Notes from the Field

January 2010 / Notes from the Field

Integral University in Paris
Michel Nguyen

michel TheSo far, the Integral University (“Université Intégrale” in French) in Paris refers to a cycle of conferences organized by the French chapter of the Club of Budapest, based on an idea put forward by Michel Saloff-Coste. It is not an institute as such, as it is still in its developing stages. The idea is to organize one-day seminars on various themes in cooperation with speakers, theoreticians as well as practitioners. The use of the word integral puts the emphasis not on the integral movement, but on a common desire of being integral. With this aim in view, the systemic and transdisciplinary approaches are also considered as part of the same quest for integrality. While it is important to know the contributions of the most prominent integral thinkers, the members of the Integral University are not followers of any guru.

Over the past two years there have been six seminars; they dealt with the following themes:

  1. what the integral approach is;
  2. how to integrate it into our lives and actions;
  3. education;
  4. the social, economic and ecological crisis;
  5. sustainable development;
  6. civilizations from the future and the future of civilizations. The two next seminars, in 2010, deal with:
  7. eco-life, eco-cities and eco-villages;
  8. Asian and Western Civilizations.

The seminars consist of presentations followed by questions, mini-workshops, yoga exercises and musical interludes. The complete programs of the seminars, as well as videos, can be found on the Integral University web site (

Hereafter is a sample of the content of the seminars:

The first day of the Integral University, on February 28th 2008, introduced the very concept of integral approach. Michel Saloff-Coste mentioned Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin as forerunners of the idea of planetary consciousness. The history of mankind was put into the context of the evolution of species by éric Allodi; Brian Van der Horst made a presentation on spiral dynamics and on Ken Wilber’s AQAL approach. Other speakers included éric Allodi, étienne Avronsart, Carine Dartiguepeyrou, Bruno Marion, Marion Peterson and éric de Rochefort.

On the second day, October 16th 2008, a number of individuals explained how they discovered the integral approach and how they have applied and developed it through meaningful actions and creations. Speakers included Club of Budapest founder Ervin Laszlo, as well as éric Allodi, Thierry Gaudin, Chris Peytier, Michel Saloff-Coste, Brian Van der Horst and Robin Wood.

On the third day, January 13th 2009, the following questions were discussed: an integral education should not only deal with physical education and mental health, but also with education of the heart and spirit through sport, science, art, philosophy and spirituality; the process of education not only educates the student, but also educates the teacher. A most applauded presentation was the one from Antonella Verdiani about “Education with Joy” in Auroville. Also presenting were étienne Avronsart, Diane Baran, Robert Branche, Justine Caulliez, Delphine Charvolin, Henri Conze, Carine Dartiguepeyrou, Marc Fleuriet, Bénédicte Fumey, Marine Goodmorning, Alain Gourhant, Caroline Guidetti, Sophie Laleman, Martine Laval, Solen Penchèvre, Chris Peytier, Cécile Priou, Michel Saloff-Coste and André Staropoli.

The fourth day, March 10th 2009, tried to define how to respond in an integral and sustainable way to the current economic, ecological and social crisis. A workshop involving all attendees was organized about seeing a crisis not only as a threat but also as an opportunity for change. Speaking were Jean-éric Aubert, étienne Avronsart, Carine Dartiguepeyrou, Thierry Gaudin, Sophie Laleman, Bruno Marion, Edgar Morin, Michel Saloff-Coste, Gérard Schoun, Brian Van der Horst, Patrick Viveret and Robin Wood.

The fifth day, 23rd June 2009, dealt with sustainable development. Gauthier Chapelle made a presentation on biomimicry. Philippe Desbrosses explained the importance of biological agriculture and the danger of genetically modified organisms. Carole Gervais made a presentation on The Natural Step, a firm conducting training to educate companies in ecological practices. Discussions were also led by étienne Avronsart, Amandine Barthélémy, Tapas Bhatt, Carine Dartiguepeyrou, Bénédicte Fumey, Yolaine La Bigne, Karim Lapp, Elisabeth Laville and Michel Saloff-Coste.

The sixth day, 24th October 2009, dealt with the interwoven themes of future and civilizations. Jacques Lesourne and Thierry Gaudin made presentations on futurology and civilizations. Jean Staune made a presentation on how science and technology shape our civilization. On this day we also heard from étienne Avronsart, Anne de Bétancourt, Carine Dartiguepeyrou, Jean-Baptiste de Foucault, Bénédicte Fumey, Sophie Laleman, Brian Van der Horst, Bruno Marion and Michel Saloff-Coste.

As one can see, these themes follow a logical, pedagogical thread providing a large overview. The seminars do not claim to deal with all aspects of each theme, but give a lot of food for thought and many reading suggestions. The interval of 3-4 months between each seminar allows attendees to absorb a large amount of rather rich content, and dig into the subjects which interest them the most.

Another aspect of the Integral University is the use of the Internet, especially through a blog and a forum. At first the blog was essentially used as a repository for introducing both speakers and participants, and sharing videos and reports on the seminars. Now, it is also widely used to exchange information on integral events and topics such as science, ecology, economy and spirituality. The forum Ning allows people to exchange on more confidential and specialized topics.

There is a constant effort to bring together people from different horizons. On the first day, many integral thinkers were mentioned and a list of them was made available. The very use of the world integral in France is new, though the expression integral education has been used before. It creates a cross-cultural bridge with the integral approach, as recently developed in the United States: Ken Wilber, Don Beck and Steve McIntosh are barely known in France. Classical philosophers from the French transdisciplinary world such as Edgar Morin and Patrick Viveret were also invited to speak. A few specialists on specific themes who might deem themselves outside the integral world also made presentations, notably on topics related to education and futurology.

The influence of the transdisciplinary methodology devised by Basarab Nicolescu was seen in the presentation of Antonella Verdiani on the second day; in fact the name of Lupasco was even mentioned by André Copin during a spontaneous discussion on the first day about the need of new logics as well as on the fourth day at lunch with Edgar Morin. Different visions on the integral approach were also presented. Brian Van der Horst explained that Ervin Lazslo did not agree with Ken Wilber’s model in so far as it was a closed model. Many times, discussions arose about the dangerous proximity of the words integral and integrism and extreme care is given never to fall into this trap.

The future of the Integral University remains open. Important questions are: rendering the integral approach more accessible to the general public and making it more well-known; developing workshops and seminars to incorporate the integral approach into our daily lives; fostering fundamental research to shed new light on theoretical aspects; forging links with other educational and research centers using the integral approach; doing international benchmarking of best practices of the systemic and integral approaches applied to sustainable development.

About the Author

Michel Nguyen is an alumni from the école Normale Supérieure de Lyon and holds a PhD in computer science from the école Polytechnique. He currently works in financial mathematics. He is a member of several associations having a transdisciplinary essence (Afscet, Groupe Béna, Nouvelle Acropole).

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