Richard Mann, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Religion at the University of Michigan, passed away January 24, 2023 at the age of eighty-nine.
Professor Mann received his A.B. degree in psychology from Harvard College in 1954 and his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan in 1956 and 1958, respectively. From 1959-64, he served as an assistant professor at Harvard College, returned to Michigan in 1964 as an associate professor, and was promoted to professor of psychology in 1969. He retired from active faculty status in 1991. Upon returning to Ann Arbor in 1995, Professor Mann continued teaching regularly as Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Religion until 2019.
Professor Mann was a beloved and influential teacher, scholar, social activist, and spiritual thinker who taught and mentored many students, faculty, staff, and community members during a career spanning almost 65 years.
Beginning in graduate school in the 1950’s, continuing during his time as an assistant professor at Harvard and then into his tenure at Michigan in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Professor Mann engaged in research on group dynamics. His dissertation research published in 1959 on the relationship between personality characteristics and group dynamics continues to be influential, having been cited over 2500 times in the scientific literature. Subsequently, his research focused more directly on teaching and learning in the college classroom. With graduate student assistants, he developed a coding system to apply to classroom interactions. Their method for understanding the dynamics of student-teacher interactions enabled them to produce a detailed understanding of the various roles that students and teachers can play and how those roles can facilitate or impede productive learning. One of Professor Mann’s goals in this work was to create a culture in Introductory Psychology in which an awareness of these group dynamics would enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. He published a book, Interpersonal Styles and Group Development: An Analysis of the Member-Leader Relationship, on this research, with his graduate student assistants Graham Gibbard and John Hartman. Later, he and others published The College Classroom: Conflict, Change and Learning, which extended that work. He is remembered as helping the department to expand its focus from a primary emphasis on graduate education to include undergraduate education as a priority.
In addition to his work as an instructor, Professor Mann played a large, national role in starting the antiwar movement that took shape on college campuses throughout the 1960’s. In 1965, after the bombings in Vietnam that followed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Professor Mann and his colleague Bill Gamson wanted to organize a nonviolent protest. The initial idea, a faculty strike, was met with threats of revoking tenure and loss of employment from Michigan government officials. Professor Mann and Bill shifted strategy and, along with some faculty colleagues and members of the Students for a Democratic Society, organized the Teach-in of 1965. Expecting only two hundred people to show up on a snowy night in March, Professor Mann and his colleagues welcomed a thousand people from the campus community and Ann Arbor to Angell Hall, filling all four of the large auditoriums. That teach-in helped to instigate a number of other teach-ins on campuses throughout the country. The teach-in brought awareness of the situation in Vietnam, the Tonkin Bay Resolution, and bombings, all of which were not well understood at that time by the public.
As a next step, Professor Mann and his group decided to challenge officials of the Johnson administration to a debate—in essence, a national teach-in. Professor Mann began a correspondence with McGeorge Bundy, who was Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor and played an important role in White House policy on Vietnam. In May, 1965, an initial teach-in occurred at the White House that Bundy could not attend, which was broadcast on educational television in Washington, DC. Finally, in June a nationally televised debate with Bundy occurred: after much back-and-forth negotiation on who the faculty and Johnson administration panelists would be, including some telephone calls between the White House and Professor Manns home, a debate finally occurred at the White House in June, televised on CBS as a Special Report, with Eric Sevareid as moderator. Professor Mann’s later activism became more intensified, including a large rally that involved people lying down to stop traffic on US-23, and later Mobilization Against the War, a rally of eight hundred thousand in Washington DC.
Throughout the 1960’s, Professor Mann was teaching Introductory Psychology, lecturing to 1350 students in Hill Auditorium and coordinating graduate teaching assistants. He also taught a course on group dynamics, Analysis of Interpersonal Behavior. Then in 1966, with fervent demand from students for courses that would involve them in the world outside of campus, especially in Detroit, and with the enthusiastic support of Department Chair Bill McKeachie, Professor Mann created and added a service-learning component to the class "to heighten personal relevance and offer diverse experiences.” He presented his innovation at the 1966 meeting of the American Psychological Association. By the next year, over 2000 students were in very wide-ranging community placements as independent study courses, all coordinated by Professor Mann. Managing all of these placements became such a consuming task that by 1969, the service-learning activities were spun off to become a separate course in the Psychology department, Project Outreach.
