1/18 – A Russian Immigrant’s Experience at One of America’s Liberal Arts Programs and His Attempt at Making It More Integral

George Koupatadze

George Koupatadze


George Koupatadze

Background & the Context

My story is that of a typical immigrant.  My family and I decided to immigrate to the United States from Russia during the time of great turmoil in our home country – after the Soviet Union collapsed and together with it – our familiar way of life.  As the country was looking for new ways of existence and governance, its people were desperately trying to adapt to the new socio-economic realities that had become extremely harsh. Most were simply trying to survive and get by on the limited resources they had available to them at the time.  And just like so many immigrant families before and after us, we decided to leave our home country and go look for a better fate in another country.

It was a matter of coincidence that that country happened to be the United States.  At the time, I participated in a cultural exchange program between Russian and American high schools, and went on a trip to Washington, D.C, together with my school teachers and classmates.  My family decided then that it was best for me to stay in the US longer, explore the country, and possibly remain there permanently.  My family had joined me soon thereafter, and our new life in a new country had begun.

It was not easy at first, to say the least.  We faced all the hardships that most immigrant families first face when they come to a new country – from not knowing the local culture and not speaking the language to working low-paying menial jobs trying to earn enough to pay next month’s rent in a not so great of a neighborhood.  Eventually, things became more familiar and life – somewhat easier.  America became our new home, and my family and I were well on our way to becoming naturalized American citizens.

But the story of our immigration is not the one I wish to tell here.  The story I do want to tell is of my experience with a Liberal Arts Master’s program at the University of Chicago that I had recently completed.  Surprisingly, I did eventually go from knowing just a few words of English when I arrived to completing a Master’s program at one of America’s top research universities.  I do want to tell of my childhood interests that morphed into adult passions that in turn eventually led me to the program.  And I do want to tell of my special project that I completed for the program which was creating a Master’s-level Integral Education curriculum based on Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory.

Why do I think that my story is a good one for this edition of Integral Leadership Review with its main emphasis on RussiaBecause for one, it proves just how connected and integrated the world has really become.  Here’s a story of a Russian immigrant who came from what was once an adversary superpower, almost completely separated from the rest of the world economically, politically, and, most importantly, – ideologically, embraced a different culture, learned a different language, and embarked on an intellectual journey that included discovering and falling in love with a philosophical theory that has integration at its core, getting a Master’s degree from a prestigious American university, and using that integrative theory as a subject of his thesis.

Second, I believe the topic of integral education is a very important one, especially as it relates to leadership.  One can argue that integral education is precisely the type of education that the present and future leaders need in order to tackle the world’s most complex problems, no matter whether we talk about Russian, American or any other country’s leadership.  This is also why I specifically chose integral education as a topic of my research for my Master’s special project and why I want to share my experiences doing it with Integral Leadership Review today.  And so I proceed.


It seems as if it was just yesterday when I decided to enroll and was accepted into the Master of Liberal Arts program at the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.  Now, a little over two years later, I have  graduated with a Master’s degree.  Time went by incredibly fast.  It really does fly!  The exciting, interesting, wonderful, sometimes filled with worry and anxiety, but nonetheless – satisfying and fulfilling time in the program has come to pass.  What had I hoped to achieve by enrolling, completing the program and getting an MLA degree?  As I wrote in my Statement of Purpose at the time of applying to the MLA program, I wanted to get a broader education in Humanities and Social Sciences (something that my Bachelor-level education was considerably lacking in), to get plenty of theoretical knowledge for deciphering this complex but exciting world we live in, to get a Master’s degree as a symbol and proof of personal achievement and as a milestone in my educational route (which is but a small part of my larger life path), to immerse myself in great intellectual environment, and, last but not least, to share some of my own knowledge of various and diverse subjects with the University and with my fellow intellectuals.

Have I achieved any or all of these goals?  Most definitely yes!  I have achieved all of them and more.  I did receive a broad education not only in Humanities and Social Sciences (that my previous education lacked in) but also in Natural Sciences as well (the theoretical aspects of them).  The education in the MLA program turned out to be not only broad but also surprisingly deep when it came to certain subjects and topics.  I did get a lot of theoretical knowledge that I now find very helpful in better comprehending the world and myself.  I have gotten good grades in all of my courses; I have completed the degree and I am planning on using it as a stepping stone for my further graduate studies.  I have immersed myself in great intellectual environment that included world-class professors with numerous professional achievements to their names as well as students from completely different walks of life, all of whom shared my curiosity for the world at large and my passion for intellectual interests and pursuits.  Finally, I have shared my knowledge of various subjects with my professors and fellow classmates through my papers, presentations and class discussions.

