Professor Alastair McIntosh's course on 'Religious Intelligence'

École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr

Guer Coëtquidan, 22 - 24 November 2016


Bonjour, toute la classe. Je m'appele Alastair McIntosh, un professeur, activiste et écrivain Ecossais, et je suis votre professeur pendant les jours Mardi 22 a Vendredi 24 Novembre. Je suis invité d’enseigner un cours court au sujet : « Religious Intelligence ». Le plupart de mon travail est avec les questions de l’écologie, la justice social, la guerre et le spiritualité, selon mon site web,

Suivant un introduction au course, et un list des ressourcés pour ajouter pendant le course, commençant avec un article j’ai écrit pour l’Académie du Décence du UK. S’il possible, voulez vous lisez cette article avant le commencement de notre classe.

Malheureusement, mon français est très, très mauvais, même si ma femme est français. Heureusement, Thomas Flichy m’a dit que vous parlez l’anglais tres bien. En conséquence, je peut continuer en anglais.


Course Outline

My intention is to teach through a combination of lectures, small group discussions and plenary discussions. I shall encourage you to reflect deeply on your own experience.  My approach will be to put greater emphasis on developing your thinking and feeling skills than teaching facts, as you can get those by reading. Please be aware that I am a Quaker, which is a small Christian denomination. Most Quakers are committed to nonviolence as their approach to peace and true security. I have been clear to the staff who have invited me that this is both the basis and the "bias" from which I will be teaching, but you are encouraged to make up your own mind on such questions. This course outline is not confidential and may be openly shared, not least because I have to be accountable back to my own colleagues within the peace movement.

I am informed that I am to give each of you a "mark" at the end of the class, and as our time together is very short, I would appreciate if you would give some thought as to the best and fairest way that I can do this. During our 14 hours together, I hope to touch on the following themes, though not necessarily in this order and the content may change according to the interests the class expresses.


  1. To commence with finding out your expectations of our time together, and what you would like me to address (within my capabilities).

  2. Definitions of religion, theology and spirituality. What is meant by "God" or concepts like "Buddha nature"? Brief outlines of major world faith systems – the 3 Abrahamic faiths, Hindu-Buddhism, Taoist-Confucianism and animisms/shamanisms.

  3. Exploration of what you think religion is and is not, drawing both on your own experience as well as touching on theological, philosophical and sociological positions such as William James, Paul Tillich, Durkheim and Weber. Mapping out distinctions between faith, agnosticism, atheism, theocracy and in France, laïcité.

  4. To examine how the major world faiths are used both to support war, or to reject it, in lending legitimacy to either violence or nonviolence. What nonviolence looks like in practice. Its successes and failures. It's power and legitimacy in contrast with the use of and utility of force.

  5. To understand how religion, resourced by a living spirituality, can offer a framework for understanding human life, consciousness, meaning and ethics, with case study examples from my work in social and environmental activism for change in Scotland.

  6. To examine the role of religion in politics, with a case study of Donald Trump and his evangelical support base in America. Is this religion, or its perversion to the idolatry of a "prosperity gospel"? This case study will draw on insights and contrasts from the history of the island where I grew up - the Isle of Lewis in Scotland - which was the home of Donald Trump's mother.

  7. Continuing, through the lens of Donald Trump, examining the relationship between colonisation, militarisation, displacement from the land and how theological narratives have been created to legitimise these things. How religion has been used to give expression to such doctrines as feudalism in medieval Roman Catholicism, and in some white British and American Protestantism, to ideologies such as Chosen People narratives, American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny. The psychological parallels with other authoritarian approaches to religion, such as Wahhabism in Islam.

  8. To consider how war affects the mind, especially the minds of children, thereby feeding the "spiral of violence". How a living spirituality can arguably bring healing to that damage. The work of re-humanisation, of recovery of the heart. This will touch on the work of psychotherapist Alice Miller, and the social psychologists, Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo, if they are not already covered elsewhere in your officer training course).

  9. To examine personal spiritual grounding as a basis for moral leadership within the "military covenant". To examine military "values and standards" in a way that looks beyond "rules of engagement", and arguably, beyond war. To undertake this by reflecting on the kind of moral challenges, and "moral hazard" that you might face when in a leadership position that confronts you with the shock of extreme violence.

  10. Finally, to re-examine your own attitudes towards the spiritual life. What does it mean to live out a "vocation", as distinct from a mere "career"? You have chosen a military path, one that is a different approach than mine to seeking peace. But might there be meeting points? Might it be that to study nonviolence is at least as important as to study violence if we are committed to taking away the causes that lead to war? If we seek a world where, "Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4)? The motto of St Cyr is: "Ils s'instruisent pour vaincre" - "They study to vanquish." And so, the final question: to vanquish - what? What is it, in each of us, that sows the seeds of war? Can we overcome those forces? By the end of this course, might we see deeper ways of understanding the motto of St Cyr?


