Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Postmodernism and Spirituality: Some Pedagogical Implications for Teaching Content on Spirituality

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Postmodernism and Spirituality: Some Pedagogical Implications for Teaching Content on Spirituality

Article excerpt

INTEREST IN INCORPORATING content on spirituality into social work education has increased dramatically, particularly during the past decade (Canda, 2005). This interest is reflected in a number of areas, including specialized courses on spirituality and religion, general course content, and the profession's accrediting standards.

Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of the growing interest is the increasing number of specialized courses dealing with spirituality and religion. In 1990, Miller (2001) reported that only a handful of graduate programs offered elective courses on spirituality. By 1995, the number had risen to 17 programs (Miller, 2001). In 2000, at least 50 programs offered courses on spirituality and religion (Miller, 2001). More recently, Canda (2005) reported that approximately 75 programs offer courses in spirituality and religion, with the majority being developed in the past 8 years.

Similar changes have occurred in course content. Surveys of practitioners (Canda & Furman, 1999) and content analyses (Cnaan, Boddie, & Danzig, 2005; Tully & Greene, 1995) have indicated that social work curricula have traditionally been largely devoid of spiritual and religious content. This situation, however, appears to be changing quickly. In a survey of top-ranked social work programs, Kilpatrick and Puchalski (1999) found that 75% of the respondents reported having a course in which spirituality or religion was addressed in the curriculum. Of these courses, 74% were required social work courses.

These developments are reflected in, and to some extent driven by, changes to the profession's accrediting standards (Miller, 2001). More specifically, Miller reported that the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE, 2001) revised its accreditation standards in the area of human diversity in 1994 to include religion, the vehicle through which spirituality is commonly expressed (Scott, 2001). In keeping with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 1999) Code of Ethics" standards that address religion, CSWE stipulated that a foundational educational goal is to foster practice that (a) is free of religious discrimination and (b) demonstrates respect, knowledge, and skills regarding clients' religious narratives (Section 3.3). Educational programs are also enjoined to make specific and continuous efforts to provide a learning context that fosters respect for religious diversity (CSWE, 2001, Standard 6.0).

The accelerating vertical and horizontal integration of spirituality content into curricula has proceeded with comparatively little pedagogical, or more accurately, andragogical, reflection (Knowles, 1984). Relatively little discussion has appeared in the literature regarding the nature of the content being taught, or what instructional methods are best suited to teach spirituality (Hodge, 2002). Given the growing amount of classroom time devoted to teaching spirituality (Canda, 2005), some consideration of these issues may be warranted.

Opening a Conversation About Pedagogical Strategies

The purpose of this article is to start a conversation about the possibility that spirituality content is, at least in some ways, unique (Tolliver & Tisdell, 2006). It is possible that the construct of spirituality may differ in some important ways from other constructs that social work educators commonly teach (Fenwick, 2001). If this is the case, then it may be that some portion of the content devoted to spirituality is best taught through more nontraditional pedagogical strategies.

Pedagogy is intimately associated with epistemology, which can be understood as the science of knowledge (Guba & Lincoln, 1998; Slife & Whoolery, 2006; Slife & Williams, 1995). Put differently, epistemology deals with issues such as how knowledge or truth is obtained. Because a central purpose of education is to transmit knowledge, every pedagogical strategy is informed by certain epistemological assumptions about the nature of knowledge and how it is communicated. …

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