be
spent on interpretation of the poem, and evenings will be spent
considering its implications for modern thought. Learning
strategies will include presentations by the convenors, group discussions,
and experiential exercises, as well as other activities that may
be improvised as the seminar unfolds. Videotapes on modern
cosmic perspectives will be available. Our interdisciplinary
approach will include literature, philosophy, psychology, mythology,
and a dash each of contemporary cosmic and ecological sciences.
Participants will emerge from the seminar with a good working knowledge
of Dante and an introduction to some other exciting new trends
in cosmological thinking and storytelling.
- Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy. Translated
by Allen Mandelbaum. (Berkeley CA: University
of California Press, 1980). Paperbound edition from
Bantam Books, 3 vols.; hardcover edition from Everyman’s
Library, 1 vol.
- Auerbach, Erich, “Farinata and Cavalcante,” in Mimesis:
the Representation of Reality in Western Literature, tr.
Willard Trask. Princeton NJ: Princeton University
- Freccero, John. Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. ed.
Rachel Jacoff. Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press, 1986.
- Meeker, Joseph. The Comedy of Survival: Literary
Ecology and a Play Ethic. 3rd edition. Tucson
AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1997.
- Swimme, Brian, and Thomas Berry. The Universe
Story. San Francisco CA: Harper, Collins,
- Wertheim, Margaret. The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A
History of Space from Dante to the Internet. New York
NY: W.W. Norton, 2000