Marguerite Miller represented the Section of the Literary Arts and Humanities in the North American Collegium of the School for Spiritual Science from December 1999 to July 2019. This article dates from 2006.
Bruce Donehower, Ph.D. (UC Davis) accepted the task of representing the Section following Marguerite’s retirement in July 2019. Bruce previously worked continuously on the Section collegium with Marguerite since 2001.
The Literary Arts and Humanities Section in North America
An Historical Overview
The Development of the Section
The Sektion für Schöne Wissenschaften [Literary Arts and Humanities Section] existed during the decades after the Christmas Meeting 1923/24 primarily through the activity of the Section’s leaders at the Goetheanum, beginning with Albert Steffen. Over the years, noteworthy individual initiatives in the realm of the Section were undertaken and nurtured by personalities like Henry and Lisa Monges, Olin Wannamaker, Christy Barnes, Arvia Mackay Ege, Marjorie Spock, and Paul Allen; these individuals can be seen objectively as the forerunners of the Section, although it is not always evident that they conceived of their efforts as Section work. In addition, the pursuit over time of a Section in North America that would have a recognized, active membership still lives in memory through numerous anecdotal accounts of informal meetings in private homes among members of the School and the Goetheanum Section’s leaders Friedrich Hiebel and, later, Hagen Biesantz; and in reports of heartfelt, enthusiastic, and often destiny-filled conversations that ultimately led no further. The role of these endeavors must be recognized, however, as they worked to open a place for human heads and hearts to fill with the Section when its destiny moment arrived. It was not until the August 1997 First Class conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan that realizing this Section was taken up in earnest. On the last day of the conference, Jane Hipolito spoke from the conference stage about her urgent interest in establishing the Section and asked whether others shared her concern. Olaf Lampson, then General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada, responded to her question and suggested interested participants meet before the conference closed. During the remaining breaks, about a dozen members met to discuss their connections to the Schöne Wissenschaften, the Belles Lettres. A list of addresses was hastily assembled, and promises were made to encourage the emerging momentum. Marguerite Miller took this to hand in the early months of 1998, establishing the Section’s Newsletter, and gathering together a group which would eventually become the Section’s founding collegium. This original collegium consisted of Marguerite, Douglas Miller, Jane Hipolito, Gertrude Reif Hughes, Olaf Lampson, Robert McDermott, and Hebert O. Hagens. Marguerite Miller also undertook to establish contact with the Goetheanum and to keep the Executive Council informed about the progress of this developing Section initiative, primarily through regular correspondence and conversation with Virginia Sease.
These first efforts were brought into practical focus by several unusual but significant factors. One of these factors became the still-proposed Section’s first research question: When people spoke of the Section, they referred to it as the Schöne Wissenschaften or the Belles Lettres, or the Humanities—or all three in a hasty tumble of words and foreign sounds. What—we had to ask—is the name of this Section? In reality, the Section barely had a name in German; and, at its founding, even the suggestion of using the French name had been dismissed. In a rare moment when words failed him, Rudolf Steiner admitted that the name he was offering the Section at its founding during the Christmas Meeting in 1923/24—Schöne Wissenschaften [literally, beautiful disciplines or beautiful sciences]—was inadequate, not quite right. So, it was not just a matter of translating human languages. And, in spite of Rudolf Steiner’s assurance that he would come back to it and write about it, this never happened. A certain puzzlement arose among those who were carrying this initiative. How were we to understand these circumstances? How could Rudolf Steiner have launched the Section into the world without a name that he found satisfactory? And then—in all humility—it began to dawn on us that he had entrusted the Section most intimately connected to the creation of language with finding and knowing its own name. So, we turned our attention to Rudolf Steiner’s thoughts about the Section, examining every passage for its fullest meaning. He says that the Schöne Wissenschaften once forged the bridge between actual science and human creative works, but that the modern scientific outlook had shoved them into the background. He continues to say that the tasks of the Schöne Wissenschaften have been put aside and overlooked to the “detriment of humanity…;” and he introduces Albert Steffen as the Section’s leader, describing him as a “splendid representative” of the Section’s tasks. Given these clues, we considered what aspects of human endeavor had been ignored that might connect to what we knew of the Schöne Wissenschaften; and we examined Albert Steffen’s collected works. It didn’t take long to establish that the parameters of the Schöne Wissenschaften in Middle Europe at the turn of the last century drew close to those used for the humanities in the present-day academy—so humanities had a ring of truth to it. How could our name reflect the significant distinctions between what occurred today in the academy and what the Section could realize out of its esoteric foundations? What of the schön, the beautiful, the artisitic, carried by the German so – beautifully? Albert Steffen’s work clearly pointed these considerations towards a spiritually founded creativity with the word. Gertrude Reif Hughes was an active participant in these discussions and formulated this fuller imagination into what became the English-language name of the North American Section—and the name recognized at the Goetheanum—the Literary Arts and Humanities.
