Powell Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Elon University

Principal Designer, Faculty Member, and Former Director
of the Master of Arts in Applied Healing Arts Program,
Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts, Laurel, MD

Spring semester 2006 was my last semester teaching at Elon;
after 36 years I retired at the end of May 2006.
I am grateful to all my colleagues and all my students who have made Elon a special place;
my life is richer because I have known and worked with you..

Current News:  

                                                                                           I now have FOUR books available:
1) The Fourfold Path to Wholeness: A Compass for the Heart  (Chapel Hill, NC: Second Journey Publications, 2010)

                    Cultivating love, compassion, joy and peace for all our kin   Available from Second Journey  See http://www.secondjourney.org/JohnsCorner.htm

                                                                                                                      Soon also to be available through Amazon.com


2) The Spiral of the Seasons: Welcoming the Gifts of Later Life (Chapel Hill, NC: Second Journey Publications, 2009)

                                                                                                                    Available from Amazon.com


3) Living Large: Transformative Work at the Intersection of Ethics and Spirituality (Laurel MD: Tai Sophia Press, 2004)

 The book is available in paperback through Amazon and also through the  through the publisher’s outlet,

 The Meeting Point at Tai Sophia Institute, 7750 Montpelier Road, Laurel MD  20723   See http://www.tai.edu/


3) To Come to Life More Fully: An East West Journey (Columbia MD: Traditional Acupuncture Press, 1990)
            Available through Tai Sophia as above.  And also through Amazon.com




        I was born and raised in Newport, Rhode Island on the island of Aquidneck. I still hear the ocean's call.

I did my undergraduate work in philosophy at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I hold two earned doctorates: one in ecclesiastical law (J.C.D., 1966) from the Lateran University in Rome, Italy and one in philosophy (Ph.D., 1982) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

        On a personal note, I am married to Gregg Winn Sullivan who is my love. My ongoing living and learning are intimately intertwined with hers. Together, we taught the Quest for Wholeness course at Elon for thirteen years.  The last class was in the academic year 2005-2006.  Quest was a two-semester mentorship offered to some 16 select juniors and seniors.  It met once a week to create a space where learning and life could be integrated from the perspective of the humanities.  It was a year-long commitment to daily practice, to the "inner work" of leadership, personal development and, in general, "living large." 

        I have one daughter, Heather Anne Votta Sullivan, who, after serving in the Peace Corps in Honduras, is now doing graduate studies in Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is exploring the first half of life while I am exploring the second half.  She is married to Joel Winkelman and they have a new daughter, Simone Aletheia Winkelman, born July 21, 2010.   Also, I cherish a step-daughter: M.J, two step-sons: Dusty and Paul, and 6 grandchildren: Jonathan, Amanda, James, Cody and Mary Elizabeth and now Simone.

For some time, I had a double focus for my work:

        I was on the faculty of Elon University in the town of Elon, North Carolina [between Burlington and Greensboro, NC].

        I also worked with the Tai Sophia Institute (formerly the Traditional Acupuncture Institute) whose campus is at 7750  Montpelier Road, Laurel, MD 20723 [between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD -- off exit 15 on Route 29]. See http://www.tai.edu/

In all my work,
                    I bring a concern for ethics and leadership, transpersonal developmental psychology, philosophy of religion and Eastern philosophy.
                    My abiding interest is in the place where philosophy, psychology and spirituality -- East, West and beyond -- intersect and
                   mutually enhance one another.

Contact Information:

Address:    John G. Sullivan, Ph.D.                    
                 308 Collinwood Drive
                 Burlington, NC 27215
                 E-mail:            sullivan@elon.edu
                 Web-page      http://www.elon.edu/sullivan

                 Also see my Philosopher’s Corner on the Second Journey website: http://www.secondjourney.com/JohnsCorner.htm


       I joined the Elon faculty in 1970. In 1979-80, I received the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching --  a one-time-only award.  From 1985 until my retirement in spring of 2006, I have held the Maude Sharpe Powell Professorship in Philosophy. On August 19, 2002, I was named Elon's first Distinguished University Professor.  I retired from Elon after the spring semester of 2006 and was awarded "emeritus status".  By then, I had taught at Elon for thirty-six year.

