Fall 2018

PLUS271

Thomas Merton: Poet, Monk, Scholar (55+)

How can we visualize world peace unless cultures and faiths talk to one another? Thomas Merton was a poet, monk, activist, mystic and scholar of Catholicism and Buddhism, as well as an advocate of interfaith dialogue. Merton met the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as the Dalai Lama, who considered Merton a kind of Christian geshe. Merton said, “I do not believe that I could understand our Christian faith the way I understand it if it were not for the light of Buddhism.”

We will read excerpts from Zen and the Birds of Appetite and The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, as well as selected poems by Merton. We will reflect and share through contemplative journaling, poetry, art, photography and found artefacts.

Note: This small class involves active participation, group discussion and readings.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Heather Duff $115.00 25 -

What will I learn?

Week 1: Introduction to Thomas Merton

We will look at Thomas Merton’s life and his calling to be a monk and author. Merton was a practicing contemplative, a poet/author with a wide scope and publication history, a scholar of Christianity and Buddhism, and an activist in the midst of national and global conflict. We'll explore readings, including excerpts from Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite, finding links to our own life journeys.

Week 2: Merton as Poet

We'll read and discuss selected poems by Merton in the context of his life and work across secular, literary and spiritual communities. We will contemplate meanings of these poems in connection with an awareness of Merton’s particular socio-political context. We'll uncover connections to our own lives, through sharing memories, stories, poetry and reflective writing.

Week 3: Merton as Monk and Mystic

We will continue to read excerpts from Zen and the Birds of Appetite and The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, as well as selected poems. We'll discuss Merton’s stand on the importance of contemplation, the meaning of silence, interfaith friendships and, in particular, Buddhist-Christian dialogue. We'll continue to share meaningful forms of creative expression, such as writing, photography and art.

Week 4: Merton as Interfaith Pioneer

Merton was a pioneer of interfaith dialogue. Merton met the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as the Dalai Lama, who considered Merton a kind of Christian geshe. (Geshe is a rigorous Tibetan Buddhist academic degree attained by Buddhist monks and nuns.) We'll discuss readings by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, seeking parallels with Merton’s work and writing. We'll also share ideas from our own life journeys, and in creative expression.

Week 5: Merton as Peace Activist

We'll look at Merton’s socially conscious stand as a peace activist, particularly in the 1960s. Merton addressed critical issues of non-violence in contexts, such as American race riots and the Vietnam War, from his perspective of monk, poet, scholar and contemplative. We'll discuss meaningful links to social justice issues of our time, as well as to our own values, life journeys, and in creative expression.

Week 6: Reflections on Merton’s Life and Work

Our final session will focus on further readings about Thomas Merton’s life and work. We'll share the discovery of insightful links to our lives. We will look again at the question: “How can we visualize world peace unless cultures and faiths talk to one another?” We'll share forms of creative expression collected over the past few weeks, such as meaningful writing, poems, photography, art and artifacts.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Hands-on participation in creative expression through art
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is recommended reading for this course.

Any version of Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

This book will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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