Another challenge was the absence of a full-time Section leader at the Goetheanum; at the time, leadership was carried there by a group of three individuals serving as a kind of interim Section council. Could a Section be founded, not as the initiative of the Section’s leader but from the periphery? The response from North America was that the proposed-Section’s development was underway here and gaining steady momentum; but it was the will of those carrying the initiative to work with the Goetheanum. We would proceed as a “proposed Section,” until a Section leader could be identified—with the urgent hope that our wait would not be a long one.
As these steps were being taken, efforts were also underway in North America to inform members of the School for Spiritual Science that the Section was developing. The Section’s Newsletter made it possible for interested members of the School to identify themselves and one another. A letter was circulated to Class holders asking them to let their members know about this initiative; and announcements were placed in the Society’s News for Members. This collaborative work was formally recognized by the Executive Council at the Goetheanum in 1999. The North American Section held its inaugural meeting in Denver during the Annual General Meeting of the Anthroposophical Society in America in October of that year. In attendance were Gertrude Reif Hughes, Olaf Lampson, Jane Hipolito, Gerald Palo, Pierre Yves-Barbier, Robert McDermott, Herb Walsh, Anthony Burton, Charlene Breedlove, Douglas Miller, and Marguerite Miller. Martina Maria Sam also attended and spoke on behalf of the Goetheanum, although it was not until later that year that she was asked by the Goetheanum leadership to take responsibility for the worldwide Section.
The Tasks of the Section and How They Are Carried Out
The Section is an association of members of the School for Spiritual Science who feel themselves called to the professional disciplines of the literary arts and humanities, and who seek to pursue research of these disciplines collaboratively in a spiritual scientific, anthropsophical context. Membership is thus begun through self-identification and is completed by notifying a member of the Section’s collegium—either in person through conversation or in writing—of an intent to become collegially active in the Section’s work.
The term humanities often appears in modern discourse as self-referent, as though we have come to understand what the humanites are by who we are individually and as a culture. If the issue of the disciplines included under this umbrella-term is pursued, a list takes shape that includes aspects of language and literature, ancient and modern history, ethical and moral reflection, artistic and cultural activity, and critical thought. The 1965 United States National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act which forms the basis for the National Endowment for the Humanities mission statement—and thus has a consequential influence on the public perception of the humanities—asserts that “The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”
The Literary Arts and Humanities Section draws on these public amplifications—but does not strictly adhere to them—to form its own characterization and understanding of its tasks. The Section finds its truer/ fuller purpose in the experience it gained in finding its name as well as in recognizing and emphasizing the significance of the spiritual scientific, the anthroposophical understanding of what it means to be a human being of body, soul, and spirit, creative in these disciplines. This is where art enters into the Section’s tasks—not just as subject but as methodology and practice. Study is an important factor in this; but more importantly, the Section acknowledges the mandate of the Anthroposophical Society’s ninth statute that the School for Spiritual Science be the place where its research is conducted. The esoteric Lessons of the First Class of the School for Spiritual Science are fundamentally connected to this research. Members are encouraged to understand the methodology of spiritual scientific research, to undertake that research to the best of their capacities, and to share the results of that research with other members of the Section, other Sections, the Anthroposophical Society, as well as with the general public. Collaborative research within the Section and inter-Sectional research are essential elements of this practice as well.
At the Section’s founding during the Christmas Meeting 1923/24, Rudolf Steiner’s charge to Albert Steffen was not just to lead the Section but to reenliven this “branch of human creativity” as well. And so, the Section in North America recognizes that its task includes the practical cultivation of its work in local groups as well as at the national and continental levels. As a result, Section members are regular contributors to Society publications, conferences, and Annual General Meetings through articles, workshops, and research presentations.
A working group in Los Angeles led by Jane Hipolito meets regularly to work collaboratively with the mantra of the First Class under consideration for the current year, as well as to consider questions raised by individual members, and to offer the Section’s work to the local anthroposophic life and the public through programs and presentations. The New Moon salon meets regularly in the Sacramento area around the time of the new moon under the guidance of Bruce and Marion Donehower. This group is open to anyone interested in exploring ideas in the realm of the Section.
For several years, Section members were invited to consider Rudolf Steiner’s meditative verse, “To One Who Understands the Sense of Language.” This culminated in a two-day meeting in August, 2005 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Twelve members attended—including members from Ireland and Switzerland. Of these, nine offered research presentations based on their considerations. Those present were: Jane Hipolito, Gertrude Reif Hughes, Herbert Hagens, Nina Mihaychuk, Charlene Breedlove, Glen Williamson, David Tresemer, Denis Schneider, Michel Bourrassa, Philip Thatcher, John Nixon, and Christiane Haid. The weekend began with work with the Seventeenth Class Lesson. Presentation topics were related to the stanzas of the verse and ranged from creative writing to medically related poetry, to the history of the verse, thoughts on its third stanza in relation to Homeric Greek, poetry and biography, and the verse’s connection to the artistic creation of Antonin Dvorák. Another outcome of this meeting was the decision to center the Section’s next steps on Rudolf Steiner’s January 20, 1910 lecture in Berlin, “Spiritual Science and Language.”
