Friends and Research

I met with an online acquaintance, Lee Gilmore, today. She is someone that I met through academic lists online and mutual friends. Lee received her PhD from the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley last year. She focused on Burning Man for her research though I don’t actually recall the title of her dissertation. She looked at the experiences and conceptualizations people have of them at Burning Man. From what she’s told me, it is interesting stuff.

I didn’t realize that she’d done her work at GTU, which is accredited in a normal academic manner but which was created by the joining of a number of seminaries of different faiths to create a single overall institution. I have previously looked at GTU for work because there is a Master’s in Buddhist Studies program done there by the Institute of Buddhist Studies that I have looked at off and on. It is a normal Master’s in Buddhist Studies but IBS is also the seminary for the Buddhist Churches of America, a Shin Buddhist church that has been around for at least 50 years now. Shin Buddhism is Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. Since it is a Japanese Buddhist seminary, I’ve pondered whether it would be worth talking to them about attending their seminary as a Tendai practitioner since we don’t have a formal seminary here of our own and I am interested in the scholastic work as well as the priestly. My other alternative is to just continue on with a PhD outside of Buddhist Studies but I have gone back and forth. One issue that I have seen is that the school isn’t cheap (it isn’t horribly expensive either, to be fair) and it wouldn’t exactly give me paying work afterwards.

Lee and I discussed academia in general, questions that I had around my approach to my Master’s thesis, and a bit about her own academic work and the task of being a full time teacher. I also shared one of the amusing stories about how the Chupacabra Policia, which I was with for Burning Man 2001, sent a desiccated pig’s head to the Death Guild as a joke and were then challenged to a fight in the Death Guild’s Thunderdome in return. Unfortunately, after seeing the size of the Chupa that we sent (Captain Mullet was huge), no one would come forward to fight him with their boffer weapons.

I’m still debating about going to Burning Man this summer. I’d like to and my boss at work is going and said it would probably work with the schedule but I need to think some more.

Lee isn’t going to the conference that starts tonight (I’m going in the morning) but knows some of the people there. She had a lot of helpful discussion about where I want to go with my work but at the end of the day, I need to figure out how to approach my thesis on my own. I want to write something to both fulfill the requirements but which I might also want to publish, at least in part, later on.

One newer idea is to talk about the theological content of post-Golden Dawn esotericism. As Alfred Vitale pointed out in his paper from the last ASE conference, the primary vehicle that people involved with modern Western Esotericism use to learn the tradition or form a group is not another person as a teacher but the published, popular books. For example, with only a few exceptions, all modern Golden Dawn groups used Regardie’s published version of the Golden Dawn ritual work, teachings, and other papers as the basis of their own organizations, ritual works, and personal practice. One implication of this is that is there is a theology of sorts (or spiritual philosophy if you prefer) that these organizations and individuals have in common, it would be derived, to a fair degree, from these same texts. That would mean that these texts could be examined for what their theological content is within them. What are they really saying within the rituals, lectures, or practices about the nature of the spiritual experience of people? The same could be applied to Crowley’s published materials (including his publication of the Golden Dawn rituals).

That could be a fruitful area for research though it might be a bit too large for a 60 to 80 page MA thesis. I need to identify a simpler question. One idea of my mentor was to do an analysis for the Whare Ra Neophyte (0=0) ritual since I have an original and it is unpublished in that form.

Hopefully, some of the discussions at the conference will be helpful in this.