Analyzing the site of the Self Awareness Institute (www.selfawareness.com) as an example of a spiritual online offering using critical internet analysis and exploring the site’s content using discourse analysis.
For the purposes of this paper, I would like to explore the methods that we have been introduced to, in order to evaluate the site of The Self Awareness Institute (SAI) as an impartial observer. I will in fact follow the guidelines of phenomenology and bracketing as I embark into this exploration, so I will leave any personal feelings aside and I will solely explore the site found online at www.selfawareness.com (Appendix 1) with an inquisitive impartial approach.
I typed on Google the words “self awareness” and a few pages were shown. I followed each of these link on that first page (Appendix 2). Because self awareness is a common term, there was a Wikipedia definition as the first search result. Also on that first page there are paid advertisements for sites promoting self awareness. The page that we will be exploring on this paper was number 12 in the search results, yet Douglas Cowen is of the opinion that most people would explore the first few pages of a Google search. In that case the result was shown in the first page of the Google search I did. I am in fact regularly using the Google search engine as a way to find out information about a particular subject so it is a very normal procedure for me as is for most people to search for a term using a search engine. The reason that the website indeed showed up in the first page of the search is more of a technical nature and outside of the scope of this paper to explore. It is interesting to note.
Cowen provides us with questions that can be answered regarding the content of the website and I will use the format of question and answer as I explore the website. I am in this paper mostly interested in exploring the methodology, not necessarily the content of the website per se, so I will focus my analysis in that way. Cowen suggests that I would answer four basic questions: what, how, who and why. In a methodical way I will answer each of the questions in turn.
1. Describe what one finds online
a. What does a website contain? The website contains information regarding the SAI, an institute dedicated to the propagation in the West of Indian meditation techniques of kundhalini based on teachings of the Vedas. “ The institute was founded in 1985 by Steven Sadlier at the suggestion of his guru Yogiraj Vethathiri Maharishi, and has since grown to thousands in over 120 countries. Steven Sadlier is a recognized Kundalini Master and Siddha Yogi, having completed Yoga Tapas under Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj.”
b. Is it interactive in any way? No the site is static. There are videos attached to the site though.
c. Is it rudimentary or complex? Well-designed or not? The site is professionally designed and is fast and complex.
2. Consider the sources of who provides the content
a. Who is responsible for the content and to whom is it addressed? The site identifies this info “Website Designed by Steven Sadleir © 2014 at Homestead™
b. Is the author of the content identified? Yes it is identified as Steven Sadleir.
c. Is the material original to the site or has it been reposted from another source? The material on this site is orgiginal
d. Who is actually assessing, using and perhaps contributing to the content? Customers and members and potential customers or members of SAI.
3. The level of analysis offering an answer to the how of the usage
a. How is the material being used? This is an information website.
b. How do content providers intend the material to be used and how do consumers actually use it? The customers use the material in the way it was intended to be used since only information can be obtained from this site. There is a location for comments but it is not possible to see previous comments posted.
c. Do they repost material elsewhere? No
d. How do providers control and manage usage? There is only the information that the creators of this site choose to post.
e. Do they permit open commenting or are they solely responsible for the material moderated? No, they are solely responsible for the material posted.
f. How does online usage affect the content over time and how is this reflected in offline beliefs and practices? I have been familiar with this site for years and it is regularly updated.
4. Exploring what comes out of this behavior
a. What explains this behavior? This is an information site
b. What can we learn from it? We can learn about SAI, Steven Sadleir, their products, membership and book offerings on this website.
c. How do we explain these patterns of internet usage? This is meant to promote SAI, membership and book and product offerings.
d. What does this tells us about the nature of religion online, offline and the relationship between them? There is a real online community behind this site that meditates together online multiple times per week.
