Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Implications of Spirituality in Multicultural Curricular, Pedagogical, and Research Paradigms

By Brimhall-Vargas, Mark; Clark, Christine | Multicultural Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Implications of Spirituality in Multicultural Curricular, Pedagogical, and Research Paradigms


Brimhall-Vargas, Mark, Clark, Christine, Multicultural Education


Stop moving to become still,

and the stillness will move.

If you hold on to opposites,

you cannot understand one.

Do not live in the world of opposites.

Be careful! Never go that way.

If you make right and wrong,

your mind is lost in confusion."

-Tseng Ts'an,

Third Patriarch of Zen (2005, pp. 2-3)

Introduction

Though the United States is far from having any kind of national agreement on the role spirituality can fill in an educational context, there is a common theme that academics, religious scholars, and everyday citizens in U.S. society do agree about: we are experiencing a sense of spiritual crisis with respect to modern existence that we are uncertain about how to address. This article will explore spirituality as a vehicle through which people of varied belief systems may become unified, even against a backdrop of societal atomization.

Toward this end, this article will: (1) offer a working definition of spirituality; (2) explore current research related to spirituality in educational settings; (3) identify concrete benefits of imbuing public education curricula content and pedagogy with spirituality; and (4) discuss the impact spirituality has on educational research paradigms and the researchers who utilize them.

Toward a Definition of Spirituality

We would like to pre-empt our process of defining 'spirituality' by delineating an approach to that process. That approach requires us to first define 'rubric.' A simple dictionary definition of the term 'rubric' is "any rule of conduct or procedure" (Stein 1975, p. 1151). Having a rubric is important in the context of examining any complex and controversial topic, like that of spirituality in education, because it conveys a sense of awareness regarding the challenges the topic poses for discussion and, thus, the need for some discretion in conversation.

Through the use of a rubric, some perspectives on the topic will be perceived to be helpful and beneficial to all involved in the discourse, while offering others will be ruled 'out of bounds,' not offered in the 'spirit' of goodwill to people regardless of belief systems, ideological points of entry into debate, social identity group memberships, or on the basis of other exceptionalities. It is our hope the rubric we construct here can at least become an implicit, wellestablished protocol in national dialogue on spirituality as we, as a citizenry, become more comfortable with the topic.

Spirituality

Contemporary spirituality is rapidly being defined as a distinct 'third space' relative to orthodox religion and mechanistic science. Juxtaposed in this way, a contemporary definition of spirituality rejects premodern definitions that close any possibility of transcendent inquiry, because those definitions focus on the content of specific orthodox religions to the exclusion of a spiritual process.

Likewise, a contemporary definition of spirituality also rejects the modern and decidedly Western scientific tendency toward reductionist content and linear process as anathema to holistic approaches to understanding, especially via dialectical critical thought. Instead, contemporary spirituality seeks to empower individuals in the construction of their own informed, but interconnected, content knowledge bases through varied emancipatory pedagogical processes.

In an effort to bring these two seemingly mutually exclusive paradigms together and into a shared rubric, Slattery suggests that from a postmodern location the needs and desires of both paradigms can be integrated into a mutually accommodating whole-a sociopolitically located, multicultural whole (1995). "Postmodern curriculum promotes the exploration of this mystery of eternity and the return to theology to its authentic place as queen of the sciences, not in the premodern sense of an authoritarian monarch to be feared or in the modern sense of an antique barren goddess to be displayed in a museum, but rather as the postmodern benevolent and nurturing Sophia, goddess of eternal wisdom" (Slattery 1995, p. …

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