Project Outreach continues to the current day, remaining one of the largest service-learning courses at any university. Tens of thousands of students have participated in the diverse class offerings. In addition to gaining invaluable experiences in the community, and learning about psychology in the real world, Outreach students have provided over 1.5 million hours of service.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Professor Mann's interests turned toward spirituality, religious experience, and consciousness, and he began to teach courses in which students experienced personal and spiritual growth as they read and discussed challenging books and explored their own experiences and beliefs. Professor Mann’s scholarship during these years argued for a view of the field of psychology that goes beyond scientific experimentation and empirical research to include wisdom and traditional healing. This more expansive view of the discipline involves a move away from materialism, to include the wisdom of, in his words, “healers, priests, artists, seers, and helpful relatives.”
Much of this transformation in Professor Mann’s academic work was rooted in his deep involvement in Siddha Yoga, a Hindu spiritual path founded by Swami Muktananda and later led by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. He describes the transformative effect of meeting Muktananda in his book, The Light of Consciousness: Explorations in Transpersonal Psychology. The book interweaves an account of Muktananda’s visionary meditative experience known as the Blue Pearl with his contemplation of that text and its relationship to his own spiritual development. The book concludes with a framework for transpersonal psychology. Professor Mann suggested that transpersonal psychology can give a common language to disparate spiritual and traditions, one that acknowledges an absolute reality beyond the apparent mechanistic framework of physical reality. The book is considered one of the foundational texts in transpersonal psychology, the field that considers non-ordinary experiences such as remote viewing, near-death experiences, telepathic events, and meditative experiences such as Muktananda’s. His visibility in the field of transpersonal psychology resulting from this book led to his editorship of a long-running book series, the SUNY Series on Transpersonal Psychology, which included contributions from prominent figures such as Alan Watts, Stanislav Grof, and Swami Muktananda, among others.
During this period, Professor Mann began to teach a course called Psychology and Religion, which later became known as Psychology and Spiritual Development. He also taught a course in Psychology and Consciousness. He had the remarkable ability, no doubt because of his scholarly expertise in group dynamics, to facilitate class discussions in which he shared his own personal stories and students felt free to share theirs, and most impressively, to discuss differences in deeply-held beliefs. He was warm and charismatic but also low-key. Students read books by religious and spiritual teachers, such as Thich Nhat Hahn and the Dalai Lama, while also considering books by contemporary authors more directly involved in the transpersonal psychology movement, such as Ken Wilbur, and scientists that investigate transpersonal psychology using established experimental methods, such as Dean Radin. Students often told Professor Mann years later that the course had been intensely meaningful, setting them on a transformative spiritual path. The number of students who comment that his classes changed their lives is truly remarkable. Indeed, at the 55th class reunion of the Harvard class of 1961, former students of Professor Mann’s remembered him as one of the teachers who had the most lasting educational value.
Professor Mann not only influenced generations of undergraduate students, but he also became a respected spiritual mentor and guide to numerous faculty and staff at the university, as well as to many in the Ann Arbor community. One area in which he influenced faculty is in encouraging the formation of a core group of faculty interested in consciousness studies, comprising faculty from across the university, including the school of music and the medical school. One member referred to it as a “university within a university.” He convened many workshops, informal classes, and discussion groups. For example, he taught classes for members of the Ann Arbor community interested in spirituality. He and his wife Matruka Sherman led spiritual development workshops for young adults in the community. He and other faculty participated in a reading group on Integral Theory, Ken Wilbur’s worldview that includes philosophy, neuroscience, and religious traditions. In addition, he facilitated a group called “Scientific Exploration at Michigan” concerned with the phenomena of transpersonal psychology and the role of science in the academy.
Professor Mann also interacted with the transpersonal psychology community at a national level; his national prominence grew out of his book and his editorship of the SUNY series. One of Professor Mann’s colleagues and friends characterized him as being in the inner circle of that community. He regularly attended the Society for Scientific Exploration, an international organization concerned with transpersonal psychology, and actively participated in the discussions and debriefing sessions of that group.
Professor Mann continued teaching long after his official retirement from the university in 1991. To commemorate his last year of teaching at the university, in 2019 the Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies at the University of Michigan hosted a talk by Professor Mann called “One Final Jam: Emeritus professor of Psychology Richard Mann and the Future of Consciousness Studies” at the Rackham Amphitheater, in which he shared his assessment of consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology, as well as his thoughts about where the field is headed.
Professor Mann was preceded in death by his first wife, Jean, and by his sons Larry and Ned. He is survived by his son David, daughter-in-law, Diane, their daughter Lili and son Lucas, and Ned’s sons, Evan and Ben. He is also survived by his wife, Matruka Sherman, and her son Adam.
You can view Professor Mann's Retirement Memoir here.