As I was answering each question about the website as described in the methodology I realized that one thing that I was worried about, which is whether I would be able to be an impartial observer to this site, was indeed accomplished. The questions that needed to be answered left no space for personal opinions of any kind. For example, I observed that the website claims that SAI serves tens and even hundreds of thousands of customers. There is absolutely no way to substantiate this claim from the SAI website, except maybe the fact that it does come up on the first page of a Google search of a term common enough to have a Wikipedia link associated with it. In terms of substantiating the information that SAI provides, it seems that there is simply no way to do it through the information provided on the site itself. There seems to be some references to a movie on global enlightment being produced that could have Russell Brand as an actor, where the producing team would be meeting the pope and the Dalai Lama, yet no photos or other tangible evidence to substantiate such claims has been provided. There is however a link to two movies that have been produced already, and endorsements for the movie from Mark Victor Hansen co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul that by virtue of his success has in fact some credibility. There also are many links to books from Steven Sadleir, some of which notably are bestsellers like the book “Looking for God”, a bestseller book where Sadleir provides an exploration and personal account of world religions. Again in terms of the analysis it is interesting to note that using a critical approach seems to involve a dispassionate observer approach that is consistent with the religious studies research techniques yet depending on my personal bias I do offer evidence to substantiate the credibility of SAI, under the veil of evidence collected. I do happen to have personal experience for the veracity of these claims yet this is not provided by the internet, rather it was out of the internet experiences that gave me the certitude personally that this is not a good hoax. It is interesting to observe of course that it would not be an economically smart approach on the part of SAI to invest in lying about all this.
On a second wave of analysis, it is also interesting to explore using discourse analysis a portion of the SAI site. For this method I will use the methodology of discourse analysis as described by Titus Hjelm (Hjelm 2014) I will apply discourse analysis to the excerpt from the site stated in Appendix 3.
For the discourse analysis portion I used all of the techniques described by Hjelm in an effort to evaluate which one seemed most useful or from which one I was able to draw the most powerful conclusions. The steps I used in the discourse analysis were:
1. All passages analyzed must be explicitly considered in full context. (see Appendix 3) The passage that I will use to explore the method of discourse analysis is:
“The Self Awareness Institute ("SAI") provides courses in Self Realization & Siddha Yoga. We were founded in 1985 and have grown to thousands of students in over 120 countries and offer an ongoing Self Realization Course (teleconferened), home study courses, seminars, retreats and numerous books, CD's and other media.
Steven S. Sadleir is Director of th Self Awareness Institute which was founded in 1985 at the suggestion of his guru Yogiraj Vethathiri Maharishi, and has since grown to thousands in over 120 countries. He is a recognized Kundalini Master and Siddha Yogi, having completed Yoga Tapas under Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj.
Swamiji is also a best-selling author, host of Enlightenment Radio, and appears in two recent movies on spirituality. He received a Master's in Economics from the University of Wales, in the United Kingdom, worked in economics and finance for many years, but retired early to teach and write full time. Swamiji now conducts distance learning programs, meditation teacher training and conducts seminars and retreats world wide.”
Using narrative paraphrasing the above passage can be described as an account of what SAI is about and of who Steen Sadleir is. I will focus on the meaning of the text as opposed to the linguistics except to note that there seems to be adequate usage of the English language.
The results from each technique were:
· The Self Awareness Institute ("SAI") provides courses in Self Realization & Siddha Yoga. (M1)
· We were founded in 1985 (M2)
· and have grown to thousands of students in over 120 countries (M2)
· and offer an ongoing Self Realization Course (teleconferened), home study courses, seminars, retreats and numerous books, CD's and other media.(M3)
· Steven S. Sadleir is Director of the Self Awareness Institute (M1)
· which was founded in 1985 (M2)
· at the suggestion of his guru Yogiraj Vethathiri Maharishi, (M4)
· and has since grown to thousands in over 120 countries. (M2)
· He is a recognized Kundalini Master and Siddha Yogi, (M1)
· having completed Yoga Tapas under Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj. (M2)
· Swamiji is also a best-selling author,(M3)
· host of Enlightenment Radio, (M3)
· and appears in two recent movies on spirituality. (M3)
· He received a Master's in Economics from the University of Wales, in the United Kingdom, worked in economics and finance for many years, (M1)
· but retired early to teach and write full time. (M1)
· Swamiji now conducts distance learning programs, meditation teacher training and conducts seminars and retreats world wide (M3)
M1: who is described?
