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Contemplative Studies


At present, this website is a collaborative online resource for the emerging interdisciplinary field of Contemplative Studies. It is our hope that it will eventually become associated with an interdisciplinary academic program or concentrations and perhaps with an educational and research center, drawing faculty and courses from a variety of specializations.

About Contemplative Studies

Contemplative Studies is an emerging interdisciplinary field. It is closely associated with other fields of inquiry such as consciousness studies, mysticism studies, psychology, neuroscience, religious studies, and so forth. The field of Contemplative Studies is in its formative phase, and its parameters are still being established. One approach emphasizes the development of awareness in each and every area of inquiry, including teaching and learning. From this perspective, contemplative practice might encompass art, dance, movement awareness, photography, sculpture, and so forth. A more narrowly focused and religious studies approach seeks to map the entire breadth and depth of contemplative practice and experience as documented within and transmitted by religious adherents and communities. In any case, Contemplative Studies recognizes the importance of both third-person and critical first-person approaches; it makes space for direct personal experience with specific forms of practice. In this way it challenges the denial of embodied experience and subjectivity within much of academic discourse and brings the issue of religious adherence in religious studies into high relief.

As currently developed, the primary methodology in Contemplative Studies focuses on neuroscience and neuroscientific studies of Buddhist meditation, especially Theravada Vipassana, Japanese Zazen, and various forms of Tibetan Buddhist meditation. That is, "science" and Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism (cf. Transcendental Meditation in the 1970s), are given a privileged position. Many researchers in turn neglect or exclude the religious dimensions of contemplative practice, and, in the process, reconceptualize contemplative practices by extracting them from their religious contexts and larger soteriological systems. For Contemplative Studies to develop and flourish, a more comprehensive, inclusive, pluralistic and collaborative approach is required. Such an approach would include scholars located in the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences. Contemplative Studies might thus include the Creative Arts (visual art, photography, music composition and performance, creative writing and performance), Appreciative Arts (art history, music history, comparative literature), Medical Arts, Theatre Arts, and Physical Education. One possible connective strand among contemplative approaches to all of these is the development of attentiveness, awareness, internal silence, and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

Goal of the Contemplative Studies Website

As a collaborative online resource, the Contemplative Studies website aims to strengthen Contemplatives Studies as an emerging interdisciplinary field and in dialogue with Religious Studies. With respect to comparative religious studies, researchers may focus on the contextual nuances and soteriological dimensions of religiously-committed contemplative practice and experience. This requires not reducing contemplative practice to techniques; it involves recognizing the larger systems within which specific practices are undertaken. Considered comprehensively, contemplative practice often includes aesthetics, dietetics, ethics, material culture, meditation, prayer, ritual, scripture study, and so forth.