It was with the same purpose of sharing what I consider very important knowledge with the University and my fellow intellectuals that I was completing my MLA special project.  I felt very excited to share with them my knowledge of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory – the most comprehensive and all-inclusive meta-theory and philosophical worldview up to date.  For this project, I have created a course of study and a Master’s-level educational curriculum based on Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, which can be utilized as a stand-alone Integral Theory curriculum, implemented as a Bachelor’s- or Master’s-level curriculum at an educational setting or simply used as a self-study guide for anyone interested in a wide range of topics – from meditation to philosophy and psychology, from environmental science and cultural studies to integral studies and Integral Theory itself.

However, despite having achieved all of the above-mentioned goals that I have set for myself, and having enjoyed my time in the MLA program immensely, I felt like the program was not without certain limitations and shortcomings that I intend to address here.  All of this – my interests, my envisioned and achieved goals, my experiences in the MLA program, my special project (and how my interest in it and research for it were influenced by the program) as well as a slight critique of the MLA program are the topics discussed at length in this article.

Childhood and Interests

From the early age, I had a sense of wonder for the world around me.  I was always amazed at the beauty and awesomeness of the surrounding nature – at the grandeur of the ancient Caucasus Mountains and at the sunny and tender shores of the Black Sea where we often traveled to with my family, at the slow dancing and magical whispering in the wind of the birch trees in the forests around Moscow, at the splendor of Volga River that flows and pulsates through Russia like the main artery giving it life and sustenance and providing its citizens a sense of national pride and identity, at the crystal-clear waters of Lake Baikal, the deepest and cleanest fresh water lake in the world, hidden somewhere deep in Russia’s immense wilderness, at the frigidity and tranquility of the almost never-ending Siberian winter.

As a kid growing up, I had a wild and rich imagination.  I recall getting lost inside the wondrous worlds I had created inside of my head for hours if not days.  When riding with my family on a train somewhere south, lying on a top-level bunk in a train coupe and looking out of the window, I would imagine the White Guard horsemen attacking the train trying to take it over.  I of course was among the defenders of the train shooting at them from my great vantage point.  When walking through those forests around Moscow, I was Chingachgook, set out on a trail of war, ready to engage the rival tribe and the white men who came to take my land and destroy my people.  Sometimes I would be a cowboy riding my horse through the Nevada Plains (actually riding my bicycle through a village town near Moscow) looking for my next great adventure.  I collected toy soldiers and would envision and create the whole states comprised of the kings, the novelty, the peasants, and the armies who were at war with each other.  I would build castles from pieces of furniture and pillows and have long-enduring sieges and bloody battles between the armies that would last for hours.  One army would eventually win, capture the slaves and sell them at slave markets for matches, which served as money in the world that I had created.  I would use those same pieces of furniture, pillows and blankets to create hideouts for when it was time for me to become an adventure seeker: a soldier, a knight, a cowboy or a pirate – one of those characters that I read about in books.

Books! Those wonderful little things that contain whole worlds inside of them!  Ever since my dad read to me from Tom Sawyer, I knew I had encountered something special, something that would accompany me throughout my life.  I had made friends of books, their authors and their characters from early age, and that friendship would last a lifetime.  I would devour the adventure and science-fiction novels by Mayne Reid and Jules Verne, Jack London and Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexander Dumas, Herbert Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fennimore Cooper and Henry Rider Haggard, and by many, many other authors.  I would then play out the plots of those books in my mind adding some even more elaborate plot lines of my own, completely immersing myself in this wonderful imaginary world of rough cowboys and savage Indians, brave soldiers and intrepid explorers, cruel pirates and beautiful damsels, witty detectives and criminal masterminds, noble knights and selfish kings.  I would also learn how to draw with the desire of bringing those special and loved characters to life, which I did – d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook, The Invisible Man, Osceola the Seminole, Captain Blood, Ivanhoe, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn all got a second life in my drawings.  My interest in the Humanities developed from that first friendship – friendship with those authors and their books as well as from that feeling of awe I experienced towards Nature.  Throughout the years I acquired many more friends who added to my understanding of life and to my ability to think, to feel and to dream – Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Shakespeare and Thomas Moore, Philip K. Dick and Dan Simmons, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie and Aldous Huxley, Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Albert Camus, Erich Maria Remarque and Hermann Hesse.  Reading those books helped me view the world at large, the people that inhabit it, the problems and issues they face.  It helped me think and consider different perspectives when analyzing those often-difficult issues.

