Diane Winston, Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California, is on the advisory committee for New Directions in the Study of Prayer. A veteran of yoga and meditation practices, she looked forward to her time at Osho as an idyllic retreat.
Diane Winston (Ph.D., Princeton University) holds the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Her expertise includes religion, politics and the news media, as well as religion and the entertainment media. Her current research interests are media coverage of non-Western religions, and the role of the news media in shaping American identity and ideology. Her recent books are "The Oxford Handbook on Religion and the American News Media" and "Small Screen, Big Picture: Television and Lived Religion." Between 1983 and 1995, Professor Winston covered religion for the Raleigh News and Observer, the Dallas Times Herald, the Baltimore Sun and the Dallas Morning News. Her work has more recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Religion Dispatches. Professor Winston posts on religion and media on her website, http://www.trans-missions.org. She is currently working on "Heartland Religion: The American News Media and the Reagan Revolution" for Oxford University Press.
Posts by Diane Winston
During a 2012 trip to India, a previous class had visited one of Delhi’s Hanuman temples. Eyes popping at the sight of yonis and lingams, red gods and blue gods, heaps of orange flowers and piles of sugary candies, we found ourselves in a packed and narrow chamber. Twisting around waves of petitioners, we reached the priests presiding over golden idols and fire braziers. After the robed officiants placed garlands around our necks, we moved away, standing and watching until head splitting, chest heaving, body shredding gongs paralyzed us. In a state of synesthetic overload, we had no choice but simply to be.
On the most recent trip, I wanted my students to experience something like that before we started reporting. The best option, I decided, was a long weekend at an ashram, where students could meditate, practice yoga, and listen to spiritual masters. The key was to take them outside of their comfort zones and into silence and stillness, trusting they would experience something visceral and perhaps even essential. I chose Ananda and Osho because they were both Westerner-friendly and close to Mumbai, where we would do our reporting. So, after flying twenty-plus hours from Los Angeles to Bombay and driving another six hours to Pune, I’d dropped half of the students at the rural Ananda retreat and alighted at Osho, an in-town urban oasis, with the rest.
Jerome Campbell, a senior majoring in journalism, was at Ananda. A member of a campus Christian group, Jerome was warned to be on guard against spiritual warfare during the retreat. His experience proved the warning both right and wrong.
Kaysie Ellingson, a graduate student in journalism, hoped to find spiritual renewal at Ananda; but when the students were forced to watch a promotional video, she lost heart in the group’s teaching.
Matt Hamilton, a graduate student in journalism, is a former Jesuit seminarian. His time at Ananda surfaced tensions between the lure of spirituality and the call of journalism.
Grace Lim, a graduate student in journalism, comes from a deeply religious family. The weekend at Osho reinforced her Christian identity, spurring her to re-think the importance of sharing her faith with others.
Heather McIlvaine, a graduate student in specialized journalism, came to USC mid-career with a background in business reporting. A veteran of religious retreats, Heather had learned that her spiritual growth came from companionship, not solitude. Her time at Ananda did not change her mind.
Rosalie Murphy, a senior majoring in journalism and history, went to Osho. A practicing Catholic, Rosie was unsettled by the experience of dynamic meditation, and the ensuing spiritual crisis peeled back a layer of her defenses.
Chhaya Nene, a graduate student in journalism, had family in Pune and Mumbai, but none had visited Osho, where she spent the weekend. Although Osho’s teachings have a basis in Hinduism, Chhaya did not think what she heard there squared with what she knew about her tradition.
Brianna Sacks, a graduate student in journalism, was a member of the Ananda contingent. A self-professed “disciple of the great American religion of ambition,” Brianna threw herself into the retreat’s program. Her story describes what happened next.
Melissah Yang, a graduate student in journalism, visited the Ananda ashram. Writing about breathing techniques she learned during her stay, Melissah describes how something as basic as taking in air turns out to be a way of understanding self, others, and the wonder of being alive.
Katherine Davis Young, a graduate student in journalism, was a yoga instructor before coming to journalism school. Her time at Osho helped her see how she had changed, and why she missed some of what she’d left behind.
Does digital communication encourage or inhibit spiritual progress? As I wrote in a recent essay for Big Questions Online, I think that answering this question in binary form—help versus hindrance—is inadequate.