April 20, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2007

Stone, Rebecca
Art History Department


Project Summary

Intellectual Process in Revising "Shamanism and the Indigenous Art of the Americas" course with Sustainability Connections

I made three main changes to the syllabus for Art History 393/LACS 270 “Shamanism and the Indigenous Art of the Americas” as a result of my participation in the Piedmont Project 2007. All three seek to connect the students’ current experience with that of shamans in a more active way, focusing on our being part of nature, a fundamental assumption that shamanism and sustainability have in common.

In the very first class meeting I am introducing a more overt inclusion of reported personal “non-linear” experiences in an attempt to complement our Western assumptions that time and space run only in one direction and only our normal waking consciousness is “real.” In the past I have tried to elicit verbally in class the students’ personal experiences of prescient dreams, encounters with spirits, communication with the dead or with plants and animals, spontaneous visions, etc. This did not work; they were too shy or concerned about being judged to share. In one of our small-group sessions during the workshop, my cohort suggested a more anonymous, and neutral way to get this information via anonymous writing that I would collect and read aloud. I think this method stands to have greater pedagogical success.

Second, I have added a class devoted to having the students try interactive communication in/with nature, based on our nature walks during the workshop and the need to underscore that shamans too work in nature, not a classroom. While ours were oriented toward identifying non-intrusive and intrusive species, my outdoor session would seek to encourage students to not only observe but also to allow any kinds of non-verbal, spiritual messages they might receive from plants and animals to be brought to their awareness and written down in a journal format. Because their worldview that this is not possible may interfere, I include a reading by a grandson of Black Elk, which assumes animals and plants are in active and direct communication with us. I also will require them to try a second time on their own, on the assumption that they might be less resistant without other students around and after being given permission to interact with plants and animals in a new way. I will give them an “out” to simply observe and extrapolate what could be seen as communication (the calls of birds, plants reaching toward the sun, etc.) even if they do not themselves experience what nature is saying directly. They are to write a second journal entry to include both the first and second meditative experience.
Third, I have added a session directly on the interface between shamanic views and practices and those of the post-modern Sustainability movement. Readings from Earth and Spirit: the Spiritual Dimension of the Environmental Crisis edited by Fritz Hull (gleaned from the Piedmont Project website bibliography) will show that the Native American point of view has itself influenced Sustainability initiatives and how closely allied the two are in terms of goals and assumptions. I hope this class, coming as it does at the end of the course when the students have a strong familiarity with the shamanic, will provoke a lively, relevant discussion that will help students “apply” what they have learned to their daily lives. Making connections between seemingly disparate entities is precisely what shamans do, so this summation class in which shamanic and Western worldviews coincide will model the shaman’s faith in the unity, the shared life force, of all peoples and phenomena.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Stone_2007.pdf (58.0 KB)

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