      Throughout my time at Elon, I have played an active role in shaping the direction of the Department of Philosophy. The Elon Philosophy Department's mission has several forms.  One short form is simply


For many years, we thought of our program in these terms:

 "In dialogue with the past, we enter inquiry together into enduring human concerns
so as to enrich our common life and deepen our care for the world in its unfolding."

"Philosophy" means "love of wisdom." Philosophy, for us, has both a wisdom orientation and a practical intent. Our approach

·         spans past, present and future;

·         emphasizes collaborative inquiry;

·         recognizes philosophy as "love of wisdom;"

·         has a practical intent.


Teaching at Elon

Courses that I am teaching or have taught at Elon -- on several year cycles -- are listed below. Syllabi, assignments and enrichment material are from the last time the course was taught.  However, a sense of my philosophy of teaching can be gained by looking at the material posted.  For details, click below.

        Over my teaching career, I have also taught courses in Introduction to Philosophy, Death and Dying, Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Law, Contemporary Philosophy, the Philosophy of Albert Camus, and a course called "Myths, Dramas and Dreams" -- an exploration of the classic Greek tragedies and the type of dream analysis used in Gestalt therapy.


      I am a long-time participant in the ongoing inquiries sponsored by the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, Maryland. I co-founded in 1987 and taught until 2002 in the Institute's SOPHIA project (School of Philosophy and Healing In Action), a program for adult learners that applies the principles underlying Chinese medicine to everyday life. The mission statement of SOPHIA is:

"To come to life more fully
so as to serve life
more wisely and more nobly:
Sagely stillness, within;
Sovereign service, without."

It is largely out of this work that I wrote my first book, To Come to Life More Fully: An East West Journey (Columbia, MD: Traditional Acupuncture Institute, 1991).and my recent book Living Large: Transformative Work at the Intersection of Ethics and Spirituality  (Laurel, MD: Tai Sophia Institute, 2004). 

        I was principal designer and first "director-at-a-distance" (2002-2004) of a new initiative at Tai Sophia Institute: now called Master of Arts in Transformative Leadership and Social Change.  This  program is for adult learners in all walks of life.  In January 2002,  this program enrolled its first class. The first class to graduate recieved their degrees in June 2005.  The courses in the Applied Healing Arts Program are taught in an executive format.  I teach in two of the core courses: Basic Sophia and Practicing  Stillness through the Timeless Wisdom Traditions.

The MA in Applied Healing Arts has a three-fold mission.  To offer:

This program teaches the skills to become a practitioner for life, to become a healing presence
so that wherever one is there will be less surplus suffering and more creative possibility for our common life.
In this way, the program emphasizes

                                            Commitment in Oneness 
                         formed with attention to New Science, New Thinking                                                    
                                                    expressed in

                                Meditative Stillness and Effective Service.

It echoes Frederick Buechner's beautiful declaration: “To find our calling is to find the intersection between our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.”  It invites learners to integrate some of the new thinking in science with the oldest timeless wisdoms East and West and places all this at the service of all our kin -- what poet Gary Synder calls "The Great Family" and includes all creatures on the earth. 


Postscript:  My Fifteen Minutes of Fame:

        Everyone, it is said, will sooner or later have their fifteen minutes of fame.  Mine came in delivering the Elon Commencement speech on May 25th, 2002.  I had been, since 1980, Elon's designated back-up commencement speaker. Reporter Daniel Golden in a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal (May 14, 2002) dubbed me "the unofficial dean of the nation's standby commencement speakers. "  Dan Golden went on to write:  "In his twelve minute address, Prof. Sullivan will recount a Passover fable told by Iraqi Jews and relate it to 'freedom, community and remembering who you are.'"
[The text of this talk can be found at the bottom of this webpage.]

