Sunday, March 12, 2017

British parapsychology researcher Dr. Roney-Dougal's academic journal review of Prof. Haraldsson's book on Sathya Sai miracles

Yesterday I came across an academic review of Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson's book, "Modern Miracles: Sathya Sai Baba: The Story of a Modern Day Prophet", published in 2013. Here's the review in the "Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 538–543, 2014", https://www.scientificexploration.org/docs/28/jse_28_3_ReviewRoneyDougal.pdf by Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal. I found the review to be mostly good and acceptable to me though I have a few disagreements too with it.

BTW here's my layman (non-academic) review of Prof. Haraldsson's above book, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/09/review-of-modern-miracles-story-of.html, dated Sept-Oct 2013. I should also mention that I have interacted with Prof. Haraldsson while he was working on this 2013 version of his book, and am in email contact with him.

Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal seems to be the key person at "Psi Research Centre" in Somerset, Britain. The website, http://www.psi-researchcentre.co.uk/, states, "Serena Roney-Dougal is one of the few people in Britain to have obtained a PhD for a parapsychological thesis, exploring the relationship between subliminal perception and psychic awareness. She has had over 40 years of study and experience in scientific, magical and spiritual explorations of the psyche, has lectured and taught courses, seminars and workshops in America, Britain, Europe, Japan and India; has written numerous articles both technical and popular, and two books; Where Science and Magic Meet and The Faery Faith."

In her review of Haraldsson's above book on Sathya Sai, Roney-Dougal writes, "Haraldsson, in his summing-up, clearly considers that the vast majority of the reported materializations for which Sai Baba is most famed are probably genuine. However, he met the man and the interviewees, and therefore probably has greater trust in what they have to say than will the reader who has not met Sai Baba or the interviewees, and maybe has never been to India and so has no idea of the norms of belief within that culture. While I have a measure of sympathy with Haraldsson’s conclusions, I suspect that most Western academics would not."

I think that is a fair statement especially with respect to Western scientist-academics who have not had any significant individual subjective experience of divine paranormal phenomena.

In the context of the miracles of Sathya Sai related by interviewees to Haraldsson, she writes, "Haraldsson likens them to the miracles of Jesus Christ and more recent Christian saints." She goes on to give a short description of the various types of miracles done by Sathya Sai that's covered in the book.

Towards the conclusion of her review, Roney-Dougal showers praise on Haraldsson's book, 'All in all it is a remarkable account of a modern saint who purportedly had miraculous powers similar to those reported of Jesus Christ, and of the same order as those reported of some more recent Christian saints. It is therefore a real shame that Sai Baba would not assist in experimental procedures, as that might have given the world some phenomenal information concerning the further reaches of human experience and abilities. However, having done research myself in India, I am aware that many people there consider science to be a force that denigrates spirituality, and Sai Baba considered his miracles to be merely in the service of the spiritual message of “love all, serve all,” and he performed his miracles in order to show people that there is more to this world than our normal lives.'

I view the above paragraph of the review as quite positive about Sathya Sai and the book. However, I think the author could have been more sensitive to the holy stature of Sathya Sai who had every right to refuse to submit himself and his miracles to the rather humiliating controls that scientific experiments would need. Imagine Lord Jesus Christ being told to do his miracles under these humiliating controls that scientific experimenters would demand. It should also be noted that Sathya Sai gave Prof. Haraldsson and Dr. Karlis Osis free access to him (Sathya Sai) and allowed them to freely observe the miracles that he did. So Sathya Sai allowed genuine study of these miracles by observer-scientists, Haraldsson and Osis. What Sathya Sai did not do was to submit himself and his miracles to experimental controls of parapsychology and act as a willing subject of such scientific investigation under controlled conditions. I repeat that I think Sathya Sai had every right to do so, not only due to his great holy man stature - we devotees of his regard him as an Avatar (God descended to earth in human form) - but also at an individual Indian and global citizen level. Science does not have any right whatsoever to subject holy persons to such experiments under its controlled conditions. It is the complete prerogative of the holy person to accept/reject such requests of scientists.