My amazement at and appreciation of Nature has developed into a deep interest and concern for ecology and the environment as well as into my belief of interconnectedness of all things and beings.  The social upheaval that I witnessed as a young boy in my home country has added to my interest in the Social Sciences.  It has clearly demonstrated to me that there are many ideas and perspectives about what is right and just in a society and that those perspectives do not always come to an agreement but actually bring forth conflicts and cause misery to people.  From that time on, I have developed a keen interest in social issues, a strong sense of social justice and a great desire for peaceful resolution of conflicts.  My life-long history of deep immersion into my inner world has developed into my interest in psychology – the study of the psyche (and not just study of the psyche as physiology of the brain and contents of the mind but study of the psyche in the original meaning of the world – study of the soul, study that encompasses the totality of human psychological experience).  I have developed a deep interest in humanistic and phenomenological psychology – the study of a subjective, distinctly human lived experience as well as in transpersonal psychology – the study of mental events that go beyond, transcend an individual self-sense and occasionally include profound spiritual and religious insights and altered states of consciousness.  My fascination with the great mystery of life has developed into my interest in philosophy – the love of wisdom.  When contemplating this amazing, incredible, wonderful, grandiose, infinitely mysterious, yet often times cruel, unjust, terribly short and always finite life, I find solace in the fact that there is a great age-long tradition of incredibly wise thinkers who had contemplated this very same life and pondered these very same questions long before me and who had possibly gotten to the bottom of this greatest mystery and found some answers to it.

Having developed these interests, it is not surprising then that I decided to enroll in the Liberal Arts program at the University of Chicago Graham School.  I had hoped to immerse myself in an intellectual environment where I could learn and master the very subjects I had always been interested in and could learn them from world-renowned professors.  I had also hoped to use my newly gained knowledge and skills to research a topic of interest and share it with a community of fellow intellectuals.  As I stated earlier, my hopes had been completely fulfilled.  The time spent in the program had been truly incredible, and the knowledge and skills gained there – really useful in narrowing down and defining a topic of personal interest, conducting a thorough research and producing a quality final product that I was proud to share with the University, my fellow intellectuals and anyone else who may have been interested.

Time in the Master of Liberal Arts Program

I remember sitting in my very first class of The Problem of Evil course, listening to Professor Meredith introduce us to one of the most profound and important topics in all of philosophy and possibly in all of life, and thinking to myself just how incredibly lucky I was to find myself among a group of people interested in and seriously discussing the very same issues that interested and concerned me.  I knew right there and then that I had made the right choice and that I would find the rest of the program really, really interesting and helpful.  That particular course opened my eyes to the philosophical problem of evil, which can shortly be summarized as this, if God or higher power is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—all-powerful, all-knowing, and all- or everywhere-present, how can he or she allow for evil to occur?  There is no easy answer to this mind-boggling question but there had been numerous attempts in the past to provide it in one way or another, and this course has given me the historical background of most such attempts.  This course has also taught me how to formulate, ask and contemplate such profound and meaningful questions.  But most importantly, it has taught me how to think logically, systematically, and how to view a larger picture.

Professor Bevington’s course The Renaissance as an Age of Discovery provided a historical overview of one of the most important time periods in the history of the world – the period of great scientific achievements, intellectual and artistic flourishing; the period of rediscovery of European civilization’s own roots and of its true rebirth.  The course has also taught me how to conduct research in topics not necessarily related to the contents of a course – the subject of my course paper was Hamlet as a Hero’s Journey, and it involved researching and analyzing Joseph Campbell’s famous Monomyth theory of a Hero’s Journey and applying it to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The course was a class act as professor Bevington, a true Renaissance Man, showcased his charm and chivalry by organizing a party at his house at the end of the course and by greeting students with food and drinks, which added an unforgettable feeling of delight and gratitude to the overall program experience.

Professor Kelly’s Meaning and Motive in Social Thought course appealed directly to my strong interest in social issues and has provided a great overview of various well-established sociological, psychological and anthropological theories.  It helped me orient and connect in my mind the individual, the culture he or she creates and the society he or she finds him- or-herself in.  It has taught me to read, comprehend and analyze professional literature in social sciences, sometimes written in a language not well-suited for easy comprehension, and to respond to it cogently and coherently in my own writing.

Professor Doniger’s course on the Ancient Hindu texts appealed to my curiosity about different cultures and to my love for the Eastern wisdom traditions and philosophy.  It also has allowed me to delve into the subject matter not directly related to the contents of a course – I researched Soma, the wonderful, uplifting and utterly mysterious brew of the ancient Indians, praised so poetically in the Rig Veda, in context of a larger psychedelic culture.  The research I conducted for that course was quite extensive and spanned multiple books, articles and disciplines of human knowledge resulting in a long research paper, which left me assured that I was quite capable of graduate-level interdisciplinary research.

