Some Quakers are planning to live as monks this semester.
“Living Deliberately: Monks, Saints and the Contemplative Life” will be offered for the first time this semester to give students a semester-long engagement in an intensive monastic way of life.
The class, which is in the Religious Studies department, will require students to abstain from using electronic and verbal communication, the internet and alcohol.
The course requires no formal papers or examinations, but students are expected to adjust their lifestyles to a series of restrictions drawn from numerous historical monastic traditions.
Other assignments include waking up at 5 a.m. without an alarm clock, keeping a journal and meditating.
Though “Living Deliberately” was open only to religious studies majors and Benjamin Franklin Scholars, its initial popularity attracted 96 registration requests, according to professor Justin McDaniel, who teaches the class. However, enrollment was capped at 20 students.
To winnow through the large registration pool, McDaniel, who created the course, spoke with every student personally or over email, discussing what the student wished to gain from his or her experience.
McDaniel found that while the minimal workload had appealed to many students, some had not anticipated the rigor of the restrictions.
The BFS program approached McDaniel, who has taught this course at other universities, to try his luck with it at Penn. McDaniel regards the seminar as less a channel for student initiative than a crash course in heightening awareness.
“This course is not about creativity, and it’s not about student ideas,” McDaniel said. “It aims to create an atmosphere that displaces the self.”
He added that the course is not for “edifying yourself,” nor is to “feed ambition or to accumulate accolades.”
“In a sense, I want to have students step back from that track.”
McDaniel emphasizes that monastic traditions have historically imposed restrictions on the lifestyles of their “ordinands” — which is what he calls his students.
These restrictions, he said, will cultivate a sense of “hyper-awareness” in his students, encouraging mindfulness of their desires, needs, addictions and moods.
Rachel Eisenberg, a College freshman who is taking the class, found the course objectives appealing.
“[McDaniel] has a purpose to everything,” she said. “I trust what he’s doing.”
“I’m normally a listener. People always come to me for me to listen, but I think this may give me chance to listen to myself,” she added.
While students believe in the kind of personal development the course may foster, some doubt its relevance in a college setting.
“As college students, we just have so much that requires our complete presence and to be completely available for whatever needs arise,” College sophomore Elie Peltz said.
He added that he would consider having the experience offered by the course, but “would be very mindful of the environment in which I’m doing it.”
Despite its being listed in the Religious Studies department, “Living Deliberately” doesn’t sponsor any one religious faith nor does it advocate a monastic way of life. Instead, it proposes to instruct students in certain skills that heavy course loads and frenetic social lives may cloud over.
“Every dedicated pursuit we have in life requires deep concentration, focus and awareness,” McDaniel said. “Why do people not try to apply these principles to their own lives?”
McDaniel had previously taught the course at the University of California at Riverside and Ohio University.
June O’Connor, former religious studies department chair at the University of California at Riverside, wrote in an email, “Professor McDaniel has a talent for communicating the facts of history in ways that display their resonance and relevance to everyday life.”Comments powered by Disqus
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