ancient painting pertaining to psychology

Psychology & Traditional Asian Thought - 3 Units

Fridays, 9am-11:50am 

Kevin Volkan, PhD
Rm 206 professional Building

Office Hours:
Friday directly after class - 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm,
Other times by arrangement

Course Website:

None, familiarity with basic psychological concepts is helpful



Catalog Description

This course examines the differences and similarities between the Western practice of psychology and traditional Asian systems of philosophy and religion. Concepts of health, well-being & enlightenment, and pathology will be considered from both Western and Asian viewpoints. Particular attention will be given to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and depth psychologies.  Readings will be drawn from classical Asian literature as well as contemporary psychology. Mediation and other practices will be explored in context of Western psychology.

Course Format:

This course is lecture-discussion course - i.e. I will typically talk about (lecture on) a particular subject. However, I like to conduct the course as much as possible as a seminar. Therefore, even though I am doing a lot of the talking I encourage us (the teacher and students) to have a ‘conversation’ about material. Therefore, it is encouraged and expected for students to participate by asking questions, making observations, sharing knowledge, opinions, etc.  In order to facilitate I will at times ask a few students to summarize and give their thoughts on a particular subject.  My preference is to keep the class format as flexible as possible. As such, I reserve the right to change the topics during the course.

Guests and Demonstrations:

From time to time, I will invite in guest speakers to talk or demonstrate some aspect of traditional Asian thought. Some of these guests like to have students experience some of the things they are talking about. In the past most students have really enjoyed the experiential part of the course. However, some students might feel uncomfortable participating in the experiential exercises because of religious beliefs, physical limitations, etc. Therefore, the experiential exercises are entirely voluntary. Non-participation in these exercises will no way affect your grade in this course.

Readings and Reaction Papers:

I have tried to keep the reading in this course to a minimum. However, this means that I have a lot of material to cover in the lectures. Therefore, it is very important for students to attend class and to do the reading. There is a lot to cover in this subject - far more than we will be able to get to in a semester. Rather than rush through the material, we will pace ourselves so that we can enjoy what we are studying. In this spirit, I will ask you to write very short reaction papers to the readings, guest speakers, films etc. throughout the semester. These papers should be in the form of a journal and no longer than 2 pages each. Expect to write one of these papers each week. These papers will count towards your grade.

Office Hours:

I invite you to come to my office hours and talk about the course material. In addition to the Asian philosophies and religions, we will be talking about a lot of fairly sophisticated psychology. I don’t expect you to know what everything is, BUT I do expect you to ask when you don’t know something!

What this class is not:

This course is not:

  1. A substitute for psychotherapy. If you are having a serious psychological problem you should seek professional help.
  2. Serious or official instruction in any meditation technique. While we may get an idea of what some techniques are like, real instruction should be sought out from a qualified teacher.
  3. Serious or official instruction in any type of psychotherapy. While we may get an idea of what some psychotherapy techniques are like, interested students should consider graduate school in psychology. I will be happy to advise anyone interested in this.
  4. Meant to ‘convert’ anyone to from any particular religion to any other particular religion. However, to participate in this course you should have an open mind about the ideas presented.

Content Warning:

This course presents a number of images that are overtly sexual and/or violent in nature. These images can be disturbing to some people, especially when taken out of context. If you find such material objectionable due to religious or other reasons, then you might want to reconsider taking this course.

Student Outcomes as Stated in Objective Format:

  1. Students will gain the ability to summarize the similarities and differences among different traditional Asian philosophical and religious systems and Western psychology.
  2. Students will learn to appreciate the perspective of traditional Asian philosophical systems in solving psychological problems.
  3. Students will learn the beginning skills associated with various types of traditional Asian arts.

Required Readings

The course readings will be available online only! This means you need to be able to use the computer (either at home or on campus) to access the course material - this is a requirement - I will not make any paper copies of the readings. If you need help learning to access Blackboard or to use the computer in general please contact the library.

The readings are available here.

Please Note: All Readings are in .pdf format. To view Adobe Acrobat PDF documents, please download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Again I will NOT provide paper copies of the readings. If you do not have access to a computer the readings can be accessed in the CSUCI library. 

Here is the course schedule.

Method for Student Evaluation/Assessment of Learning:

There are two components of the course grade*:

  1. Completion of Exams.
  2. Completion of reaction papers.

There will be two exams in the course. Your grade will consist of your exam scores and your score for your Reaction Papers. We expect you to work on your take-home exam ALONE! If you are not able to complete the necessary components of the course then please do not take it!

All exams MUST be completed online through blackboard. Please follow the following procedure for the exams:

  1. Download a copy of the exam from blackboard.
  2. Print out a paper copy of the exam.
  3. Complete the paper copy of the exam.
  4. Transfer answers from the paper copy of the exam to the online version of the exam in blackboard
  5. Turn in the completed paper copy of your exam.

Students will be assessed as follows: Midterm Exam  - 40 points possible
Final Exam - 40 points possible
Both Exams - 80 points
Reaction papers - 20 points
Total = 100 points

Attendance is required. Exam material will be based on both the readings and in-class lectures, with more emphasis on the in-class lectures.  We will at times take roll during the class. Students on the cusp of a higher grade may have their grade raised for a good attendance record. Attendance for the Hindu Temple field trip is NOT required but strongly suggested. Those who cannot attend will be given an alternate assignment.

*Students may elect to do a dream journal or vision quest assignment for up to 5 points of EXTRA CREDIT. You can get extra credit for ONE of these two assignments. These assignments will be discussed in class. 

  • 93 -100 points A
  • 88-92 points A-
  • 84-88 points B+
  • 76-83 points B
  • 70-75 points B-
  • 65-69 points C+
  • 60-64 points C
  • 55-59 points C-
  • 50-54 points D+
  • 45-49 points D
  • 40-44 points D-
  • < 40 points = F

Students may take this course for CR/NC or for a letter grade.  A Credit (CR) in this course requires a minimum of 60 Points.

Classroom Etiquette: Please keep cell phones, pagers and alarm watches on silent mode.  While we encourage questions and comments about the course material, the lecture period is not the place for social conversations.

Statement on Academic Dishonesty:

Here is the official text on this:

“All work that students submit as their own work must, in fact, be their own work.  For example, if a paper presents ideas of others, it must clearly indicate the source.  Word-for-word language taken from other sources - books, papers, web sites, people, etc. - must be placed in quotation marks and the source identified. Likewise, work on tests and exams must be the student’s own work, not copied or taken from other students’ work, and students must comply with instructions regarding use of books, notes, and other materials. In accordance with the CSU Channel Islands policy on academic dishonesty, students in this course who submit the work of others as their own (plagiarize), cheat on tests and examinations, help other students cheat or plagiarize, or commit other acts of academic dishonesty will receive appropriate academic penalties, up to and including failing the course.

Papers with plagiarized ideas or language will be graded “F” and must be rewritten with proper use of quotations and referencing.  The grade of “F” will remain the recorded grade on that assignment. Plagiarism or cheating on tests and exams will result in an “F” on the test or exam, very likely resulting in a lower or possibly a failing final grade in the course. 

To complete course requirements, students must retake the test or exam during the instructor’s scheduled office hours. In cases where the cheating or plagiarism was premeditated or planned, students may receive an “F” for the course.  Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor on when and how to document sources if they have questions about what might constitute an act of plagiarism or cheating. “

What all this means is that if you are caught cheating or plagiarizing I will give you an F and report it to the Dean who may apply other penalties. I will check your paper/presentation/etc to see if it is plagiarized. Please don’t cheat! It is not worth it!