How to read a Spiritual or Mythological text?

When you read a Spiritual or Mythological text, your goal is to understand the contributions the authors are making. This is not an easy task. It may require going over the text several times. Expect to spend several hours to read the text. Though the below guidelines refers to “Reading” but its can be more relevant word is “consume”.

Here are some initial guidelines for how to read the text:

Read critically

Reading a Spiritual or Mythological text must be a critical process. You should not assume that the authors are always correct. Instead, be suspicious.

Critical reading involves asking appropriate questions. If the authors attempt to solve a problem, are they solving the right problem? Are there simple solutions the authors do not seem to have considered? What are the limitations of the solution (including limitations the authors might not have noticed or clearly admitted)?

Are the assumptions the authors make reasonable? Is the logic of the text clear and justifiable, given the assumptions, or is there a flaw in the reasoning?

If the authors present data, did they gather the right data to substantiate their argument, and did they appear to gather it in the correct manner? Did they interpret the data in a reasonable manner? Would other data be more compelling?

Read creatively

Reading the text critically is easy, in that it is always easier to tear something down than to build it up. Reading creatively involves harder, more positive thinking.

What are the good ideas in this text? Do these ideas have other applications or extensions that the authors might not have thought of? Can they be generalized further? Are there possible improvements that might make important practical differences? If you were going to start doing research from this text, what would be the next thing you would do?

Make notes as you read the text

Many people cover the margins of their copies of papers with notes. Use whatever style you prefer. If you have questions or criticisms, write them down so you do not forget them. Underline key points the authors make. Mark the data that is most important or that appears questionable. Such efforts help the first time you read the text and pay big dividends when you have to re-read the text after several months.

After the first read-through, try to summarize the text in one or two sentences.

Almost all good Spiritual or Mythological texts try to provide an answer a specific question. (Sometimes the question is a natural one that people specifically set out to answer; sometimes a good idea just ends up answering a worthwhile question.) If you can succinctly describe the text, you have probably recognized the question the authors started with and the answer they provide. Once you have focused on the main idea, you can go back and try to outline the text to gain insight into more specific details. Indeed, if summarizing the text in one or two sentences is easy, go back and try to deepen your outline by summarizing the three or four most important subpoints of the main idea.

If possible, compare the text to other works.

Summarizing the text is one way to try to determine the contribution of the text. But to really gauge the merit, you must compare the text to other works in the area. Are the ideas really novel, or have they appeared before? (Of course we do not expect you to be experts and know the areas ahead of time in this class!)

It is worth mentioning that contributions can take on many forms. Some papers offer new ideas; others implement ideas, and show how they work; others bring previous ideas together and unite them under a novel framework. Knowing other work in the area can help you to determine which sort of contribution the text is actually making.

One Pager

Your one page review should include the following:

  1. A one or two sentence summary of the text.
  2. A deeper, more extensive outline of the main points of the text, including for example assumptions made, arguments presented, data analyzed, and conclusions drawn.
  3. Any limitations or extensions you see for the ideas in the text.
  4. Your opinion of the text; primarily, the quality of the ideas and its potential impact.

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I thank my Sir Sri K . B. Gopalakrishnan, who had always inspired or shared or influenced me to have a perspective identity or above such thinking tools.

I wish mythology or spirituality also is started first with such education on how to synthesize information. I believe that “Knowledge management is one of an Art”.

– An ode to K.B. Gopalakrishnan {www.sathyaprema.com}

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