M2: what is described?
M3: how are they interacting with their customers?
M4: why are they doing this?
In this excerpt I addressed the four basic questions as macrothemes of who, what, how and why. A lot more information is given on the site to answer these specific questions but a complete scholarly discourse analysis that analyzes the full, complete texts or all portions of a text is outside the scope of this project. In this project I use a less formal discourse analysis that analyzes portions of a text to explore pre-determined thematic concerns, specifically addressing the 4 basic questions that are thematically important of who, what, how and why.
2. Discursive psychology: This material is very concise and is substantiated by references and claims to teachers and facts or products that are sprinkled in the rest of the site. It is a short passage but there seems to be almost no variability in discourse. The only exception is the word “swamiji” used to describe Steven Sadleir that denotes a religious title that is attributed to him.
3. Critical Discourse Analysis: Using the constructive approach of discourse analysis I noted that the reality of describing SAI and Steven Sadleir is built by making claims that can be verified and cross-referenced. Using the critical approach of discourse analysis I note that there is no place for comments of criticism to Sadleir’s claim to be a guru referred to as swamiji. So in that sense he does use a hegemonic turn of phrase that establishes him as a leader in his field and as a teacher of kundalini meditation.
After performing this detailed analysis on the website of the Self Awareness Institute I feel more prepared to approach other sites with a similar methodology. As a plethora of new sites emerges every day and as data is more readily available online, in an era where books and journals are become obsolete, it is necessary for me to be able to perform in a readily applicable way a critical evaluation of a website both as a portal as well as on the context of the website.
Cowan, Douglas (2014) “The Internet” The Routeledge Handbook of Methods in the Study of Religion, Routeledge New York, NY
Hjem, Titus (2014) “Disource Analysis” The Routeledge Handbook of Methods in the Study of Religion, Routeledge New York, NY
Sadlier, Steven (1992) “Looking for God: A Spiritual’s Seekers Guide to Religious and Spiritual Books of the World” Self Awareness Institute Publishing, Laguna Beach, CA
Appendix 1: The landing page
Appendix 2: Google search results for the term “self awareness”
About 33,000,000 results (0.43 seconds)
1. Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. Researchers have demonstrated that the awarenessof ourselves begins to emerge at around one year of age and becomes much more developed by around 18 months of age.
Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. Researchers have demonstrated that the awareness of ourselves begins to emerge at around one year of age and becomes much more developed by around 18 months of age.
Self Awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Self Awareness ...
Wright State University
Consequently, many of us have a pretty low level of self-awareness. That's unfortunate, because self-awareness is an essential first step toward maximizing ...
With better self–awareness, we can improve our relationships, and reach our goals more effectively. Find out how you can use coaching to build self-awareness.
Mar 29, 2013 - Self-awareness is a really big deal for everyone, especially executives and business leaders. Failure to face reality can destroy your career and ...
psychology.about.com › ... › Psychology Glossary: S Index
Self-awareness is one of the first components of the self-concept to emerge. While self-awareness is something that is central to each and every one of us, it is ...
Self-awareness and self mastery is understanding your personality, behaviors, habits, emotional reactions, motivations, and thought processes.
Aug 21, 2014 - They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, and that's true in every aspect of life. Self-awareness and introspection have the ring of ...
Self Awareness Institute teaches spiritual enlightenment through Shaktipat Kundalini Yoga and self- awareness meditation as taught by Vethathiri Maharishi and ...
You visited this page on 11/4/14.
Gain Insight W/ Spiritual Exercises Through The Writings Of Guy Finley.
1. Gain Insight W/ Spiritual Exercises Through The Writings Of Guy Finley.
Searches related to self awareness
Appendix 3: Discourse analysis excerpt from the page “about us”