Monday, June 30, 2014

AEI Courting Spiritual Leaders; Changing Think Tank Model

Is the traditional think tank model of a panel consisting of five guys in suits being upended?

First it was His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the winter, and now it is Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in the summer.

What will the next season bring for conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and its President Arthur Brooks, who has been attracting some very unique figures to his policy shop.

Shankar came to AEI on June 24 to continue the conversation on human flourishing that started in February when the Dalai Lama visited the think tank.  A video and transcript of the Shankar event can be found here.
Newsweek said in an article titled "Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Drops by the American Enterprise Institute" that the Shankar event was "not your typical" Washington, DC summit.  Here is more from Newsweek:
Most think tank leaders try to push their ideas with spreadsheets and reports—and so does AEI—but Brooks also likes to shake things up sometimes. So on Tuesday, Brooks hosted Shankar, whose Art of Living Foundation has centers in 152 countries, in a discussion about one of Brooks’s favorite subjects: the intersection of capitalism and happiness. The event sold out quickly, and 350 crowded into the AEI’s offices to watch Brooks and the Guru discuss spirituality and economics. One AEI employee remarked that she had never seen the room so crowded.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about the Dalai Lama event and how this fascinating stew of think tanks, happiness, free enterprise, and spirituality all got started.  Here are some of the best tweets from that event.

The Daily Beast has a piece titled "DC's Conservative Guru Finds His Inner Hippie" which asks if Arthur Brooks is going through a mid-life crisis.  It also says that there were "more turbans and saris among the suits and ties than usual" at AEI during Shankar's visit.

So what is next for AEI?  A giant meditation retreat to Nepal?  A visit by Pope Francis?  A pow-wow with Deepak Chopra?  Please send your recommendations to Think Tank Watch and we will plan to publish the results in the near future.

So, does spirituality bring any money to the think tank?  Hard to say, but don't worry, Arthur Brooks has a strong connection to the billionaire Kochs.  But who needs money when you have happiness, right?