What is the School of Economic Science (SES)?The School of Economic Science was founded in 1938.
The corecourses offered by the School are in Philosophy and Economics.Some branches of the School are called the School of Philosophy orthe School of Practical Philosophy.
The School does not see itself asa religion, but would consider itself a “new spiritual movement”.The School's teachings are primarily based on Advaita Vedanta,an Indian soteriological philosophy. Advaita Vedanta holds a non-dualist, or monist, metaphysical position, i.e. that the ultimate essenceof each individual self (Ataman in Sanskrit) and the Universal,Transcendent Self (Brahman in Sanskrit) are one and the same.
Theschool also believes that Advaita underlies the prominent Westernphilosophical teachings, and is the essence of Christian teaching.Where are they found?
Philosophy courses are offered in every region of England andScotland; the head office is in London. Associated Schools are foundin Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland,Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, SouthAmerica, Trinidad and the United States.
In 1975, a number of parents in the School founded the St JamesIndependent Schools for children. Junior schools for both boys andgirls, and the senior girls' school are located in London; the seniorboys' school is in Twickenham, Middlesex. The School has organiseda national cultural event called “Art in Action” at Waterperry inOxfordshire for several years. This is a four-day public event whichwas attended by about 25,000 visitors in the past few years.
What do they believe?
The School believes in a Supreme Being as the ultimate source ofcreation. Additionally, there is an “infinite consciousness” whichpermeates and sustains the world. There is therefore a belief in anessential unity of all beings by virtue of a common origin and essenceof consciousness. Following from these beliefs is the idea that there isa framework of “Natural Law” which governs all creation. Mankindhas an obligation to learn and practice activities that work with the“Natural Law” for the mutual welfare of all beings.
The School teaches that there is a common thread of ultimateTruth running through all great teachings and philosophies of theworld. The School encourages a moral base in truth, humility andservice to the community. There are no restrictions on attendance atthe School on grounds of religious or cultural background or absenceof any established beliefs.How are these beliefs introduced?
The early courses in Philosophy introduce students gradually to theideas advocated by the School. In the introductory and early terms thecourses offered are fairly broad and general.
The Eastern connectionis not particularly emphasised and materials are drawn from a varietyof sources. Later, there is a focus on Eastern texts, particularly theBhagavad Gita and the Upanishads.
The study of Sanskrit is thenintroduced so that these texts can be read in their original language.As part of the introductory course, students are given a simpleexercise to strengthen attention and awareness through connectingwith the senses. After about 18 months of attendance, continuingstudents are invited to be initiated into a mantra form of meditation.
After about three years, this becomes a prerequisite to movingforward with their studies. The meditation used by the School is inthe tradition of Shankaracharya, the 8th century exponent of AdvaitaVedanta. For long-term students, two sessions of formal meditation(one in the morning and one in the evening) are reinforced by apractice of "falling still" between actions, and dedicating everyactivity to the Supreme Being and increasing self awareness.Students who continue in the School for about four years areintroduced to the concept of “Measure”. This is based upon the viewthat the “Natural Law” prescribes a framework of regulationsnecessary to achieve a happy and healthy life.
The frameworkgoverns such matters as appropriate food and appropriate periods forphysical work, mental work, spiritual work, and sleep (with regard tothe individual's constitution and other circumstances).Where do their ideas come from?
The School was originally founded by a small group of peoplewishing to explore questions relating to economic justice against thebackground of the economic depression of the early 1930s. Theywere interested in the ideas of Henry George, an American economistwho advocated the taxation of unearned gains arising from landvalues as a fairer tax than one based on earned income.The group was led by the barrister Mr. Leon MacLaren with thesupport of his father, the then Labour MP Andrew MacLaren. Theideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky influenced the School’s earlyteachings.
After meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
in Londonduring the early 1960s, Leon MacLaren travelled to India.
Then in theensuing years of his life he received guidance from Shri ShantanandaSaraswati, a spiritual leader in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Studymaterial includes not only the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita and theUpanishads of Indian origin, but also the Bible, Plato, the teachingsof the leading Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino, and others.However, Advaita Vedanta has become the guiding philosophy of theSchool and the “lens” through which all texts are read.How do they live?
Some time after being initiated into meditation, students areencouraged to live according to the concept of “Measure”: risingearly, meditating regularly and finding a balance between worldly,reflective and spiritual work. Residential courses are offered wherestudents practice living by these principles. Students are encouragedto adopt a vegetarian diet, with good posture being emphasized,particularly in meditation. When engaged in any task, students areasked to give their full attention to the task at hand and trainthemselves not to be distracted by irrelevant thoughts or innerdialogues. The roles of men and women are defined separately andseen as complementary to each other. Dedicated women are expectedto wear long skirts or dresses within the School environment, andmany do outside the School environment as well.
Members are encouraged to fulfil their roles in society whilst notlosing sight of the divine Absolute.
*Negative thoughts and emotionsare considered particularly unhelpful. *
Students are encouraged todiscriminate between the “fine” and “coarse”. The works of greatcomposers, artists and writers such as Mozart, Vivaldi, Leonardo daVinci and Shakespeare are considered particularly “fine”.Good company also has an important role in living the spirituallife and members are encouraged to spend time in the company ofthose supportive of the School’s philosophy. However, members arenot asked to reject other friends and family. Members are encouragedto lead the spiritual life of a “householder”: work, family and societalobligations are considered important. An individual should seek todevelop spiritually within the constraints of ordinary life.
Less than half of the 600 pupils in the St James IndependentSchools are affiliated with the School of Economic Science, althoughmost of the teachers are members. All children are encouraged to“pause,” with periods of silent contemplation scheduled into theschool day. Pupils in the Senior schools are offered the chance tolearn to meditate, though this is not compulsory. While children inthe school are not expected to be or become members of the Schoolof Economic Science, the choice of subjects and general running ofthe school are consistent with the School's philosophy.Who joins?