        As a result of this coverage, CNN's reporter Bruce Burkhardt did a story for Paula Zahn's American Morning show that aired on Friday May 24, 2002.  NBC reporter Bob Faw did a story for the NBC Today Show that aired on May 28, 2002.  Locally, Lisa Hartnet interviewed me for her radio show "The State of Things" on WUNC -- a local PBS affiliate.  This show aired on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2002.  The Magazine of Elon told the "story within a story" in its Summer 2002 issue.  Meridians, the journal of Tai Sophia Institute, published the address under the title "A Story with Three Lessons," in the Autumn 2002 issue (Vol. 9, Number 4).  So perhaps good things do come to those who wait.

       In the Fall of 2002, I was also named Elon's first Distinguished University Professor. Hence, 2002 was, for me, a very good year.


Four Sample Speeches follow.

The first is my Graduation Address given on May 25, 2002. 

the second is my response to the events of September 11th, 2001, given the day after the terrorist attacks.

the third is my response to becoming Elon's first Distinguished University Professor, at the installation ceremonies on Oct. 24, 2002.

the fourth is an address to the university community in my final semester before retiring.  The occasion was the 31st Reynolds Memorial Lecture held on Tuesday, February 21, 2006.  This presentation looks at universities past, present and future (or Pre-modern, Modern and Trans-modern).  In the Trans-modern, I look at what a university might look like if it took seriously the environmental crisis that marks our time.

Speech #1:

Commencement Address given at Elon University's 112th Commencement held on May 25, 2002

         Mr. President, members of the Board of Trustees, honored guests, faculty, staff,  students of Elon University, and a special congratulations to you -- the graduating class of 2002.

        Well.  .  .  it's been a long time coming.  For you, for me, for Elon.   You are the first class graduating from Elon as "Elon University."  The change happened officially last year on June the first.  Most of you know that I have been "back-up speaker for graduation" for about as long as you, the members of this class, have been alive.  During that time, Elon itself has felt at times like a back-up college -- a back-up to other colleges, a back-up to other universities.  But here and now, as I stand with you, and you stand with me, in the power of this family, I say: "Back-up no longer!  We're the A-Team now!"

         In the ancient traditions, guidance is given through stories.  The stories seem to be about warriors and sages, about kings and queens and commoners -- yet they are really stories about you and me and every person -- stories about a time that is ever present.  Will you listen to such a story this morning?  Please say “Yes!”  Thank you.

         Once upon a time, in a time before time was worn on the wrist, in a time out of time, in a kingdom far away, there was this unusual custom.

         In most kingdoms, when the ruler dies, his or her son or daughter succeeds to the throne.  But in this kingdom, when the ruler died, a powerful, magical  bird was released.  [Perhaps a phoenix, who know?]  The bird would fly around in the air above the subjects.  Finally, the bird would alight upon one person.  That person would be the next queen or king.

         In this realm, there was a slave who worked in the palace.  He was a musician who dressed in funny clothing -- a cap made of chicken feathers and a raggedy belt -- and he played music on a drum.  The slave was not happy with his lot.  He felt that it was degrading.  He prayed to be free.

         Now, it came to pass that one day the king died, and the magical bird was released.  It circled the sky for some time.  All watched in anticipation.  Finally, it came to rest on the head of the slave, nesting itself in his hat of chicken feathers.  Immediately, and to his great surprise, the slave was declared ruler of the entire kingdom.  In an instant, the slave was transformed into a powerful sovereign.

         The new monarch moved into the palace, donned royal attire, and took his place upon the throne.  As his first royal decree, he had a tiny hut built next to the palace.  The only furnishing in this little shack was a large mirror.  Early every morning, the new king entered this little shack, disappearing behind the door for a short time.  Then he would emerge, lock the door behind him, and return to the palace.  His ministers and advisors thought that this was very peculiar behavior but, after all, he was the king now and who would question the king?

         As the years went by, the sovereign passed many laws aimed at reducing, and finally eliminating all slavery and much suffering.  The changes were made so gradually that no one noticed them.  The king was known to all for his kindness, his justice, and his compassion, as well as his strange habit of visiting the odd little hut early every morning.

         One day, his closest advisor asked, “Your Majesty, what is it that you keep in that hut of yours?”