Translation is also a significant aspect of the Section’s life. Members of the Section regularly offer their services to the Goetheanum Section so that its German publications (the yearly calendar of events, the Section’s Jarhbuch, research by the Section’s leader and co-workers) can reach a broader, worldwide audience. In addition, these same members also seek to serve the Anthroposophical Society through their efforts. The Anthroposophical Translator’s and Editor’s Association founded by Marjorie Spock, recognized this important aspect of the Section’s work when, upon dissolving its own endeavors, it donated the remainder of its treasury to the Section with the caveat that the funds be used to continue the ATEA’s intent. The Section will make use of a portion of these funds to hold its first meeting for translators at the end of June, 2006 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Newsletter of the Literary Arts and Humanities Section in North America, now in its ninth year, continues to play an integral role in the life of the Section. It appears bi- annually and helps to overcome the sometimes-vast physical distances separating members on the North American continent. Its importance is reflected in the fact that the Newsletter is often the only Section meeting in which a member can take part. It, therefore, seeks to present a full spectrum of the Section’s activities, and contains reports on the work of the Section in North America, at the Goetheanum, and worldwide, as well as outcomes of spiritual scientific research by members (poetry, essays and articles on literary and linguistic themes, etc.). Additional reports from members about their research and activities provide the opportunity for people to identify and meet colleagues with similar or related interests. The Newsletter is also circulated to interested friends in other Sections and in eight countries around the world.
In addition, the Section’s involvement in publications extends, through a member of its collegium, Douglas Miller, to editing the Anthroposophical Society in America’s News for Members. While this currently is based in coincidence rather than formal agreement, the Section is actively seeking ways to offer its work in service to other Society publications, notably the Journal for Anthroposophy. Exploratory conversations have also taken place among interested Section members concerning the founding of a Section-sponsored journal which would publish research from all of the School’s Sections as an inter-Sectional, collaborative venture.
The Section’s Relationship to the Goetheanum and the Worldwide Section
Members of the North American Section strive to cultivate a collegial relationship with the School for Spiritual Science at the Goetheanum. This includes an active correspondence about the Section’s activities in North America; contributing research to the Goetheanum Section’s conferences and publications in the form of lectures and articles, workshops, conversation groups, and translations of German materials into English; as well as participation in meetings called by the Section leader. The Section’s leader and coworkers are regularly invited to contribute research and news to the Section’s newsletter, and to participate in meetings in North America.
During the Section’s meeting at the Goetheanum during the summer 2003 English-language conference, questions arose as to how members worldwide might work together when apart. Members of the North American Section and its collegium, in collaboration with the Section leader and other English-speaking members worldwide, made a commitment to begin a systematic, long-term involvement with the mantras of the First Class of the School for Spiritual Science as they relate to the work of the Section. In January 2004, work began with the mantra of the first lesson and has, in the years that followed, continued to include each subsequent mantra. All Section members are invited and encouraged to take part.
The North American Section also maintains close working relationships with the Section in the United Kingdom through exchanges of meeting minutes, newsletters, and collaborative friendships. In addition, the North America Section offers itself as a support and anchor to the developing Section initiatives in the Pacific Rim, particularly Australia and New Zealand, and to individuals in the Philippines. Recent developments in the Section’s membership may make it possible to add Japan to this world-encompassing gathering.
The exceptional good fortune of these international human relationships must be noted, as they offer a rich and full context for the work here and serve to remind Section members that spiritual research takes place beyond political, geographic, and linguistic boundaries. In addition, the worldwide Literary Arts and Humanities Section is the only international organization that works to further the literary arts and humanities throughout the world. This tangibly benefits and nourishes not only the Section but the Anthroposophical Societies in North America and the worldwide anthroposophical movement.
The Section’s Collegium
The Literary Arts and Humanities Section in North America is guided today by its eight-member Section collegium: Marguerite Miller, Prof. Douglas E. Miller, Prof. Gertrude Hughes, Prof. Robert McDermott, Herbert O. Hagens, Denis Schneider, Prof. Jane Hipolito, and Dr. Bruce Donehower. The Collegium finds its purpose in holding the overall consciousness of the Section, taking responsibility for coordinating, cultivating, guiding, and promoting the work of the Section locally, nationally, and internationally. Its members have infrequent face-to-face meetings but seek to overcome the distances separating them by working individually on the shared themes and the same esoteric materials, for example the ongoing work with the mantras of the First Class and the previously mentioned lecture on language by Rudolf Steiner. The Collegium conducts the business of the Section using the means that modern life provides.
[Editor’s Note: Marguerite Miller’s thoughtful essay takes us through the first two decades of the Section history in North America. The third decade began in late 2019, when a letter and email went out from the Section Leadership Council to all members on the list. This communication introduced the membership to Section changes still underway.