The next two courses – Models of the Universe and Darwinian Medicine dealt with the “hard” sciences albeit from a theoretical perspective.  I had never really enjoyed and appreciated the hard sciences before as I honestly found them dry and rather boring – I felt like they were all about exact measurements and statistics, numbers and proportions, and were missing something vital, like an interesting and exciting story.  Those two courses have changed my opinion altogether and have made me appreciate the “hard” sciences so much more.  The stories behind the creative drive of evolution and the cosmic dance of the stars were among the most interesting and exciting stories I have ever heard!  The courses have taught me to see a bigger picture behind the dull numbers.  They have also taught me to appreciate the exact empirical knowledge about the world that the hard sciences provide.  I’ve suddenly realized that the hard sciences complement my interest in philosophy and psychology perfectly.  While philosophy provides the big picture and puts things into perspective, and psychology documents accounts of inner subjective experiences of an observing individual, the hard sciences point out finer and smaller details of the objective, observed world, thus giving as a fuller, more complete picture of reality.

The last two courses – Professor Knight’s Chicago: History, Literature, and Culture and Professor Wray’s Homer and Aristotle on Happiness and Homecoming have taken me back to my safe and familiar haven where I was immersed in the ocean of overwhelming emotions, grand questions, and exciting stories that describe and define the field of Humanities.  I have contemplated what constitutes a good and happy life with Aristotle who left me impressed and convinced by his impeccable logic.  I have followed Odysseus’ numerous adventures, misfortunes and mischiefs on his decade-long voyage back home with blind Homer who opened my eyes to the Trickster Hero and to the Trickster in all of us.  I have shared the enthusiasm of the architects bringing to life the World Columbian Exposition in the 19th century Chicago and cringed in horror and disgust at the heinous crimes of H.H. Holmes with Erik Larson whose non-fictional historical prose engaged and moved me in a way that only a great novel could.


Meaning of a Liberal Arts Education

As I was nearing the end of my own odyssey in the MLA program, I began to contemplate all of this – my interests and goals, my experience in the program, my newly gained knowledge and skills, liberal education and the meaning of it; and not just the meaning of liberal education in my life, which was truly enriched by it, but the meaning of Liberal Arts education in general, in the grand scheme of things.  What is its purpose?  Why would a person need an education like this?  How does it enrich one’s life? According to definition, Liberal Arts are college or university studies (such as philosophy, literature, history, abstract science) that provide general knowledge about the world and develop general intellectual capacities (such as reason, judgment and aesthetic appreciation) that are not necessarily pertinent or applicable to professional or vocational skills of the “real world”.  So the next question that naturally arises is, what benefit would a person gain if the knowledge and capacities gained through such education were not directly applicable to practical endeavors?

The obvious answer that comes to mind is that such education provides a person with a general theoretical knowledge about the world and with some improved capacities for comprehending it better, possibly influencing one’s standing in the “real world” indirectly.  I agree with this position wholeheartedly but I also believe that such education has an intrinsic value of its own – the one that goes beyond immediate gratification or practical advantage.  Liberal education expands one’s horizons and helps to view a more holistic picture of the world that oftentimes appears fragmented.  It allows one to draw multiple connections in the seemingly disconnected map of reality.  It provides a historical background of many events taking place today and can help foresee many issues of tomorrow.  It touches and enriches a person on many levels – from feeling to mind to soul when that person finds him- or-herself immersed in a deep philosophical thought, great piece of literature or beautiful art work, when probing a difficult scientific problem or when contemplating the future world.  In that moment, it allows the person to transcend the inexorable flow of time, although for just that one moment, by connecting him to the past in all its roaring glory, to the present in all its elusive immediacy, and to the future in all its impending indeterminacy.  In essence, Liberal Arts education helps the person partaking in it to liberate and transform him- or-herself, to connect and be a part of something greater than him- or-herself, something more important that the mundane routine of his or her everyday existence, than the immediate gratification of a work bonus or a practical application of a specific new skill set.  And this liberation and transformation, in my opinion, is the true purpose of liberal education and its generalist approach.

Critique of the Master of Liberal Arts Program

However, while giving my highest praise to the liberal education in the MLA program that has illuminated many important issues for me, has enriched my life tremendously, and in a sense – has liberated me, I couldn’t help but notice some shortcomings and limitations of it that I plan to address with the best intention.  The main limitation, I believe, is that it was not general enough – there was not enough of that very quality that describes and defines Liberal Arts education.  While all of the courses that I took went immensely deep into certain subjects and topics, there hasn’t been enough of a general overview of the very same disciplines that those courses were part of and there hasn’t been enough explanation of how those courses related to one another and to life in general.  The overall program structure was lacking in cohesion.  It missed the overall big picture that Liberal Arts education claims to provide.  I believe it could be improved greatly if the big picture and the cohesion of the overall program as well as interrelatedness of various disciplines were addressed.

One way of doing it would be adding more survey courses or including more survey-type, overview material in the existing ones.  An argument could be made that the general nature of knowledge is addressed at a Bachelor’s level of education and that a Master’s level is precisely what is sounds like – a mastery or deep knowledge of a specific subject.  However, this would be an oxymoron in regards to Liberal Arts as they are meant specifically for generalization across disciplines and not mastery in any specific one.  Also, many people coming into the program do so for the exact same reason that I did – their Bachelor’s-level education was a practical one, valued specialization, lacked the general knowledge and the big picture view, and they missed out on and have been longing for that general type of knowledge and that big-picture view.  I believe that a reasonable compromise between depth and breadth is what is required of liberal arts education in general and the MLA program in particular.