         The king led the advisor into the hut and showed him a burlap sack containing the chicken feather hat, the ragged belt, and the drum. “These,” he said, “are my most treasured possessions.”

         “But these are reminders of slavery!” the advisor replied in disgust. “These are not the possessions of a king, Your Majesty!”

         “Ah, but they are,” replied the king.  “You see, once I was a slave and now I am free.  When you made me your king, I made a promise to myself and God.  I promised I would never forget that I was once a slave, lest I grow arrogant and haughty, lest I treat people as I was once treated.  Every morning, I come here and dress as I was once forced to dress -- as a slave.  I stare at myself in the mirror until tears come to my eyes, and only then, am I prepared to leave this hut and rule as a good king should.  It is this memory which makes me the king I am.  These are the most treasured possessions I have.”  *

         Wonderful story, don’t you think?  What makes it more wonderful is that it is a  Passover Tale told by Iraqi Jews.  It echoes the great experience of Judaism – passing over from slavery to freedom.  It echoes the Christian experience of passing over from death to life.  It echoes the American experience of passing from tyranny to liberty.   We were slaves and now are free.  But this is not a process over and done with.  This is our daily work.

        From this story, I offer three lessons, or perhaps better, ongoing tasks.

         First, there is the ongoing task of going from being a slave to becoming free.  On the outer dimension, going from slave to free is a story of growing up, going from dependence to independence. Going to college and graduating from college are moments when both you and your parents may want to say-- in the words of Dr. King --  “Free at last.  Free at last.  Lord God Almighty we’re free at last.”   Yet even on the outer plane, things are not that simple.  And on the inner plane, we are beginners indeed.  If we are honest, we know that we are not free.  We are enslaved by old habits, old ways of relating.  Enslaved by constrictive stories and destructive roles.  Enslaved by patterns of blaming and complaining, arguing and "having to be right."  The first task is to be aware of how we restrict ourselves and others.  To be aware.  Then to learn how to drop these patterns.  To drop them and recover ways to come to life more fully.  In this daily work, we are aided by our deepest desires.  We want to be free, long to be free, yearn to be free.

         In our story, the slave took two steps simultaneously.  Becoming free and becoming king.  We can separate the steps.  After becoming free, one steps up to service, to care for the community.  You become free in order to serve social units larger than yourself – families, institutions, nations and the good earth itself. You arrive at university caught in conversations about what others and the college can do for you.  If your education is truly liberating, you begin to see that you are co-responsible to make Elon and the world what it is and can be -- Phoenix rising!!

         In the mythic sense, to be a sovereign means to care for a sphere of life larger than your own.  You do this by bringing order into life, knowing how to put first things first.  You do this by encouraging creativity.  You do this by blessing the young.  You become free in order to serve the common good.

         The third challenge of the story asks “How do you handle adversity?”  Do you translate your experience of adversity into victimhood or do you use adversity to open your heart and deepen your life?  In the words of the story, what do you make of the hat the belt and the drum?  Here is what I say:

         Learn to see hats of chicken feathers as crowns in disguise.  You are of royal lineage.  You are meant to be co-responsible for all that concerns our common life.

         Let the raggedy belt remind you that you are one person above and below the waist -- one person linked -- like these oaks -- to the earth below and the sky above.

         Let the drum remind you of your own heartbeat.  Feel your heart beat this day and know the gift of the life we share.  This is the rhythm by which we work and love and tend all that we do.

         These insignia cause us to stand in the place of the least of the brethren.  They remind us to be compassionate to all, to stand with our brothers and sisters, to act with them for the common good.

         There is a story of a monastery where the monks were constantly quarreling.  A wise old monk was asked what to do.  He said: Tell them that one of their number is the messiah.  This is the true secret of the hut and the mirror, the hat and belt and drum -- to see the kingly, queenly, sagely dignity in every one we meet.

 So this day and tomorrow and all the tomorrows given to you  --  may your heartbeat remind you of your most treasured possessions:
            to be free,
                    to be of service
                         not to forget where you came from so as
                                  to meet everyone with a compassionate heart.

