By Sarah Winters, 7/31/22
As education is widened to incorporate holistic “whole child” philosophies that include social-emotional learning (SEL) and spiritual education, a similar effort is taking place in the military and other institutions. Organizations and persons, such as Dr. Lisa Miller at the Columbia Teacher’s College and Dr. Marc Brackett at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, are implementing these holistic initiatives across multiple institutions. New Age spiritual organization, the Fetzer Institute, is a supporter of both SEL/emotional intelligence and institutional spirituality programs. What if Dr. Miller and the Fetzer Institute’s form of spirituality is actually a religion masquerading as spirituality, a type of “religion without revelation” (Huxley, 1957). The connections are intriguing.
The Fetzer Institute is a current contributor and a founding organization for the SEL company Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). John Fetzer was a follower of occultists Alice Bailey and Helena Blavatsky. At one time, Bailey’s “Great Invocation” was recited at the end of their gatherings. Bailey was the founder of the Lucis Trust and Lucifer Publishing, later renamed Lucis Publishing. The Fetzer Institute has a global mission with a “strategy focused on accelerating the emergence of a powerful global movement for spiritual transformation.” A 2015 Report by Jan Walleczek titled, Science and the Rise of Millennium Spirituality, was commissioned for the Fetzer Institute. Walleczek discusses the changing spiritual attitudes, inquiring “entering the third millennium, could the new narrative envision a ‘global spirituality’ – one manifesting love and solidarity from the unity of global consciousness?” Robert Boisture, current President and CEO of the Fetzer Institute and board member of the Collaborative for Spirituality in Education (CSE), is the treasurer for Religions for Peace, a global religious organization who according to the Alex Newman’s New American article, titled Global Alliance of Religions Joins Push for UN Agenda 2030, isadvancing the UN Agenda.
The Fetzer Institute is a supporter of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab. The document, Meditations on Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care, details that thirty chaplains were invited to the Fetzer Institute to discuss the “future state of chaplaincy and spiritual care,” stating its purpose as “working to re-educate communities about what chaplains do, who chaplains are, and where chaplains serve.” Chaplains attending the event represented a variety of fields, such as the military, prisons, and healthcare organizations. These chaplains and their corresponding programs have extensive influence. Eric Skidmore from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP) was one of the speakers at the event. His program alone counsels 17,000 police officers and their families.
In a Fetzer Institute video titled Carrying the Vision Fetzer Institute Retrospective, Bruce Fetzer states, “[the Contemplative Mind in Society] followed a strategy of creating mindfulness programs in hundreds of educational institutions, and that actually laid the seeds for public acceptance of mindfulness practice, which now is being practiced by over 50 million Americans.” The practice of mindfulness is akin to a Buddhist prayer. John Kabat-Zinn is a member of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality , founding fellow of the Fetzer Institute, and on the board of the Mind Life Institute. He is guiding those who are working to incorporate the mindfulness practice in the military and served as a speaker at the International Mindfulness in Defence Symposium. Kabat-Zinn conducted mindfulness workshops to soldiers at Camp Zama in Japan.
The Fetzer Institute is a supporter of the conferences of Columbia University’s Teacher College’s CSE. CSE is part of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute and is a sponsored project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Co-chair of the board for the CSE and drafter of the Earth Charter, Steven Rockefeller, is part of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality.
Dr. Lisa Miller, President and CEO of the CSE, is the founder of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute. The Spirituality Mind Body Institute website states that it “exists to integrate spiritual life into our society – in our institutions, in our boardrooms, our classrooms, and our homes.” Dr. Miller has been working to bring her vision of spirituality to the military, to enhance the “spiritual readiness” of the soldier. Like “whole child” education, the focus is on meeting the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional needs of the “whole soldier.”
In an interview with Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Dr. Miller mentions Ken Wilbur, Dr. Larry Dossey, Dr. Deepak Chopra, and Marrianne Williamson as “wonderful thinkers.” Dossey, Chopra, and Williamson were all part of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality. Williamson authored the best-selling book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Judy Skutch Whitson was a co-founder for The Foundation for Inner Peace, the publisher of A Course in Miracles. She wasalso a founding board member of the Fetzer Institute. Williamson was involved with the New Age, Human Potential movement, worked at the Esalen Institute, and was a Democratic Presidential Candidate. Wilbur, Dossey, and Chopra also ascribe to New Age thinking and the New Age movement.
