Foreword to Research Tutorial Students’ Self-Published Essays

This past semester, I have been teaching a “research tutorial,” a course designed to use my own research to teach students the skills of research. The course is skills-oriented rather than content-oriented in the sense that while we used the category of rhythm as a platform for exploring various concepts, the objective of the course was that students used topics related to rhythm as an opportunity to practice research skills, including how to identify relevant information amid surrounding text, creating research questions, developing strategies to answer those questions, evaluating the success of those strategies and adapting them accordingly, and peer-reviewing one another’s work. The culminating project for the course was a research paper that the students then self-published as a book of essays. I am pleased to say that it is now available for free here. Continue reading “Foreword to Research Tutorial Students’ Self-Published Essays”


Module 4, Class 4: Smartphones are not objects, they’re patterns

Everyday life is made up of rhythms – routines, cycles, patterns. Time never appears to us as a simple line, but always through such patterns. This means that not only life or time in a general sense, but all our particular activities and relationships are mediated to us through those rhythms. It is therefore worth thinking about where these rhythms come from and who or what establishes and maintains them. Is it us? The natural world? The constructed environment? Some or other institution? Likely it’s a combination of factors but it’s worth thinking about since, arguably, whoever or whatever controls the rhythm controls society itself. Continue reading “Module 4, Class 4: Smartphones are not objects, they’re patterns”

Module 3, Class 3: Rhythm and Interpersonal Communication (with particular reference to ASD)

The group of students presenting this module on the role of rhythm in communities began by considering the role of rhythm in African-American and Caribbean communal identity-construction and protest in order to introduce the ways in which rhythm functions to both hold people together and keep them apart. The prevalence of rhythm in African and later North American Black cultures in such communal identity-construction makes this a helpful place to begin for understanding the social dimensions of rhythm. However, the group’s objective was ultimately to introduce the ways in which rhythm is a part of all relationships, not only at a larger, communal level but also between particular individuals.

The difficulty, however, is that we are not usually aware of the rhythms involved in our day-to-day interactions. They are the carrier-waves of those interactions and are indispensable for indexing emotional and social meaning and keeping the conversation going, but we are not often aware of them and they are difficult to notice and measure. Some researchers, particularly Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen and Peter Auer, have begun to measure the rhythms of conversation scientifically but this requires parsing conversations quite elaborately in ways that can be confusing to follow.

Instead, Phoebe Caldwell’s research on communication with non-verbal persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder is remarkably helpful for understanding the role of rhythm in interpersonal relationships more intuitively. Continue reading “Module 3, Class 3: Rhythm and Interpersonal Communication (with particular reference to ASD)”

Module 3, Class 2: Strategic Deployments of Rhythm for Social Change

While the previous class in this module on rhythm in communities considered the ways in which rhythm both holds people together and keeps them apart, this class examined some of the ways in which rhythm is deployed for both for the purpose of holding people together and for the purpose of breaking up entrenched systems. These two functions are not completely separate from one another. Rhythm is often used to hold people together for the purpose of protest, and as such breaking up entrenched systems also seems to work more effectively when people unify around a common beat.

These two sides of the process of social organization are represented by two forms, particularly visible in the history of African American communities. One is the function and power of speeches, specifically those of Martin Luther King Jr. The other is the process of improvisation. Continue reading “Module 3, Class 2: Strategic Deployments of Rhythm for Social Change”

Module 3, Class 1: Rhythm: Holding People Together, Keeping People Apart

There is nowhere that the ambiguity of rhythm is more evident than through its role in communal identity-formation. It is used both as a tool of oppression, and as a tool of resistance. It both unifies people and divides communities. It both controls and interrupts. Continue reading “Module 3, Class 1: Rhythm: Holding People Together, Keeping People Apart”

Module 2, Class 4: Is Rhythm the Same as Rote?

In the last post, I pointed out that Benedictine monks addressed a condition known as “acedia,” which has characteristics much like our understanding of depression, through regulating time and the movement of the body and that it might be interesting to compare this with the ways in which this approach is still used in addressing depression today.

One counterpoint to this perspective, however, is the idea that acedia appears to be a temptation that particularly besets a group of people engaged in a certain way of life, namely people who sit alone and think a lot. In other words, despite the fact that monastic communities regulated life into fairly precise patterns, this was the context in which the noonday demon particularly appeared. Continue reading “Module 2, Class 4: Is Rhythm the Same as Rote?”

Module 2, Class 3: Acedia and Monastic Rhythms

In approaching depression from the perspective of rhythm, the students turned to consider whether the rhythms of certain Christian spiritual and liturgical practices might have any effect on depression. This session was primarily speculative in that there was no explicit connection to depression, while the following session looks at empirical research on prayer and depression. The students chose selections from The Rule of St Benedict and Mother Teresa’s No Greater Love. Continue reading “Module 2, Class 3: Acedia and Monastic Rhythms”

Module 2, Class 2: Rhythm, Rumination, and Habit Formation

Last class, the students introduced the relationship between rhythm and depression in part using Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun. This week, they introduced some psychological articles considering both biological and social contributors to depression, looking particularly at rumination, and talked about emotional-regulation as treatment.

The students suggested that rumination is an example of a very tight, maladaptive cycle. This is the case both in a psychic sense – the mind is trapped, repeating the same events over and over again – and in a physical sense. The pathways of the brain are literally organized according to the impulses that are repeatedly fired. Based on research on neuroplasticity, these pathways can be changed by changing one’s habits and thoughts. The result is that impulses travel a different path and the pathways of the brain change.

I mention this because it’s worth noting that rhythm is not simply a metaphor here but a physical phenomenon. Continue reading “Module 2, Class 2: Rhythm, Rumination, and Habit Formation”

Module 2, Class 1: Julia Kristeva and the Rhythms of Depression

The students leading module 2, which looks at the role of rhythm in our relationship to ourselves, have chosen to focus on depression. They began with a discussion of the first chapter of Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. All of the students are science majors and therefore struggled a little with the more psychoanalytic and philosophical perspective of this assigned text, but they addressed this challenge by bringing Kristeva into conversation with the most recent DSM definition of depression and helpfully concluded that what Kristeva might contribute to the conversation is a different language that could enable us to understanding depression from a different angle.

I think this is precisely what Kristeva’s text provides. More specifically, she actually looks at the role of language itself in depression. Her alternative vocabulary includes the concept of rhythm. Continue reading “Module 2, Class 1: Julia Kristeva and the Rhythms of Depression”

Module 1, Class 4: Flow and the Christian Experience of Time

Our final class for this module continued with O’Donnell’s Remembering the Future, particularly engaging her use of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s research on flow. O’Donnell suggests that the time of Christian liturgy ought to include flow, but the correspondence is actually not so clear. Continue reading “Module 1, Class 4: Flow and the Christian Experience of Time”