  God speed.  And, may the Phoenix that each of you is -- Catch the Fire!

                                                                                                                              Thank you.

                                                                                                                                          John G. Sullivan
                                                                                                                                          Elon University
                                                                                                                                           May 25,2002

* Note: The story is a Passover Tale told by Iraqi Jews.  I heard the story from my friend, Arthur Z. Steinberg, Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Portsmouth, Virginia, who used the story at a congregational seder in April 1997.  He claims that the source is lost from memory so I am crediting him for preserving the story in oral tradition.


Speech #2:
                      READING DANTE'S INFERNO ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
            A Talk Given on September 12, 2001 -- at a Conovocation of the Elon University Community
                                  assembled in Elon's Main Gymnasium

         Good morning.  Let me set the scene scarcely more than 24 hours ago.  The day at Elon began around the Fonville
fountain.  Sun shining.  Blue skies.  Football team and coaches gathered.  A marching band coming across the quad.
Americana in pure form.

         We would soon learn the gruesome, surrealistic news.  Out of the serene skies -- two-hijacked aircraft would annihilate
the World Trade Towers.  Another plane would crash into the Pentagon.  Smoke spewing forth.  Fire, blood, and suffering.
Everywhere the darkness of debris, adding blindness to pain.  This generation's Pearl Harbor.

         I went to meet my 10:30 class called "Dante's Journey."  My students were already watching the news, already in the
room were tears and grief, worry and disbelief.  Ironically, this was the day we were to begin Dante's great poem -- the Divine
Comedy. This was the day we were to enter Hell with Dante.

         Here is how the first cantica begins: "At the midpoint of the journey of our life, I awoke to find myself in a dark wood
from which there was no direct way out."  And so Dante's journey begins -- his journey through hell -- to learn the many ways
we violate one another, to experience the many faces of evil.

        I said to my students: Today, we are in the dark wood.  Today, we are at the gateway to Hell.  There it is on the screen.
The Manhattan skyline, its twin towers collapsed; clouds of smoke muffling screams of horror.  The sky blackened with the
pain, not of hurricane or flood, but the pain that humans consciously cause to other humans.

         As Dante begins his journey, he must face three beasts.  First, the leopard of disordered appetites. Second, the lion of
bestial behavior where we trample the good of intellect underfoot. Third, the lean and hungry wolf representing the
worst form of evil -- when the highest capacities of humans are put to the worst of uses. Cold, calculating intelligence in
service of cruelty and the diminution of life.  Slavery.  Holocaust.  Racism.  Genocide.  And, in smaller but no less deathly
scope, terrorist attack.

         Yesterday, on September the 11th, 2001, we glimpsed this face of evil.  Cold, calculating, cruel.  Corporate evil.
Systematic evil.  Evil inhabited by twisted ideologies.

         A saint in our time has said that if you give a person a gun, that person may killed dozens.  But if you give a person an
ideology, that person will willingly kill millions.  Yes,  and go to sleep in the unshakable belief that he or she has kept the faith,
stood up for the good and glorified God in the action.

         The sins of the leopard come from disordered appetites -- as when drinking to excess causes tragedy.  The sins of the
lion arise when we trample the good of intellect underfoot.  Perhaps when we face acts of mindless vandalism.  The sins of the
wolf arise when we utilize intellect and loving devotion --  the highest human capacities -- in service of death, darkness and
cold.  Anti-life, anti-light, anti-warmth.

 Are the seeds of such evil in us?  Yes, and we are most often blind to it.

     We descend to this circle of hell as we become dogmatic about our country, our religion, our way of life.
     We become infected by this evil as we reduce complex matters to slogans and then exult in "being right."
     We become infected by this evil when we close our eyes to systematic injustice at home or in our foreign policy.
     We become infected by this evil when we cry out for revenge and coldly say: whatever it takes!