Another limitation I see in the Liberal Arts education is its adherence to the old educational paradigm that is still prevalent in the modern educational system, which equates learning to the acquisition of knowledge (usually in the form of knowledge transfer from educator to student), development of cognitive skills, and individual achievement.  The new educational paradigm views education as part of a larger life journey and places emphasis on personal and collective (social) transformation where both the educator and students may be seen as just people at different stages of their life journeys that come together to help each other in their personal growth and transformation.  In this paradigm, learning may be seen as development of various modes of comprehension such as aesthetic, artistic, musical and of various types of intelligence such as emotional, moral, and spiritual.  Achievement may be viewed not as individual but as collective, not in terms of competition between students but rather as cooperation between them with the purpose of mutual understanding and benefit, creating of new cultural meanings and artifacts, and development and improvement of society and the world at large.

Selection of a Topic for the Final Project

My positive, useful and enriching experiences in the MLA program, my somewhat critical observations of it, my interest in the general knowledge that helps one view the large picture, as well as my desire to constantly learn, grow and improve is what influenced my selection of a topic for the MLA special project.  I had come across Ken Wilber and his Integral Theory some time ago but it was only during my time in the MLA program, while absorbing the knowledge, appreciating its positive aspects and contemplating its drawbacks, that I started to pay close attention to it and decided to use it for my final project.  I decided to create a Master’s-level educational curriculum that would be similar to a liberal arts education but would be broader, more inclusive and would have Integral Theory as its core – that unifying, coherent, big picture view that I felt was missing from the MLA program.  I had hoped to achieve a few goals with my project.  First, the curriculum would be really useful for me personally as a course of self-study for I did not plan on stopping to educate myself once I got my MLA degree.  Also, this is the type of education I would love to have received from a higher learning institution but have been unable to due to Wilber’s and Integral Theory’s almost complete absence from Academia.  Second, I wished to introduce a major research university that claims inter-disciplinarity as one of its core principles to the most interdisciplinary theory and methodology there is with the hope that the University of Chicago would adopt and incorporate some of Integral Theory’s tenets in its educational curriculum and practices. Third, by creating this curriculum and presenting it to the University I wanted to address those limitations of the MLA program that I pointed at.  In essence, my Integral Education curriculum would be a better and improved version of the Liberal Arts program.  Last but not least, it had been my hope for this curriculum or any other similar program that is broad, comprehensive and transformative, and that is based on Integral Theory to be widely implemented in the future, not just in the University of Chicago but also on campuses across the country (and the world).  It was my direst desire to make a small but, hopefully, important contribution to this.

Overview of Integral Theory

Beginning in the 1970’s and continuing thereafter, in his many books, publications and lectures, Ken Wilber, contemporary American thinker (scientist, philosopher and transpersonal psychologist) envisioned, presented, and later refined his Integral Theory, which attempts to provide a holistic, comprehensive, all-encompassing and all-inclusive meta-theory and philosophical worldview.  Integral Theory is comprised of five core elements: quadrants, levels, lines, states and types.  It is sometimes called the AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels) Theory because it is based on four sections or “quadrants” that symbolize the totality of reality presented in a coherent fashion (and represented by a square divided into four parts) – the Interior Individual or Subjective (Upper Left), the Exterior Individual or Objective (Upper Right), the Interior Collective or Intersubjective (Lower Left), and the Exterior Collective or Interobjective (Lower Right).  The Interior Individual or Subjective (Upper Left) Quadrant represents the inner, subjective experiences, the self and consciousness, states of mind, will, thoughts, feelings and emotions of an individual, in essence – the mind, inner psychological and phenomenological world of an individual, the “I”-space.  The Exterior Individual or Objective (Upper Right) Quadrant represents the exterior of an individual, that which can be scientifically measured and empirically proven, in essence – the body, the brain (as opposed to mind), the outer physiological world of an individual, the “It”- space.  The Interior Collective or Intersubjective (Lower Left) represents the shared meanings and values of humanity, worldviews, communication, relationships, norms, boundaries and customs, in essence – the culture, the shared space of inter-personal communication, the “We”-space.  The Exterior Collective or Interobjective (Lower Right) represents the social systems and environment, modes of production, societal structures and institutions, political orders and natural resource management, in essence – the society and its external workings, the “Its”-space.

