Concentrating in Contemplative Studies

The Contemplative Studies Initiative is working to establish a formal concentration with the hope this will be accomplished in the coming academic year. Even without this,  students may concentrate in Contemplative Studies via the route of an Independent Concentration. This route, while quite challenging, makes students think seriously about the meaning and purpose of their concentration and develop very focused plans to achieve them. Details of how to do this are available from the Dean of the College Office and from the Contemplative Studies Initiative Director. A dozen students have succeeded in doing this in the past few years. Contemplative Studies faculty have served as advisor and mentors to these students, and to at least three times that many students who have chosen to pursue a contemplative focus within an existing concentration.

Whether it is pursued through work in established departments and programs, through an independent concentration, or through the new concentration we are developing and plan to propose, Contemplative Studies as a field uses "Integrative Contemplative Pedagogy" to develop two complementary expertises:  third-person philosophical and scientific knowledge of the variety of contemplative experiences; and critical first-person knowledge of the great variety of ways that these contemplative states are attained through the many types of attentional training found in traditions of meditation, through the creation and appreciation of literature and art, through the literary, visual, musical, and dramatic arts, and through a number of other human endeavors. We are also interested in examining the influence of contemplative experiences on the development of a variety of pro-social virtues.

In an effort to accomplish this, the student’s work in Contemplative Studies should be grounded in the required seminar on the foundations of the new field of Contemplative Studies. In UNIV0540, “Introduction to Contemplative Studies,” students explore the philosophical and scientific understanding of contemplative states and the methodologies for attaining them found primarily in a number of the world’s major contemplative traditions. In addition to UNIV 0540, students who concentrate in Contemplative Studies also complete a core group of courses that contain a significant first-person component, two in each of the three major areas of our field, Humanities, Sciences, and the Creative Arts (see Courses for listings; titles with * include a first-person component). After that, students complete their concentration with five other courses relevant to the Contemplative Studies area in which they choose to focus. The three major areas are:

  • Humanities: the study of the role of contemplation in philosophy, the major religious traditions of the world, in world literature,  history and in a variety of other related fields;

  • Science: the study of the nature and significance of the varieties of contemplative experiences found predominately in neuroscience, cognitive science,  and psychology;  applications of contemplative practices to medical science and community medicine;

  • Creative Arts: the study of the role of contemplation in the visual and fine arts, creative writing, and in the various performing arts of dance, drama, and music.

To this point, students have followed these principles in creating Contemplative Studies Independent Concentrations on such topics as the Neuroscience of Meditation, on Contemplative Music, on Contemplative and Ethics, on the Psychology of Contemplation, and on Contemplative Art, to name a few. They have been accepted into a number of the country's best medical schools and graduate schools in the Sciences and Humanities, as well as joined contemplative practice communities.

In order to foster the critical first-person pedagogy of the concentration and to promote the developing self-knowledge of students, we will continue to offer an ongoing set of lectures and workshops in the great variety of contemplative practices and their critical study that will help to give continuity and integration to the program. Contemplative practitioners from the core faculty, guests from the area contemplative community and renowned scholars of Contemplative Studies and practitioners of the Contemplative Arts will be invited to campus. In addition to this, students will be encouraged to explore the many contemplative practice options that are available in centers  throughout the country, links to which are found in our resources page. Towards this end, we have established a competetion for Summer Contemplative Practice Grants and have developed the Contemplative Mentor in Residence position.