         In a famous Zen story, a samurai warrior comes up to a little monk and says: Teach me about heaven and hell.  "Teach
you?" the little monk replies, "why you are a dirty, smelly, poor excuse for a samurai.  Even your sword is rusty!"  Insulted, the
samurai, flush with anger, draws his sword and is about to cleave this insolent monk in two. A split second before he strikes,
the monk says:  "That's Hell."  The samurai has a moment of insight.  He realizes that this monk has gone to the very door of
death to teach him.  He fills with gratitude, his body relaxes and he sheaths his sword.  At that precise moment, the monk says:
"That's Heaven."

         There is a lesson here.  Day by day, moment by moment, I can create hell or heaven. And I have a choice, if I am awake
and alert -- In what I say and do this day, will I choose to create hell or choose to create heaven?

         And the larger lesson is this -- one truth we humans should have learned by now.  The simple truth is this: hate is never
overcome by hate.  Strange as it seems to so-called realists of any age: hate is only overcome by love.  Only overcome by love.

         Why do some of our brothers and sisters so hate us that they will give their lives to obliterate two symbols of our power?
How can they fail to heed the cries of our people? we say.  How can we fail to heed the cries of their people? they say.  We
have mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.  They have mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.  And this is how we act?
Immense, immeasurable sadness.

                "We have one moon, clear and unclouded," says the poet Ikkyu,
                "And we are lost in the darkness of the world."

         Having entered the gates of hell what will we do?  Create more hell?  Or be a presence for peace and the hard work of
self-reflection, repentance, wisdom and compassion?  Dante passes through hell and will soon enter the spiral path back to the
earthly paradise.  Here are the final lines of Dante's passage through hell.  "He first," Dante says of his guide, Virgil, "and I
following; till my straining sense glimpsed the heavens through a round hole,
         by this glimpse of the heavens we climbed,"
             by this glimpse of a better way, we here in this place climb.

        We are companioned too.  And together we will, as the last line of the Inferno puts it, "come forth, to look once more
upon the stars."

        Yes, we are companioned too.  And together we will, "come forth, to look once more upon the stars."

         May our journey lead us -- as Dante's did -- from dark wood to White Rose,
              from our potential for violence and ignorance and cruelty
                       to our potential for living a larger life and following a higher way.

         In all this, may we, who companion one another, be moved by love,
              by the great love that overcomes hate,
                   by, in Dante's words,
                        "the love that moves the sun and other stars."

              And let us say: Amen.

                                                                                                                                                 John G. Sullivan
                                                                                                                                                 Elon University
                                                                                                                                                 September 12, 2001


Speech #3:

A response given on occasion of being named Elon's first Distinguished University Professor
October 24, 2002

         Elon is an institution that I love. I am in it and it is in me.  In words adapted from William Butler Yeats, I have "loved the pilgrim soul in her and loved the sorrows of her changing face." [1]

         The older I get, the more I listen to love songs.  The older I get, the more the strands of my life intertwine.

         This evening is, for me, a love song in which many strands intertwine. A love song for my wife, Gregg, who has also co-taught with me the Quest class for ten years.  A love song to my family -- those here, those at a distance like my daughter Heather and my sister Elaine, and those like my parents and grandparents who have gone before.  A love song to the philosophy department -- those here and those who have gone before.  A love song for Elon -- for all of you -- for those here and not here, those who have gone before and those who will come after.

         I have discovered that you become what you love. I think of Elon under four aspects -- "the work, the place, the people, and the dream."   Elon -- so understood -- has become part of me.  Its unfolding, part of my unfolding.  Its yearning, mine.  At times such as this, I glimpse my life and its life spreading out in four dimensions over space and time. I see Elon over time -- a particular place, yes.  But people more -- students and staff and faculty.  When I think in four dimensions, then Elon is all of us and all beyond us -- all who have shared this work. We who have struggled and loved here will always be a part of what we love. And what we love will always be a part of who we are.  For me, a Fall day in 1970 and the sounds of Jack White's marching band.  Spring symposia for the Liberal Arts Forum.  Faces in time.  Students and colleagues and those who support the work.  Struggles like the one that unified the tenured Elon teaching faculty.  Births and deaths.  Common tragedies and common joys.  The ongoing work of reinventing ourselves and our calling.  Three presidents and three colleges.  Throughout, I have "loved the pilgrim soul in her and loved the sorrows of her changing face."