Every event or occasion that takes place in the world can be viewed through the perspective of each of these quadrants; each event or occasion always manifests simultaneously in all four quadrants, and each event or occasion has correlates in the other three quadrants.  For example, a simple act of cognition can be seen as taking place in all four quadrants at the same time: a thought that crosses an individual’s mind does so inside that individual’s mind and is available only to his or her immediate felt experience (Upper Left); that thought is accompanied by very real physiological processes inside the individual’s brain such as activation of neurons, various chemical reactions, etc. (Upper Right); the thinking of that individual is molded to a large degree by his or her cultural background (Lower Left); and finally, that individual’s organism exists within communicative webs of objective social systems (Lower Right).   “Levels” refer to the levels of development or evolution that manifests in all four quadrants.  There is evolution of individual consciousness, evolution of the individual organism, cultural evolution, and evolution of social systems and technologies. Each new stage of evolution or level of development transcends but includes the previous one: from matter to life to mind to soul to Spirit or from to physics to biology to psychology to theology to mysticism (where the latter list can be viewed as a list of disciplines that study the various aspects of life and, simultaneously, – stages of evolution that the former list refers to).  “Lines” refer to various developmental lines that individuals, culture and society develop through – in the Upper Left Quadrant, it is multiple intelligences such as cognition, psychosexual, emotional, moral, spiritual, self or ego development; in the Upper Right, it is biological growth, neurophysiological development and evolution of behavior, in the Lower Right, it is cultural worldviews, shared values, mutual understanding and group identity; in the Lower Right, it is techno-economic modes of production, geopolitical structures, evolution of social and ecosystems;  “States” refer to various states of consciousness available to human beings and that are usually studied by different branches of psychology – the waking, dreaming, deep dreamless, altered, and various mystical and religious states of consciousness.  “Types” refer to different ways of differentiation and classification of various phenomena such as masculine and feminine types, Carl Jung’s psychological types, the Enneagram, the Myers-Briggs typology and others.  In essence, Integral Theory or the AQAL-model represents the development of mind, body, and spirit in self, culture and nature, and it is the purpose of using and applying the Integral Theory to life as postulated by Ken Wilber – to cultivate the mind, body, and spirit in self, culture and nature.

This is Integral Theory in a nutshell.  Apparently, it is also an accurate and concise view of the big picture of reality, and as such it could and should be referenced if one’s goal is to see the big picture, view the interrelatedness of various disciplines of human knowledge and the underlying interconnectedness of different aspects of life.  This model, among other things, is a neat and accurate way of organizing, systematizing and indexing all of the knowledge available to humanity, including different and often conflicting schools of thought, modes of human inquiry, religious beliefs and scientific paradigms.  According to Wilber, they are actually complementary as opposed to being conflicting.  They all provide some truth, although partial, and an Integral approach brings these various truths together in one comprehensive model.  Integral Theory draws heavily on the world’s wisdom traditions.  It utilizes some important theories from developmental psychology such as Don Beck’s and Christopher Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics, Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory and many others.  It incorporates and includes various perspectives, methodologies and modes of inquiry.  However, despite Integral model being labeled a theory, it is not simply a theory but also a practical manual on how to develop individuals and culture as well as improve society – the very characteristics of the new educational paradigm that, as I stated earlier, is changing the way we view and participate in the educational process.   Ken Wilber himself has always stressed the importance of practical applications of Integral Theory be it in medicine, psychotherapy, business, environment, education or self-development.  It is the practical applications that make transformation of both an individual and society a very real possibility.

Following the brief introduction to and explanation of Integral Theory, one can easily envision, how Integral model can be applied to systematizing different areas of human knowledge and endeavors, how the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of various aspects of reality can be presented in a coherent way, and how various disciplines of human knowledge and modes of inquiry all fit into this Integral AQAL (All Level All Quadrant) model.  For example, psychology (the schools of psychology that explore the inner psychological world of an individual such as humanistic, phenomenological, existential and depth psychologies) belongs to the Interior Individual (Upper Left) Quadrant.  The study of spirituality, both as a subject and as practice (such as prayer and meditation), also belongs in this Quadrant.  So does the philosophical discipline of phenomenology as it deals with the lived, immediately felt experiences of an individual.  Psychology that explores the objective “science” of the brain such neuro-physiology, neuro-psychology and behaviorism belongs to the Exterior Individual (Upper Right) Quadrant.  So do most of the “hard” sciences – those that deal with hard-proven empirical facts of the brain and organism, with the mode of knowledge available to direct observation.  Physics, biology, neurology would find their place here, in the Upper Right Quadrant.  Hermeneutics – the art of interpretation would belong to the Interior Collective or Intersubjective (Lower Left) Quadrant as it deals with interpretation of shared meanings.  So would cultural studies as it deals with culture – the collective creation and passing of information.  Systems theory, economics, Marxism, deep ecology, environmental studies would be the disciplines of the Exterior Collective or Interobjective (Lower Right) Quadrant.  Integral theory honors all these disciplines and views them in a holistic and interdisciplinary way – as they relate to each other and to the big picture of reality, and represent just different but complementary approaches to human inquiry and knowledge acquisition.

