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Over the past twenty years, my research interests have focused on spirituality and education, intercultural psychologies and transpersonal research methodologies. Below, I describe my past, current and future research initiatives in these areas of interest.
I do research at the intersection of spirituality and psychology, with questions that have arisen out of my work as an interfaith chaplain and spiritual teacher. One of the most pressing questions within our society at this time has been the challenge of developing interfaith understanding in an era of extremism. From autumn 2006 through spring 2008, as a member of the Wellesley Religious Life Team, I collaborated on a project with Religious Life programs at Brandeis University, Tufts University, M.I.T. and University of Maryland that designed interfaith dialogue programs to promote religious pluralism, funded by a 1,000,000 three year grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I have published several articles reflecting on interfaith dialogue: “College Chaplaincy” in Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work; “Practicing in the Temples of Human Experience” in My Neighbor’s Faith and “Buddhism as a Pluralistic Tradition” in Education as Transformation.
In our modern era, which has seen such rapid social change, there are increasing levels of disconnection, anxiety, stress and an inner hunger for meaning experienced by our youth. It is essential to look into practices of teaching and learning that have the potential to remedy this, by fostering the skills for connection-- connection with oneself, with others and with the Earth. When students are grounded in their own wholeness, this ripples out to everyone they are in contact with. It revitalizes our communities and provides new possibilities for us as a species. To this end, in 2009 I co-authored a Teagle Grant on the effect of contemplation on career and vocational choice, and conducted a literature review of mindfulness-based interventions.
As part of the 2011-2012 White House Initiative, the President’s Challenge, I co-created a program of education and engagement around issues of environmental sustainability on campus and in local communities in the following ways:
a service learning that included permaculture training;
subsequent design and installation of a permaculture garden at a local public school,
and an arts program on indigenous approaches to social change.
These events met the following goals:
increased awareness about the connections between sustainability and spirituality;
the formation of a natural alliance between religion and science to support the environment, based on shared ethics and care for future generations;
and partnership with local public schools and communities.
I have written an article about the results of this work within my book, Living the Season.
Colleagues at the Stone Center have developed an internationally recognized body of research on psychological learning and growth through cultural and relational learning. There is also a growing body of research that positively correlates undergraduate student involvement in co-curricular activities with student learning and retention. However, there is little research on the effect of arts programs upon the psychosocial and spiritual development of undergraduate students. Therefore, I conducted a narrative study, to tell the stories of undergraduate students’ growth in connection through their participation in a co-curricular multicultural spirituality- and- arts program. The article based on this research, “Writing Our Anthem”, is currently under review.
One of the challenges of modern psychology, and the Western helping professions overall, is to cultivate cultures of healing as richly diverse and resilient as an ecosystem garden. Within contemporary society, our medical systems are somewhat of an object- materialist monoculture. Of course, standardized medical protocols are valuable. At the same time, we can learn from many traditional cultures, in which healing was considered a spiritual journey. When people are in a healing crisis, they are especially in need of a direct experience of the sacred.
One way this can be understood is through the framework of narrative. Narratives mediate between the inner world and the outer world, giving shape to our experience. Ritual is performed narrative, embodied narrative-- and these rituals exist both in the Western clinical world and the worlds of traditional medicine. When Western doctors engage with their client during an intake, or in discussing treatment options, there are rituals, performed narratives, built into this process.
In my dissertation research, Visions of Wholeness: Narratives of Traditional Buddhist Healers, I built on the body of mindfulness research by exploring the connections between a Buddhist healer’s worldview and the lived experience of wholeness within their healing work, as mediated through healing rituals (embodied narrative). In reclaiming the power of ritual within healing, there is access to a deeper well of meaning-making than object-materialism provides. There may also be positive physical effects accessed through the mind-body connection. My research suggests a convergence between the healer’s cultivation of compassion and attention and the client’s immune and autonomic response. This study contributes to the body of research on the role of spirituality and healing, and supports the identification of core components of the healing process across cultures. These core components of the healing process can be tracked through the lens of consciousness studies: since consciousness been recognized as fundamental, and since empirical evidence points to consciousness as a causal factor in healing, it stands to reason that research on nonlocal healing can illuminate the governing principles of the interplay of consciousness and the physical world. This dissertation has been adapted into a book, which will be published next autumn.
My current research focus continues to plumb the depths of traditional healing practices—most recently, with a focus on contemporary applications, such as restorative justice circles, that bring about greater equity and inclusion within our learning communities. At this time, when the social compact that unites our communities is fraying due to pervasive patterns of domination and oppression expressed through racism and multiple forms of “othering,” the need to shift from a competitive, hierarchical social system to regenerative social systems that mimic nature is more essential than ever. This paradigm shift through development of intercultural literacy and other social-emotional skills is more urgently needed than ever. To empower individuals’ growth in connection, I co-developed and delivered experiential programming utilizing restorative justice circles and other community psychology practices to support the development of the creative dialogic skills required for cross-cultural fluency.
All of these research fields—spirituality, education, interreligious/intercultural studies and transpersonal psychology can be described as a commitment to sustainability through integrative practices of teaching and learning. Within the field of interfaith dialogue students’ perceptual biases were released, and intergroup collaboration established through service learning and the arts. Research on the effects of spirituality and the arts programs as a scholar-practitioner provided valuable information about the specific ways these programs supported students’ cultural identity formation, intercultural learning and spiritual growth. Within transpersonal psychology, research explored the role of spirituality and indigenous ways of knowing in the restoration of wholeness to individuals and communities. Most recently, within a holistic learning community, I co-facilitated restorative justice circles to catalyze much-needed conversations about race and equity. It is my intention, within this body of research, to support the development of diverse, interdependent and resilient communities that revitalize the human spirit, and thus achieve sustainability on all levels.