U.S Army chaplains attended the Columbia’s Teacher’s College Spiritual Mind Body Institute’s with workshops given by Dr. Miller. Climate activist Karenna Gore, the daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore, was a speaker at Columbia’s Spiritual Mind Body Institute’s Winter Intensive Seminar. Her topic was Reorienting Humanity toward Nature. She stated that “interfaith dialogue could tap a powerful source of motivation” in addressing climate change.
In 2020, Dr. Miller was invited to participate in a webinar hosted by the U.S Army Training and Doctrine Command discussing the science of spirituality and mental health for the “whole soldier.” The U.S. Army’s Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, who keynoted The Spirituality and Mental Health Webinar Series, stated “we’re bringing the science of spirituality to the Army through the lens of Dr. Miller. We really want to enculturate this into everything we do.” In 2020, the Army updated its training manual to include “spiritual readiness.” Like the implementation of mindfulness in the public school system, Chapter 13 of the Army’s FM 7-22 on Holistic Health and Fitness recommends specific mindfulness exercises.
Author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, CASEL Co-founder Daniel Goleman wrote Destructive Emotions after meeting with the Dalai Lama. In the Lucis Trust/World Goodwill 2018 Newsletter under University Courses on Meditation Can Awaken Intuition, Dr. Andreas de Bruin refers to Francisco Varela and Daniel Goleman’s conclusions that “science’s major contribution to the 21st century would be to tackle destructive emotions, which are the underlying causes of most planetary problems.” He “sees [their] work…in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist monks…as the seed of the boom in research into the value of mindfulness…which is the precursor stage to true meditation, which only takes place when there is integration with the personality, allowing the link with the soul to begin to be built.”
On the board of directors for CASEL, the Director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Brackett, is the lead developer for the emotional intelligence tool RULER. Similar to the use of RULER in education, research titled Embedding emotional intelligence into military training contexts, conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Lockheed Martin Corporation examined how emotional intelligence could be incorporated into military training facilitating a soldier’s ability to “make better decisions for themselves and their teams.” Some proposals in the research involve using immersive training, using virtual characters, and physiology data to “help teach Warfighters how to recognize and regulate emotions using the EI framework” utilizing a database to record performance. The physiology data would “assess the following: heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductance, cardiac impedance, and respiration rate…it would help the trainer to identify the expected range of responses and detect individuals who may need more training.” Likewise, the 2016 WEF New Vision for Education discusses wearable devices that measure physiological responses to help manage emotions for children. For example, the Mightier is a current device that measures heart rate as a way of regulating emotions in children. Dr. Brackett spoke at the Military Children Education Coalition’s 2020 Conference alongside Dr. Jill Biden. He also spoke at Human Emotional Intelligence Conference, part of the Shift Network, whose aim is to “upgrade our human operating system in order to co-create a healthy, peaceful, sustainable, just, and prosperous world.” The Shift Network courses include ones on Magic Mushrooms, and Sacred Evidence-Based Mediumship, instruction on communication with deceased loved ones.
Although some of these organizations claim that spirituality is separate and distinct from religion, it could be argued that the terms “religious” and “spiritual” are so similar they are often used interchangeably. It could be debated that elements of this version of spirituality, such as mindfulness, are indistinguishable from specific religions. By actively promoting mindfulness but not prayer, are public institutions favoring specific spiritual practices over others? In a letter to Edward Livingston, James Madison asserts that “religion and government [would] both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” Could institutions be used to construct a “global consciousness and spirituality” seeking to transform society by filling a religious void in the lives of impressionable young soldiers and children? Speaking about the Spirituality and Mental Health Webinar Series, Dr. Miller informs “when you create a collaborative partnership between a leading university and the government, it brings out all people from all areas of society, and everyone brings their game. Everyone is for our country, and no one is saying no.”
Huxley, J. (1957). Religion without Revelation. New York: New American Library.