Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

Chestnut Hill College
Counseling Psychology and Human Services
Graduate Division

Fall 1997
Wednesdays 6:00 - 8:45 PM
St. Joseph's Hall, Room 242
Faculty: Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.
Telephone: (215) 402-0268
Office hours: (by appointment)

Course Description

According to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) historian Ernest Kurtz, spirituality in AA is transmitted and "grown into" through "release," "gratitude," "humility," and "tolerance." These are considered the characteristics of spirituality in AA, according to Kurtz. "The term not-God is the theme around which AA developed (Kurtz)."

In this graduate course, we will explore spirituality as a key aspect in 12- step programs in light of those four characteristics. In a general sense, spirituality refers to belief in a metaphysical entity that can influence personal experience. In AA, the belief in "not-God" is the heart of spirituality, particularly for the individual in relation to alcohol: "First of all, we had to quit playing God" (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 62). Students in this course will develop a deeper understanding of what the term "not-God" means, how it constitutes the core of spirituality in AA, and what it means in relation to beliefs about alcoholism for 12-step programs.

AA ideas about alcoholism continue to influence and clash with scientific research. While many people believe that AA is the most effective form of treatment for alcoholism, and are attracted to it because of its spirituality, others eschew and denounce AA for the same reasons. We will learn about why an increasing number of people around the country dislike and criticize the spirituality of AA.

Finally, using historical, psychological and sociological research methods, we will examine spirituality in the 12-steps in relation to major religious and existential traditions. Students will be introduced to contemporary issues confronting spiritual practice in AA. These include the application of 12-step principles in professional treatment programs, the effectiveness of those programs, and First Amendment rights issues. Lecture and discussion format.

Course Objectives

  1. To know the history of Alcoholics Anonymous within the context of beliefs about alcoholism in the U.S.
  2. To develop a psychological understanding of general perspectives on spirituality; and the characteristics of spiritual beliefs in AA.
  3. To understand the nature of AA spirituality within the context of religious tradition.
  4. To become aware of the difference between AA and 12-step professional treatment programs for alcoholism.
  5. To understand contemporary legal problems facing AA and the growing interest in alternative self-help programs.
  6. To develop skill in reviewing, presenting and challenging these issues from a psychological point of view.

Required Texts
Kurtz, E. (1979). Not-God. Center City: Minneapolis, Minn.: Hazelden Foundation.

Required readings: (Note: These are on reserve in the library. You will need to make copies of each article at the library.)

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1985). Alcoholics Anonymous. New York.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Just the 12-Steps and the Twelve Traditions.)
Alexander, F. amp; Rollins, M. (1984). Alcoholics Anonymous: The unseen cult. California Sociologist, Winter, 33-48.
Antze, P. (1987). Symbolic action in Alcoholics Anonymous. In M. Douglas (ed.) Constructive drinking: Perspectives on drink from anthropology, pp. 149-181. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bateson, G. (1971). The cybernetics of "self": A theory of alcoholism. Psychiatry, 34(1), 1-18.
"Elpenor." (1986). A drunkard's progress: AA and the sobering strength of myth. Harper's Magazine, October, 42-48.
Greil, A.L. amp; Rudy, D.R. (1983). Conversion to the world view of Alcoholics Anonymous: A refinement of conversion theory. Qualitative Sociology, 6 (1), 5-28.
Leach, B. amp; Norris, J.L. (1977). Factors in the development of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). In Benjamin Kissin and Henri Begleiter (eds.), Treatment and Rehabilitation of the Chronic Alcoholic, pp. 443-507. New York: Plenum Press.
Schaler, J.A. (1996) Spiritual thinking in Addiction-Treatment Providers: The Spiritual Belief Scale (SBS). Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 14 (3), 7- 33.

Course Requirements and Grades
First paper amp; presentation           20%
Mid-term examination                            25%
Final paper                             50%
Class participation                              5%
                                           Total = 100%

Review paper and presentation: Write a three-page paper reviewing one of the articles on reserve in the library. The paper should be typed and double- spaced. Do not quote more than two lines in the article. Describe the general idea(s) presented; how the author(s) presents these ideas and/or opinion; and your response to the ideas and the methodology of the article. You will then present your review in class.

Mid-term examination: This will be an essay exam based on the readings in class.

Final paper: Write a 10 to 15-page paper on any topic related to the ideas we focused on in class. You must discuss the topic of your paper with Dr. Schaler before you begin to write it. Your paper should be typed and double- spaced. You should use American Psychological Association (APA) format. Your paper should have an introduction including a statement of the problem or issue addressed, a review of the literature, a discussion and a conclusion. Cite 5 to 10 references outside of the ones assigned in class.

* Clear and accurate writing will be taken into account in assigning grades, as well as participation in class discussions. One grade reduction for over three class absences. Students are responsible for anything covered in class during their absence. Readings must be completed by the session to which they are assigned. Additional readings may be assigned during the course. Grades: A-=90, B+=89, B-=80, C+=79, C-=70

Class  Schedule

Date                  Topic                           Reading
September 3           Introduction:                   Lecture
                      The History of Beliefs          The 12-steps and
                      About Alcoholism;  What         Twelve Traditions
                      AA Is -- And What It Isn't;     of AA;  Schaler
                      What is "spirituality"?;        article
                      What does "not-God" mean?
                      Characteristics of
                      spirituality in AA
September 10          The History                     Kurtz:  The
                      and Development of AA           Beginnings through
                      Evolving topics                 First Growth;
                      The problem of alcoholism       Leach amp; Norris:
September 17          History and                     Kurtz:
                      Development of AA               Independent
                      Evolving topics                 Existence through
                      Alcoholism research             Prelude to
                      and controversies               Maturity;  Finish
                                                      Leach amp; Norris
September 24          History of AA                   Kurtz:  Attaining
                      Film                            Maturity through
                      Evolving topics                 Responsibilities
                                                      of Maturity;
October 1             History and                     Fullness of Time
                      Developmental Factors           through end of
October 8             Article review and              Antze article
                      AA as Protestantism
October 15            Article review and              Bateson article
                      and presentation
                      What is the "self"?
October 22            No class, Fall break
October 29            Article review and
                      presentation                     Greil article
                      The meaning of conversion
November 5            Article review and
                      presentation                     Alexander article
                      Is AA a cult?
November 12           Article review and
                      presentation                     Handout
                      Does AA "work"?
November 19           Mid-term examination
November 26           No class, Thanksgiving holiday
December 3            Freedom of and Freedom from        Schaler lecture
                      spirituality and religion in       Handout
                      AA;  Contemporary legal issues
December 10           Project MATCH and 12-step          Schaler lecture
                      Programs:  What you always knew    Handout
                      about spirituality, AA, and
                      alcoholism (but professional
                      treatment programs and the
                      federal government won't tell
                      you)                               Final paper due