         At this juncture, we struggle to balance community and excellence.  Or perhaps more radically, to discover a new form of excellence -- an excellence that is itself a community achievement. We struggle to rethink profoundly what community is and can be, to rethink profoundly what excellence is and can be.  We seek to do this in the context of a faculty deeply devoted to its students.  A context where the excellence co-arises from faculty and students through their common work.  For us to see this, I believe we must think of our connectedness in four dimensions -- over time as well as in space.

         On the occasion of Dr. Fred Young's retirement, I read these words from one of China’s greatest poet, Li Po:

    The birds have vanished into the sky
    and now the last clouds fade away.

    We sit together, the mountain and I
    Until only the mountain remains.

         And I said that, in this image, what remains for us is Elon.  Yet Elon also is us  -- because all that has been done from the heart  -- in the spirit of service -- remains always -- like the threads in a quilt, like the veins in the rockface of a mountain, like the sound of events echoing still.

         Tonight, I want to read another poem from the Chinese -- this one a love song of a man for his wife.  It is also a love song for myself and all of you.  It is by Kuan Tao-Sheng.  It is called “Married Love.”

   You and I
   have so much love
   that it
   burns like a fire,
   in which we bake a lump of clay
   molded into a figure of you
   and a figure of me.
   Then we take both of them,
   and break them into pieces,
   and mix the pieces with water,
   and mold again a figure of you,
   and a figure of me.

   I am in your clay.
   You are in my clay.
   In life, we share a single quilt.
   In death, we will share one bed.

              In such a viewpoint, reconsider the work -- the place -- the people -- and the dream.  They do not stand apart from us, over against us.  We do not wait for them to give to us or us to them -- as if we were two things.  Rather we are a dance within "relationships of relationship" with a new sense of community and new possibilities of excellence.  Not "power over" but "partnership with." [2]   We are changed by our interactions.  We are in one another's clay.

         When thinking about this honor, I wondered what it meant to me and I to it.  I thought of myself in Thomas Aquinas' phrase as "one who holds the care of the community."  I remembered that in the mythic way of thinking such a one has three functions: (1) to remember what is important, (2) to encourage creativity and (3) to bless the young.  If I do that -- supporting and supported by you -- then that will be my service.
        Other words return to me, words from my own Celtic tradition, again words from the poet William Butler Yeats.  The poem is called Vacillation.  And we do vacillate between hope and despair in times dark with the threat of all that opposes community and the excellence of collaboration. Here are the words of the poet:

  My fiftieth year had come and gone,
  I sat, a solitary man,
  In a crowded London shop,
  An open book and empty cup
  On the marble table-top.

  While on the shop and street I gazed
  My body of a sudden blazed;
   And twenty minutes more or less
  It seemed, so great a happiness,
  That I was blessèd and could bless. [3]

         Tonight, in this work and place and dream I love, with people I love, I am grateful and profoundly blessed.  In this place with all of you, I believe that I can bless.

         So let it be this way:  May Elon be blessed at this time in history where the planet's fate for humans is to be decided, where we are being asked to change our lives.  May Elon-the-work be blessed -- the work of learning so as to serve all life.  May Elon-the-place be blessed and remind us of our rootedness through place in the web of nature.  May the Elon-the-people be blessed -- all of us -- at our central core.  And finally may Elon-the-dream be blessed -- the dream that links us to the Great Work, the Great Love and the Great Calling.

         I thank you all from a place deeper than words.

                                                                                                                           John G. Sullivan
                                                                                                                           Elon University
                                                                                                                           October 24, 2002

1.  See William Butler Yeats, The Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1940, 1956), from
            "When You are Old," pp. 40-41.
 2.   The phrase is from Rianne Eisler.  See her The Chalice and the Blade (San Francisco:  Harper and  Row, 1987).
 3.  William Butler Yeats, op. cit., from "Vacillation," pp.245-247.


