Epistemology, Wisdom, and Social Transformation: Strategies at the Forefront of the Contemplative Movement in Higher Education
Date of Graduation
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
School of Education
Organization & Leadership EdD
American society is currently experiencing a surging interest in contemplative practices. The secularization and professionalization of contemplative practices can be seen in the adoption of mindfulness-based approaches in sectors as wide-ranging as technology, nonprofit, and higher education. Amongst all these fields, institutions of higher education play a unique role within the contemplative movement in that the academy lays claim to the powerful social roles of producing and disseminating knowledge and, subsequently, of shaping societal values and behaviors.
In conducting this qualitative study, the researcher analyzed 1) what the academics in the contemplative movement expressed through their speech regarding the activities that forward their work within the context of an epistemological shift in the academy; 2) the extent to which these academics articulated a connection between activities aimed toward the epistemological shift within the academy, the cultivation of wisdom, and activities directed toward social transformation; 3) which methods contemplative scholars, scientists, and administrators employ through curricular innovation, study designs, the securing of project funding, and networks of support in order to act as agents of institutional change and social transformation. This research paired activity theory (AT) and critical discourse analysis (CDA).
Fifteen participants representing a spectrum of academics engaged in contemplative practice or research on contemplative practice were interviewed. With the exception of three participants, all others indicated that they conceived of a positive correlation between contemplative practice and the cultivation of wisdom, contemplative practice and social transformation, or a more complex connection between all three. Non-profits were found to be central to the movement’s unfolding. The construction and production of knowledge occurred around strategic discourse for a number of academics. Rich texts for the analysis of word meaning came overwhelmingly from those academics who experienced contradiction in their activity setting. The first eight participants represented contrast sharply with the last seven in terms of the social status they have within their university settings. With the exception of five participants, all others discussed some form of delegitimization, isolation, and scarcity of resources, even though they may also have experienced legitimization, integration, and support.
Suggestions for future research and practice are discussed. The researcher advises that studies that pair approaches from contextualized Theology or Religious Studies, Social Psychology, and educational theory should be conducted to examine the adaptation of contemplative practices for the spaces of socially marginalized people. Additionally, non-profit organizations and centers conducting research on contemplative practices should create opportunities for research assistantships, internships, and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students that foster interdisciplinary inquiry into contemplative practice pairing people in the sciences and humanities together.
Smith, N. (2017). Epistemology, Wisdom, and Social Transformation: Strategies at the Forefront of the Contemplative Movement in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://repository.usfca.edu/diss/409