Enlightenment After the Enlightenment: American Transformations of Asian Contemplative Traditions
My dissertation traces the contemporary American assimilation of Asian enlightenment traditions and discourses. Through a close reading of three communities, I consider how Asian traditions and ideas have been refracted through the psychological, political, and economic lenses of American culture. One of my chapters, for example, discusses how the American Insight community has attempted to integrate the enlightenment teachings of Theravada Buddhism with the humanistic, democratic, and pluralistic values of the European Enlightenment. A second chapter traces the American gum Andrew Cohen's transformation from a Neo-Advaita teacher to a leading proponent of "evolutionary enlightenment," a teaching that places traditional Indian understandings of nonduality in an evolutionary context. Cohen's early period shows the further deinstitutionalization of traditional Advaita Vedanta within the radically decontextualized Neo-Advaitin network, and evolutionary enlightenment engages and popularizes another less-known but influential Hindu lineage, namely that of Sri Aurobindo's integral yoga. A third chapter examines contemporary psychospiritual attempts to incorporate psychoanalytic theory into Asian philosophy in order to reconcile American concerns with individual development with Asian mystical goals of self-transcendence. In conclusion, I argue that the contemporary American assimilation of Asian enlightenment traditions is marked by a number of trends including: (1) a move away from the rhetoric and privileging of experience that scholars such as Robert Sharf have shown to be characteristic of the modern Western understanding of Asian mysticism; and (2) an embrace of world-affirming Tantric forms of Asian spirituality over world-negating renouncer traditions such as Theravada Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. I also reflect on how the cultural shift from the modern to postmodern has affected East-West integrative spiritualities.