Making Liberal Arts Education More Integral

So when working on my final project, I had all of this in mind.  I wanted to address the limitations of the Liberal Arts education by offering a broad curriculum based on a big picture theory, that would not only introduce the students to the various disciplines and approaches to human inquiry but would unify them into one comprehensive and cohesive model.  I strived to create a higher learning curriculum that would aim towards the goal specified by Wilber – cultivation of the mind, body, and spirit in self, culture and nature.  Its purpose would be to create well-rounded, integrally-informed people who would be involved in some kind of Integral Life Practice (they would strive for self-improvement and -development); would apply scientific knowledge and reasoning in their pursuits and endeavors; would be well-versed in cultural studies; and would strive for the improvement and betterment of society.

I envisioned that this curriculum would not only be educational but transformative as well – exactly in line with the new educational paradigm that is slowly but surely making its mark on the world of learning and education.  The transformative nature of such education would apply to educators as well as to students for one of the main goals of introducing and incorporating integral studies and education is to transcend that old traditional educational paradigm which equates learning to the acquisition of knowledge (transfer of knowledge from educator to student), development of cognitive skills, and individual achievement.  A large emphasis of my educational program is placed on educator-student interaction if the form of discussions, sharing worldviews, thoughts, feelings and emotions  (by both parties involved) in hopes of increasing mutual understanding and aiding in mutual growth and development.  Both educator and student are viewed in my program in adherence to the new educational paradigm and through the lens of Integral Theory, i.e. they are just people that may be at different developmental stages of their life journeys, and are there to help each other grow individually and collectively.  Another emphasis of my program would be on individual transformative practices such as prayer and meditation that both teachers and students would be encouraged to participate in on a regular basis (if such practices do not interfere with one’s religious beliefs of course).

Yet another important part of the program would be the students’ large degree of self-involvement and freedom in selecting research topics and involvement in creative and artistic endeavors with the purpose of developing other modes of knowledge acquisition as well as for self-exploration, self-transcendence, and self-transformation along the spiritual, moral, emotional, artistic and aesthetic lines of development.   Development of cognitive skills would still be important because, according to Gardner (a Harvard psychologist who proposed the theory of multiple intelligences) and Wilber, the cognitive line of development usually plays the role of a locomotive for all other lines – before a person can embark on a spiritual journey, he or she must cognitively realize the importance of such a journey.  So there would be a lot of old-style learning as well – reading, understanding, reflecting, writing, remembering, and applying theory to practice.  When working out the specifies of my curriculum, I relied extensively on the disciplines and practices already established in academic settings – the courses cover a wide range of topics that would normally be present in a Liberal Arts or any other educational program.   I used my interests, my knowledge of various subjects and research skills gained in the MLA program to conduct a thorough interdisciplinary research of Integral Theory itself and of multiple various disciplines, which involved reading many of Wilber’s books, articles published in well-established peer-review journals, Wikipedia entries, other materials pertinent to the subject of liberal and integral education, looking at the existing Integral Theory curricula for comparison as well as participating in inquisitive discussions with integrally-informed people.   What I produced as a result of my detailed research was a document called Integral Education: A Master’s Curriculum that is comprised of fourteen courses.

The way I saw it, there were different ways of approaching this. One way of doing it would be creating a Master’s of Integral Theory, with a few courses (Integral Theory, Integral Psychology, Integral Business, Integral Spirituality, etc.).  I decided to create an Integral Education (as opposed to just Integral Theory) curriculum – kind of a broad educational program (similar to a Liberal Arts program) but based on Integral Theory and including courses on Integral Theory itself (and also having the transformative aspects to it). I decided to base my program on the quadrants since quadrants reflect different aspects of reality and certain disciplines or courses fit into the AQAL model perfectly.  So the first two of my courses are introductory, one – on the history of integral studies and education not necessarily pertaining to Ken Wilber and his model (Introduction to Integral Studies and Education), and the other – on Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory (Integral Theory and Practice).  The other twelve courses are split into four quadrants – three courses from each.  The courses include the subject matter usually studied in disciplines that roughly correspond to the four quadrants or four different aspects of reality but with the emphasis on their interconnectedness and in relation to Integral Theory.  In the Upper Left Quadrant, I have History and Practice of Contemplative Studies, History of Psychology (First-person approach), and History of Philosophy (First-person approach).  In the Lower Left Quadrant, I have History of Cultural Studies, History of Psychology (Second-person approach), and History of Philosophy (Second-person approach).  In the Upper Right Quadrant, I have History of Science. (Third-person approach), Psychology as a Natural Science (Third-person approach), and Natural Philosophy.   Finally, in the Lower Right Quadrant, I have Social Systems, Environmental Science, and Systems Theories.  Thus the subject matter of all of the courses in the program is quite extensive, broad, comprehensive and corresponds fairly well to the subject matter studied in the humanities (philosophy, history, art history, religious studies, theology), social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies), natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology) as well as environmental science and various systems studies (economics, political science).   Each course in the program has a ten-week syllabus with the bullet-point detailed entries outlining overviews of particular disciplines, subjects of study, important historical milestones, key historical figures, weekly topics of discussion and reflection, questions to consider and ponder, transformative practices to engage in, and, last but not least, the relation of the course to Integral Theory.