Speech #4:  The Idea of a University Revisited  -- Click on link for presentation in pdf form.  The 31st Reynolds Memorial Lecture given February 21, 2006.

Below is a summary of that presentation -- distributed as part of the program for the event:

Notes on the Presentation –The Idea of a University Revisited © -John G. Sullivan


In this presentation, I work on a large canvas sketching the history of humankind in three epochs::  a Pre-modern Epoch lasting from the beginning of humankind through the classical and medieval ages; a Modern Epoch beginning in 1500 C.E. and lasting to the present; and a Trans-modern Epoch, beginning in seed some 50 years ago and beckoning us still.


On this canvas, I present Three Notions of a University:

            In Part I, I consider John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman’s classic treatise The Idea of a University. These lectures were first published in England in 1859 – well into the modern period.  Yet I shall argue that they essentially look back at the medieval idea of a university – an institution born in pre-modern times.

            In Part II, I use as my text for examining the modern university the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, Jaroslav Pelikan’s 1992 book titled The Idea of the University: A Reexamination.

            In Part III, I present a series of imaginative probes of what a university might be like that took seriously the ecological crisis of our time.  For me, the roots of that crisis lie in the worldview of modernity.  The modern worldview  -- call it Project Individualism -- has brought us great gifts. Yet we are now discovering a more destructive side.  I argue that the modern worldview has five interlocking features – call them a  “logic of separateness and the short term” – that are undermining the very conditions for planetary life.  The five destructive features are these:


    1.  We start from separateness and see ourselves as separate selves rather than starting from what deeply joins us and seeing all as interconnected and

     2.  We start from perceived scarcity rather than beginning from intersufficiency and seeing, in Gandhi’s words, that we have enough for our need but not for
            our greed.
     3. We start with the seen only and go on to believe that only what is material and measurable counts. We fail to prize both the seen and more subtle
such as love and loyalty, compassion and caring, justice and Golden Rule fairness.
    4.  We start with the short term – month by month, the next quarter, the next semester. We fail to prize both short and longer spans of time.
   5.  We tend to see leadership in the individualistic model as superiority over rather than collaboration with


This is the logic of modernity in its destructive guise: separateness, scarcity, seen only, short term and superiority over. Good people operating under this failed logic are causing massive harm.  The signs are clear – the old paradigm is unsustainable. It is equally clear that we can’t get to a sustainable future by thinking from within the cultural paradigm that generated the problems in the first place.

I propose that we need a framework large enough for science, art and spirituality, large enough to integrate the best of the pre-modern and the modern while minimizing their destructive sides. I suggest that we, as a university community, launch an ongoing discussion around these five points:


            From Separateness  ----  to ----- Interconnection
            From Scarcity -------  --- to ------ Intersufficiency
            From Seen Only --------- to ----- Interweaving of Seen & Subtle Aspects
            From Short Term Only --- to --- Intergenerational Time
            From Superiority Over --- to --- Intercollaboration With

In Part III, I use this framework to examine what a Trans-modern university, might be like.  I draw especially on the work of David Orr, The Earth in Mind (1994) and Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (1988) and The Great Work (1999).


Possible Questions for us -- as a University -- to explore:


  A.  How might we awaken to our deep and dynamic interconnection with one another and with the natural world?  How might this aid us to create true learning communities?  How, in these communal inquiries, might we learn from nature how to live in sustainable ways?  How might we use the entire university and all it touches as a teaching vehicle?
B.  How might we move from scarcity to intersufficiency and realize  that our sufficiency lies in all of us learning from one another and contributing to the common good?
 C.  How might we learn to interweave the seen and subtle? How might we encourage thinking and acting that promotes respect and fairness, honesty and large-mindedness, kindness and care?  How might we cultivate ethical and spiritual dimensions?
D.  How would dwelling in intergenerational time help us to honor the ancestors, seek justice among contemporaries, and serve the children in our midst and yet to be?
E.  What forms of intercollaboration might emerge from a new sense of where we stand and what we commit to serve?


For the full text, click on The Idea of a University Revisited.

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