Waking Up Together: Contemplation and Transformation in a Higher Education Setting

Stewart-Silver, Mary, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Spreen, Carol, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia


This qualitative case study explored the effects, in a Research 1 public university, of incorporating contemplative approaches into learning, organizational and institutional praxes. The centerpoint of the case was a new donor-funded Center in the setting, established to investigate contemplative practices. The two research questions were: How may contemplative praxis (practice and analysis of contemplation) inform and even transform higher education at this HEI? How may higher education praxis inform and even transform contemplative praxis? The study was a broad investigation of change processes on intra-personal, organizational, and institutional levels, all of which were investigated as complex systems. It explored the possibility that contemplative approaches support stakeholders in producing transformation within complex systems; it also explored how reducing complexity exerts power. In addition to participant observation over 3 ½ years, the study included 94 in-depth interviews. Participants included key stakeholders in the Center, leadership across the University, and interested parties from outside the setting. Findings include that external and internalized constraints in the HE setting challenge contemplative approaches, particularly in organizational and institutional change efforts; for contemplative approaches to be transformational - engendering emergence of deeply inclusive and innovative structural changes - in the context of an HEI, cultivation of first-person (self-awareness), second-person (empathy, compassion), and third-person (as systems thinking) capacities are all necessary. Limitations include the fact that such a broad study, designed to investigate themes across several arenas of praxis in a large setting, does not allow for full exploration in any particular arena.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
complexity, contemplation, higher education, tranformation, equity
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