While the School's courses are open to everyone, a large proportionof members are from the middle class; the courses particularlyattracting professionals. Members are of all ages, now including anumber brought-up by their parents within the movement.Membership figures vary, but in recent years, the School hasestimated that there are about 1,200 individuals in London and about1,300 in the rest of Britain who have made a substantial commitment.There are several thousand students in the associated schoolsthroughout the world.How is the School financed?
Fees for courses are intended to cover administrative and buildingupkeep costs only; as a matter of principle no tutors on thephilosophy courses receive payment. Students are encouraged todonate a week’s income for their meditation instruction. However,the School has a general principle that no one should be preventedfrom taking up the meditation or philosophy courses due to genuinefinancial hardship. Additional endowments and donations areencouraged for special projects and expenses.How is the movement organised?After the death of Leon MacLaren in 1994, the spiritual direction andguidance of the School passed to Donald Lambie. He is supported bythe Fellowship, which is the legally constituted body of the School.This governing body consists of around 230 members from which upto nine are elected as officers and members of the ExecutiveCommittee responsible for the day-to-day business of the School.This group is chaired by Mr. Graham Skelcey who is also thePrincipal of the School.
Leaving the Movement
Many people leave the School during or after the introductory course.Some find that the course is not what they expected or wanted, othersare satisfied with the introductory course but feel no need to attendmore courses. Others leave after finding that the commitments ofpersonal practice and School activities take up more time than theywish to give.Problems, controversies
There are not many independent sources of information on the Schoolof Economic Science. In 1984, two journalists wrote an “exposé” ofthe group entitled Secret Cult
. Rather than respond to the criticismspublicly, the School reviewed the attack internally, which reinforcedthe opinion of the critics that the School was a secretive organisation.However, much has changed in the last twenty years, particularlysince the death of the founder Leon MacLaren in 1994. Currentleaders acknowledge some of the criticisms of the past and claim thatthey have sought to make the necessary adjustments. In response toconcern expressed by some outsiders that the content and conduct ofthe more advanced courses are not made available for observation,the School has told Inform that “this information can, whereappropriate, be made available to responsible persons or bodies”.
In particular, complaints focused on Leon MacLaren’s authority,which some described as absolute or totalitarian. It is claimed thatthose who displeased him were dealt with severely and that there wasnot room for any differences of opinion. Supporters counter thatstrong leadership was necessary to hold the school together, anddifferent opinions were consulted (though not necessarily actedupon).Some students have found it difficult to accept the degree towhich “ego” is attacked, the emphasis on not identifying withnegative emotions, and the view that sickness and disability areusually the result of some contravention of natural laws.
To thiscriticism, the School responds that students are urged not to indulgein guilt or self-criticism, but rather to use their energies positively.Some complain the School requires a level of commitment thatleads to a neglect of family and friends. When only one partner in amarriage has joined the School, the related changes in lifestyle andpriorities sometimes are difficult for the other partner to accept.The St James Independent Schools have attracted attention forteaching Sanskrit and silent contemplation. In the past, the head ofthe St James Senior Boy’s school supported of the occasional use ofcorporal punishment. However this was outlawed in all schools inBritain (1998), the school says it has respected the change in law.
Some former students have complained that both staff and otherstudents bullied them during studies at St James.The School has advertised its courses widely, particularly in theLondon Underground. It has attracted criticism that its advertisementsfor the introductory course do not make the nature of the School’sparticular philosophy clear.
In response, the School has modified itsadvertisements somewhat, but also argues that the introductorycourses are general in nature. However, there are still complaints thatit is not clear that a particular philosophy is being promoted ratherthan general philosophical exploration.
Further informationFrom the movement:School of Economic Science,11 Mandeville Place, London W1U 3AJTel: 020 7034 4000Website: [www.schooleconomicscience.org
]. James Independent SchoolsWebsite: [www.stjamesschools.co.ukBooks
] produced by the School:MacLaren, Leon Nature of Society and other essays. London:School of Economic Science, n. d.A translation of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus entitledThe Way of HermesBlake, L. L. Sovereignty: Power Beyond Politics. London:Shepheard-Walwyn, 1988.For a critical approach:The Secret Cult by Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, LionPublishing, 1984.Website: [www.geocities.com
] an objective approach:See entry in The New Believers by David Barrett, London: Cassel& Co, 2001.
An informed journalistic approach:See entry in Spying in Guru Land by William Shaw, London:Forth Estate, 1994.HOW INFORM CAN HELPoBy providing reliable, up-to-date information about newreligious movements.oBy putting you in touch with a nation-wide network ofexperts with specialist knowledge concerning NRMsoBy putting you in touch with people who can givecounselling, legal advice - or just lend a sympathetic ear.oBy putting you in touch with ex-members or families whohave personal experience with a particular group.New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction
(London:HMSO, revised 1995) has been written by Professor Eileen Barker toprovide practical suggestions as well as general backgroundinformation.£1I N F O R MI n f o r m a t i o nN e t w o r kF o c u sO nR e l i g i o u sM o v e m e n t sApril 2007InformLSE, Houghton StLondon WC2A 2AETelephone:020 7955 7654Facsimile:020 7955 7679Electronic Mail:firstname.lastname@example.orgWebsites:www.inform.acw
ww.cults-sects-nrms.infoEnquirers can write,telephone, or make anappointment to visitInform’s office.Outside office hours(10 am - 4.30 pm,Monday-Friday),messages may be lefton the voice mail,which is checked atregular intervals.Although every care is taken to provide as accurateand balanced an account as possible, we welcomecorrections and comments.