Where Academia and Spirituality collide

It’s been three weeks since I started my postgraduate course in Human Rights, and a recent article I read surprisingly reminded me of the Buddhist scripture I used to devour.
It was a classic cultural studies article by Stuart Hall about encoding and decoding messages in the media that inspired me to reflect on whether all advanced thinking ultimately leads to the same conclusions.

“The level of connotation of the visual sign, of its contextual reference and positioning in different discursive fields of meaning and association, is the point where already coded signs intersect with the deep semantic codes of a culture and take on additional more active ideological dimensions.”
– Stuart Hall

The link between faith and further thinking goes back a long time.
Before the introduction of universal education, the only academic thinkers you would be able to find would be disciples of religion. Naturally the two fields collided.
This article was written in 1973 though.
What reminded me of my spiritual readings in the text was the questioning of what we take for granted: language, the meaning of words and the assumptions we make.

“Those which are produced from causes are not produced.
They do not have an inherent nature of production. those which depend on causes are said to be empty;
Those who know emptiness are aware.”
– Gautama Buddha

Let’s compare these two quotes in grey:
Hall is talking about the different meanings different people can take from advertisements.
The Buddha is quoted on the Buddhist concept of emptiness: what we believe exists doesn’t truly exist that way, as we take our thoughts and past experiences as reference.
They’re both quite complicated concepts so please check out more about encoding/decoding here and emptiness here.
But in essence, both quotes are describing the subjective nature of language.
What may be true to me is not necessarily true to you.

Self-actualization is what educated existence is all about.
For members of the educated class, life is one long graduate school. When they die, God meets them at the gates of heaven, totes up how many fields of self-expression they have mastered, and then hands them a divine diploma and lets them in.”
– David Brooks

Maybe the link here is that both academics and spiritual people simply have the time to worry about the inherent nature of life.
I think a lot of us probably experienced this newfound space to think during lockdown.
When working and running around outside, there’s barely any time to pose ourselves philosophical questions, especially about our society.
These readings make my head hurt, and I think they’re meant to.


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