The order of taking courses can be organized in a few different ways.  One way would be to take courses in a succession presented above, starting with the two introductory courses in the first semester or quarter, then taking three courses each quarter starting with the courses from the Interior Individual (Upper Left) Quadrant, then moving to the courses from the Interior Collective (Lower Left), Exterior Individual (Upper Right), and the Exterior Collective (Lower Right) Quadrants respectively.  Another approach, which upon closer inspection seemed more intuitive, would be to take courses from different quadrants in the same quarter following the two introductory courses in the first.  Since the four quadrants have courses that often deal with the same disciplines but from different angles – interior and exterior, individual and collective, it would make sense to bundle up those courses into blocks that would consist of four courses – one from each quadrant, and take one block of courses each quarter.  This way a student could study a certain subject matter from different angles and using different approaches and methodologies, for example in a psychology block he or she could study psychology from a first-, second- , and –third-person view (or from interior individual, interior collective and interior individual points of view).  The same goes for philosophy – the student would study different philosophical methods pertinent to those various points of view or underlying various modes of inquiry and various methodologies.  He or she would also study courses specific to each quadrant such History of Contemplative Studies from the Upper Left (subjective) and History of Cultural Studies from the Lower Left (intersubjective) but would study them in one block, and together with two other courses from the other two quadrants.  This type of organizing the program would reflect its Integral nature – it would present certain subject matter in its interconnectedness with various aspects of reality – the subjective, intersubjective, objective and interobjective.


This is a brief and concise introduction to the educational curriculum I have created for my special project in the MLA program.  I feel like this project was a culmination of my long-time interests, my rigorous studies in the MLA program, my intense search for the answers to some important questions nagging me for a long time as well as of my very involved and thorough research.  It seems to me that some time ago those nagging questions I’ve had began to be answered.  At some point, I started to experience a succession of eureka moments that convinced me that I was on the right track.  Running across Ken Wilber some years ago was the first such eureka moment for me.  Here was a man who connected the dots for me, a thinker who did a tremendous job of absorbing, systematizing and indexing much of the knowledge available to humanity and putting it all into one comprehensive, coherent model.  Walking by the University of Chicago Gleacher Center every day on my way to work and suddenly realizing that I actually needed to walk in there and attempt to enroll into the MLA program was another major eureka moment.  There were multiple eureka moments throughout my time in the program, such as when I suddenly agreed with the insights of Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas on the problem of evil, when I realized that Hamlet was a tragic Hero on his difficult Journey of trials and tribulations, or when I saw the connection between the personal, cultural and social aspects of one’s being, when I realized that the ancient Hindus sang beautiful poetic praises to the distinctly psychedelic properties of mysterious Soma in the Rig Veda, when I saw the creative, almost conscious drive behind evolution, or when I envisioned the infinitude of space, when I learned of the effort put into bringing the World Columbian Exposition to life, or when I realized that Odysseus represented the Trickster archetype that is part of our collective unconscious.  The major and most important eureka moment occurred to me when, after deliberate considerations, I suddenly realized that I had to use my favorite thinker Ken Wilber, who influenced me in so many ways and his extraordinary Integral Theory as a topic of my research and special project.  It appeared to me at that moment that my own journey of trials and tribulations was finally coming to an end.  It was with the feelings of long-awaited relief, great accomplishment and deep satisfaction, well-deserved pride, enormous gratitude, and eternal indebtedness that I presented to the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, and now presenting to the rest of the world, my special project – Integral Education: A Master’s Curriculum.

About the Author

George Koupatadze, B.Sc., M.A., was born in the Republic of Georgia (former USSR), spent his childhood in Moscow, Russia, and immigrated to the United States over 20 years ago.  George received his Bachelor of Science degree in Telecommunications Management from DeVry University, and his Master of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Chicago where he enthusiastically shared his knowledge of Integral Theory with fellow intellectuals while absorbing the knowledge accumulated and shared by world’s best thinkers.  He currently works in the Information Technology field while providing personal fitness training and advice on a part-time basis.  He enjoys an active lifestyle, reading, attending conferences, as well as thinking and contemplating a better, more sustainable and more just world. His main interests include Integral Theory and Practice, consciousness studies, humanistic and transpersonal psychologies, social justice and sustainability.

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