New Fall 2019 Course: “Meditation and Modern American Life” (Inside-Out course at Berkshire County Jail)

[Note: The following is an email I just sent out to the Williamstown Zen Group email list, but I thought I’d post a copy here as well.]

Hello Zen Group friends,

I have a favor to ask of you. I’ve just agreed to teach a new course this coming fall — “ENGL 277: Meditation and Modern American Life (Cross-listed as REL 277)” — and because pre-registration at Williams has already come and gone, I’m hoping those of you who are part of the College community (students in particular, but faculty and staff too) might help me get the word out about it (students, perhaps you’d be willing to forward this email to your friends or share it on Facebook?). As you’ll see, it’s a truly unique educational opportunity, and for the right student, it could be a transformative experience (at least that’s my hope!).

This will be a regular Williams course, but it’ll meet once a week at the Berkshire County Jail as part of the Williams version of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which bring “traditional college students and incarcerated students together in jails and prisons for semester-long learning” … in order to facilitate “dialogue and education across profound social differences.” This seminar will have room for 18 students: 9 Williams students and 9 inmates from the jail. The intellectual focus of the course will be the history of how traditional Buddhist meditation practices were transmitted to the West (and often altered during that process of cultural adaptation), but a key experiential component of the course will be an intensive introduction to the practice of meditation. Each class, the students in the course will spend a significant amount of time trying out (and reflecting upon) various meditation techniques, and it’s this experiential component of the course that excites me the most. The thought of having Williams students and inmates meditating together and talking about their experiences of the practices — thinking of how that shared experience could change lives: that’s what convinced me to offer this course. 

The class will meet once a week, on Thursdays. I’ll drive the Williams students to and from the jail in a College van (dinner will be provided en route). We’ll leave campus at 4:45pm and return by 8:30pm.

For more info (and to see the full course description), please see the online course catalog entry, here.

(For those of you who might have been forwarded this email by a friend and don’t know me, you can learn more about my teaching and research interests here.)

Students who would like to take this course should email me a statement of interest by June 26 (at I’ll follow up to schedule interviews (by phone or Skype, or when possible, in person), and both the statements and the interviews will be used to make the final enrollment decisions.

Please email me if you have any questions about the course. I will be at a meditation retreat (and totally unplugged) from June 3-10, so please be patient if you write me during that time. I’ll respond to your emails as quickly as I can.

Thanks to those of you who are willing to help me spread the word about this class. I think it could be a wonderful experience for students. I just want to make sure enough students find out about it!

With gratitude,