This website offers explorations in East-West thinking influenced by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. We are just getting started.
As the website unfolds we hope to offer dialogues and reflections on music and food, science and religion, poetry and film, education and ecology.
We will also be addressing the big questions of life: Does life have purpose? How can we deal with death and dying? What is a just and sustainable society, and how can we contribute to it? Why is there so much suffering? Where can love be found? We do not offer final answers to the questions, but we hope to offer food for thought.
We do not expect our readers to be familiar with Whitehead's
philosophy, so we introduce aspects of it as we go. Thus the website provides an introduction to aspects of Whitehead's cross-cultural philosophical perspective as it is now being developed in Asia and the West. Whitehead's perspective is often called constructive postmodernism in China, and it is called process philosophy in other Asian and Western nations. But our focus is not on philosophy per se, but rather on process poetics.
By poetics we mean the activity of seeking wisdom for daily life from whatever sources are available. Poetics is more than philosophy and sometimes closer to poetry. It is undertaken by philosophers and theologians, but it also by grandmothers, grocery store clerks, farmers, and children. Everyone seeks wisdom.
The articles are intentionally short, written in journalistic and sometimes poetic style. They are written for the interested but non-specialized reader. They can be read quickly; and we encourage you to pick and choose as you like.
The essays are not written in an authoritarian or dogmatic spirit. We are interested in offering possibilities for your thinking, feeling, and acting in the world. We offer lures for feeling but not dogmas.
Lures for feeling is a phrase of Whitehead's. He used it to refer to ideas and proposals worthy of reflection. These lures can communicated in many ways, of which written and spoken words are but one example. But we gain ideas from other sources, too. From music and film, from strangers and friends, from animals and plants, we also receive ideas worthy of our consideration. Whitehead believes that even the sacred whole of the universe -- even the Harmony of Harmonies -- offers lures of the promising kind: fresh possibilities for responding wisely and compassionately and creatively to the situation at hand. This Harmony is the adventure of the universe as one.
Some of us are religious and some of us are not. Our offerings are aimed at people on both sides of the spectrum, and in-between as well. But we all recognize that many people in our world find their "theology" in music and film, not in the texts of philosophers and theologians. And more than a few people have their best discussions, not in a classroom, but around a shared meal. Even recipes are poems in their own way. When shared across cultures, they are lures for transnational community.
We are interested in this kind of community. We know that our readers live in China, Korea, Japan, Canada, and the United States, but we also know that each of us feels some sense of affinity or kinship with friends across the ocean. We may be "Chinese" or "American" but we are also part of the larger wisdom-seeking community.
Our idea for this website is partly derived from a Chinese artist, Mei Lanfang, who was a leading figure in Peking Opera. Many years ago, on receiving honorary degrees in the United States, he proposed that the best hope for the world would be that the people's of East and West learn about one another's cultures throught their arts, sciences, and philosophies.
He was brilliant in his manner of using his hands, his eyes, his voice, and his costumes to present the point of view of women to male-dominated audiences. His hands were lures for feeling, too. They were invitations to empathy.
In imagining himself as a woman he needed to have empathy for points of view different from his own and he invited his audiences to do the same. That's part of the Whiteheadian spirit: to undertake "empathy experiments" in which we imagine ourselves inside the lives of people who are different from us, and are creatively transformed in the process. This is a key Whiteheadian theme: that we listen to other people on their own terms and for their own sakes, and be changed by what we hear. We are creatively transformed.
In some ways this website is a response to Mei's invitation not only for East-West dialogue, but also for creative transformation.
Of course there are many artists and musicians in West who have felt like Mei: Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Alan Ginsberg, and one of our own favorites, Charles Olson, for whom Whitehead's philosophy was a primary inspiration. And consider the many poets today, in Asia and the West, who are developing forms of music, poetry, and art that blend Eastern and Western styles. Some of us are especially influenced by Asian American jazz.
You may be wondering where we get the title "Jesus, Buddhism, and Jazz." You can find out by reading the essays by our editor: Dr. Jay McDaniel (Hendrix College, USA). His ideas are springboards for our reflections; but each of us has opinions of our own. Not all of us are Christian or Buddhist and not all of us like Jazz. But all are interested in East-West thinking. And all of us like food, music, and storytelling. Thus we hope that our ideas might be springboards for your own creative reflections. That's part of the Whiteheadian spirit.