Our History and Mission

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgement, character, and will... An education which should improve this faculty would be theeducation par excellence.

William JamesThe Principles of Psychology (1890), p. 463


....Education, in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society, must be based upon experience – which is always the life experience of some individual…There is no discipline in the world so severe as the discipline of experience subjected to the tests of intelligent development and direction…

 John Dewey, Education and Experience  (1938) pp. 89-90   

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The Contemplative Studies Initiative is a group of Brown faculty and students with diverse academic specializations who are united around a common interest in the study and application of contemplative states of mind.  Our teaching and research follow both James and Dewey in insisting that a complete education should  include first-hand experience in the cultivation of attentional focus, a common tool in the world’s great contemplative traditions. Doing this at the same time one is studying the writings of contemplatives gives significant additional insight into them. A further important benefit to students from this pedagogy is that recent research has shown that developing attentional stability is a keystone for developing self awareness and emotional intelligence. All three thus make significant contributions to human flourishing and to the development of other regarding mental qualities such as empathy and compassion.

At the center of work is the study of the full range of human contemplative experiences in an effort to catalogue them, to understand their phenomenology, and to comprehend their scientific basis. Because the study of consciousness is the centerpiece of this kind of study, we have developed a teaching methodology that balances traditional “third-person” perspectives with “critical first-person” perspectives. With such a balanced approach, which we have termed “Integrative Contemplative Pedagogy,” we can best approach the study of the full range of human contemplative experience. This kind of integrative pedagogy is known throughout higher education in the Creative Arts, in laboratory science, and in public speaking, for example: what we are doing is extending it to the study of consciousness.

At Brown during the last decade, we have slowly built a coordinated program of courses in this deliberately interdisciplinary field, which includes the Humanities, the Sciences, and the Creative Arts. We have developed a core faculty teaching in these areas, have sponsored over a dozen Independent Conentrations, and have advised more than three dozen students in developing a contemplative focus within existing concentrations. We have also, through the generosity of our donors, sponsored more than 90 lectures and workshops by distinguished scientists, humanists, artists, and contemplative teachers.

In addition we have built a strong program within the Medical School Scholarly Concentration Program, one in which we train physicians in the various contemplative skills they will need to be better clinicians. To this point we have trained eight students in this program.

We have also taken a leading role in developing this new academic field throughout the country, being involved in organizing conferences and advising programs that are being developed throughout higher education.

Our short range goal is to become an official Brown concentration, thus making it easier for students to major in our field. Our long range goal is to build a Center for Contemplative Studies, one that combines our Arts and Sciences program with our Medical School program and reaches out to the arena of Public Health. It is in this center that we hope to educate a new generation of contemplative humanists, scientists, and artists, who are raised on interdisciplinary principles and feel just as comfortable discussing Shakespeare or Vivekananda or Laozi as they do EEG’s and fMRI’s and writing plays like Beckett or Brecht or performing in them.