The review stumbles on the coverage of the teachings of Sathya Sai. Roney-Dougal writes, "There is insufficient information about his teachings for me to say at what level he taught, but the interviewees seemed perfectly satisfied with his level of wisdom and particularly with his gift of singing sacred songs." She also writes, "While Haraldsson does briefly mention Sai Baba’s spiritual teachings and simple lifestyle, these are not the things that most people associate with him or that stand out as being the most important aspects of his life. His teachings, according to Haraldsson, were basically “love all, serve all,” which are good teachings, but relatively unremarkable."

This review clearly indicates limited exposure to Sathya Sai teachings. Sathya Sai taught on various aspects of Hindu dharma (moral/ethical life), karma as well as on vedanta. He taught about the life of Hindu Avatars like Rama and Krishna. He also spoke on other religions besides Hinduism. There is extensive Sathya Sai literature capturing the wide expanse of his teachings. It surely was not limited to "love all serve all", though Sathya Sai did convey that Love and service done in a spirit of worship/reverential offering to God, was the suitable path for spiritual progress for many in today's age and that it was the essence of his teachings.

Here are some links related to his teachings from the website of his official ashram foundation/trust (Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust):
1) A simple and easy to understand distilled essence of his teachings: http://www.srisathyasai.org.in/pages/his_teachings/practical_spirituality.htm
2) Free Ebook links to books of his on some important topics: http://www.sssbpt.info/english/vahinis.html
3) Free ebooks of huge number of discourses given by Sathya Sai from 1953 to 2010: http://www.sssbpt.info/english/sss.htm

Additionally, here are links to lists of my blog posts related to Sathya Sai teachings:

1) Advaita Teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/p/table-of-contents.html#AdvaitaTeachings

2) Other Teachings/Utterances of Sathya Sai Baba: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/p/table-of-contents.html#OtherTeachingsUtterances

Roney-Dougal's review also has a brief mention of "reports" about something that I view as Western media's unfair criticism of Sathya Sai. I disagree with those "reports" but neither do I want to get involved in arguments/discussions about them.

Roney-Dougal concludes her review by writing, "All in all, this book is a classic, a unique documentation of an Indian Miracle worker from the viewpoint of a Western academic. This is a quality book about Sai Baba, who, whether you consider his miracles to be real or not, was a truly remarkable man."

I like this conclusion and view it as a fair conclusion from a Western parapsychology academic point of view. I am grateful to Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal for this largely fair review of Prof. Haraldsson's 2013 book on Sathya Sai miracles.

Readers may please note that I will be mailing this post to Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal, copy to Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson. [Update: The email has been sent.]

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Got some info. about Roney-Dougal's academic background from http://archived.parapsych.org/members/s_roney_dougal.html (note that this is the archive of parapsych.org).

Key info. from it is that she got a psychology B.Sc. Hons. from University College, London around 1974.

She started her PhD in parapsychology in City university, London in 1977

After 3 years of research in parapsychology she left City university and was accepted by Prof. Terrence Lee of Surrey University for Parapsychology research in 1980.

In 1987 it states, she was "Awarded PhD for thesis comparing subliminal and psi perception using the Ganzfeld technique" (one presumes that it was given by Surrey University).

The link also provides her selected publications.

She is listed as a professional member in the current parapsych.org website (Parapsychological Association), http://parapsych.org/section/14/pa_member_index.aspx.

Here's her profile page from it: http://www.parapsych.org/users/serena/profile.aspx where she is described as "Full time freelance parapsychologist".

Here's what I got about Prof. Terrence Lee (mentioned above as her research guide in Surrey University): https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-28/april-2015/professor-terence-lee-ma-phd-cantab-fbpss-1923-2014. He quit Surrey University in 1987. Lee died in 2015.

I was able to locate Surrey University's psychology dept. link: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/psychology-phd. But it does not list parapsychology as an active field of research. Perhaps they have discontinued that (or it moved to some other dept. which I am not able to locate).

[I thank Journal of Scientific Exploration and Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal, and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above short extracts from Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal's review on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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