Course Resources

1. My paper, A Nonviolent Challenge to Conflict, that is part of the standard UK Defence Academy textbook on military ethics. It is based on my guest lectures over the past 20 years on the Advanced Command & Staff Course, and sometimes other courses including the Higher Command & Staff Course, the Irish Senior Command & Staff Course, and NATO's Partnership for Peace Programme. Download the 25 page pdf from:

2. My writings and interviews in French translation and other languages:

3. Day 1  Resources: When we discussed what you especially want to study during our time together, several of you indicated specialist areas in the above course outline. Note that my bibliography is limited to Anglophone, not Francophone, so you will probably find books by French authors that cover similar topics.

3.1. One of you expressed particular interest in different religions and their views on war and peace. The textbook that I recommend on this is Reichberg, G.M. & Syse, H. (editors), Religion, War and Ethics: a Sourcebook of Textual Traditions, Cambridge University Press, 2014. At 750 pages, this is a huge textbook, entering into great historical depth. If you want to keep it simple, just Google keywords like "war, nonviolence, Buddhism".

3.2. Another was interested in how war affects the minds of children. I'd recommend two books here. Robben A.C.G.N & Suarez-Orozco M.M. (editors), Cultures Under Seige: Collective Violence and Truama, Cambridge University Press, 2008. And Alice Miller, C'est pour ton bien : Racines de la violence dans l'éducation de l'enfant (It's For Your Own Good: The Origins of Violence in Childhood), Flammarion, 2015.

3.3. Another was interested in Donald Trump and the religious background of both he and his supporters. I have just written about the psychology and theology of Trump's support base amongst American evangelicals. See here. An earlier article, about Trump and loss of empathy may be found here. My work sets Trump into his mother's home context of the Scottish island that I come from. There are numerous wider articles on the web, for example here.

3.4. Lastly, one of you was interested in the Quakers. This evening, I chanced to hit upon this short video where two Friends (as Quakers call themselves) discuss their attitudes to politics and oppression at this link.

4. Day 2 Resources: I have emailed 2 Powerpoints to Jean-Baptiste for sharing with the class. These are:

4.1. Today's presentation, based on what I used in recent guest lectures on the Advanced Command & Staff Course at the UK Defence Academy: The Nonviolent Challenge to Conflict.

4.2. I had a discussion with the Peruvian student about the peace process in Columbia, and told him about the Columbian brigadier and colleagues I had met at a conference of the International Society of Military Ethics. The brigadier spoke about how elements of the Columbian military had become concerned about corruption and human rights abuses. They had therefore started a programme of military ethics, which was succeeding so well that they hoped to encourage its spread regionally and beyond. He gave me his powerpoint and gave me permission to share it. I hope it will interest you as an example of some of what we have been talking about, coming from an unexpected part of the world.

5. Day 3 Resources: I hope at the end of the day, if we have time, to tell you the Rainmaker story. The great Swiss psychotherapist told this about his friend, the German sinologist, translator and theologian, Richard Wilhelm. Two versions of the story are given from Jung's writings in the anthology compiled by Meredith Sabini, The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology and Modern Life, North Atlantic Books, 2002. I know that this book is currently being translated into French with help from a private Swiss foundation, but it is currently only available in English. Meanwhile, one of Jung's versions of the story can be found online at this link.

If we do not have time to use the story in class, I invite you to read it privately, and reflect on what it might say about leadership in relation to values and standards. What does it say about connection to the inner spiritual life? What does it imply about one's comportment, bearing or presence when when surrounded by mayhem? It is, of course, a magical story. Wilhelm told it to Jung as a true story, but its importance is metaphorical more than literal. Do you think it teaches something about leadership? Is there a sense in which we all need to understand the art of rainmaking? If so, what influence might that have on the gradient of leadership that runs from seeking to resolve conflict by the use of force, to seeking to resolve it nonviolently?

6. Donald Trump poetry: at this link. CNN video (7.42 mins) of Donald Trump's mother's background on the Isle of Lewis - here. (It's the top picture. If your internet is slow, give it time until the white play arrow appears).

7. That's been a great 3 days together. Thank you for listening to me and for all the robust debates, especially in our discussions about the spectrum that runs from "realism" to "just war theory" to "nonviolence". Tonight I have emailed out further optional reading material to Jean-Baptiste, asking him to forward it to the class. Go well, everyone. Alastair.


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