Toward a Spiritual Research Paradigm: Exploring new ways of knowing, researching and being – book review

CityU’s Tom Culham  contributed one of the chapters for this book, Towards a Spiritual Research Paradigm, as well as helped edit it with Jing Lin and Rebecca Oxford. We’re pleased to highlight a review of the book, and share it as an example of applying mindfulness in approaching education and leadership.

Toward a Spiritual Research Paradigm: Exploring Ways of Knowing, Researching and Being is a fascinating text that thoughtfully considers the spiritual dimension of research methodologies. Edited by Jing Lin, Rebecca Oxford, and Tom Culham, this book provides an eclectic collection of perspectives on what might constitute a spiritual research paradigm in educational research and more broadly in the social sciences. This edited volume at once critically challenges mainstream approaches to educational research, while concomitantly creating space for transcendent thinking in research and practice.

As a curriculum theorist and early childhood educator engaged in qualitative inquiry, I read this intriguing text with an appreciation for its critical complexity as well as its pragmatic value. In a sense, this courageous book effectively questions the philosophical assumptions underlying customary research methods and provokes generative thought and discussion about the inclusion of spirituality as a common, albeit underutilized, aspect of human endeavorsand intellectual work. The opening chapter by Oren Ergas appraises scientific paradigms as socially constructed gods. Ergas helpfully orients notions of a spiritual paradigm within discourses familiar to many qualitative researchers, while also distinguishing the spiritual dimension from what he deems to be the hyper‐rationality that dominates traditional research methodologies. His ontological assertion that “the spirit is” establishes cognitive dissonance with the conventions of a “naturalistic paradigm,” setting the stage for various formulations of transcendence as viable modes of inquiry in subsequent chapters. In the second chapter, Anne W. Anderson embraces mystery and the seemingly irrational. Advancing transcendent realism, Anderson suggests methods of observation, experimentation and comparison “guided by other than the intellect,” allowing for possibilities of more expansive renderings of human experience open to even that which is perhaps beyond human comprehension (p. 46). She argues that even narrow propensities to discover, construct and interpret the Here‐and‐Now point to real possibilities of the revealed existence of a Beyond. Ramdas Lamb, a professor of religious studies, focuses upon taking up a spiritual paradigm for research and teaching in the third chapter. He begins with an explanation of positivism and therefore quantitative research methods as a convention emerging in the 17th century in response to the doctrinaire of religious fundamentalism. Positivists’ narrow view of inquiry, Lamb argues, offers a competing extreme, no less dogmatic than religious fundamentalists’ narrow‐mindedness. The spiritual research paradigm conceptualized
in this chapter draws upon Indian religious traditions to validate pluralistic forms of study and foundational experiences.

Bai, Morgan, Scott and Cohen bring together phenomenological and ecological in the fourth chapter. Situating spirituality within subjective experience, the authors lament the marginalization of subjective ways of knowing within the academy. Drawing on leading phenomenologists, they advance methodological approaches that integrate affect, spirituality, cognition and intersubjectivity as interwoven and embodied presuppositions of the human condition. In chapter five, London introduces the enneagram as symbolizing a spiritually transformative problem solving process. Describing the enneagram process as a form of spiritual pragmatism, the author provides dual‐purpose guidance. The process involves the challenge of elevating one’s state of being as an essential part of addressing a significant problem. In effect, London offers practical advice for bringing about a harmonious way of being, “in which there is no duality between the world of function and the world of spirit, a world in which we consistently cooperate with the spirit” (p.100). Jack Miller authored the sixth chapter contending that academic work has become too detached from the body and soul. In response to this issue, he addresses matters of mind, body, and spirit in a manner quite different from other the chapters.

Referencing a Buddhist monk’s interpretation of mindfulness, Moustakas’ (1994) transcendental phenomenology and multi‐disciplinary perspectives on embodied wisdom, Miller formulates an epistemological stance called cardiognosis, a “logic of the heart,” and a “loving‐kindness practice” called metta (p.135). For Miller, the spiritual paradigm constitutes a life‐long, loving way of practicing holistic inquiry. The seventh chapter, by Lin, Culham and Oxford, grounds the development of a spiritual paradigm within the Confucian tradition. Like many of the previous chapters, the authors raise concerns about the marginalization of subjectivity within the academy. However, a detailed explanation of the philosophical
presuppositions of Daoism and Confucianism foregrounds another distinct approach to cultivating virtue. The editors of this volume insert their voices in the eighth and ninth chapters. In the eighth chapter, Culham and Lin, contrast the traditions of Western science with the values derived from Daoism. By highlighting aspects of Qigong medicine and providing a narrative illustration, the authors bring to bear an extant possibility for addressing spirituality scientifically. In the ninth chapter, Rebecca Oxford takes up Judeo‐Christian tradition through an ecumenical approach called creation spirituality. Epistemologically, Oxford, advances four paths toward wisdom, integrating science, mysticism or prayer and art as the core of a spiritual research paradigm. In the tenth chapter, Brantmeier and Brantmeier provide what is perhaps the book’s most thorough primer on the philosophical foundations of qualitative inquiry to contextualize a spiritual paradigm. Referencing Hinduism as their basis for a non‐dualistic perspective, the authors carefully ground their discussion of a spiritual paradigm with the extant discourse of qualitative research. While a known point of departure may be helpful for entering into a conversation with contemporary academics, it also brings into question the alleged absence of spirituality maintained throughout the book. The final chapter articulates the structural details of a spiritual research paradigm in action. Edwards underscores the qualities of attention and intention within the spiritual paradigm, calling for researchers to attend to wisdom and intuition that explores the meaning and essence of the human condition through spiritual practices with intentions to contribute to the production of knowledge. In conclusion, Toward a Spiritual Research Paradigm: Exploring Ways of Knowing, Researching and Being is an ambitious book that boldly provokes a dialogue at the intersection of skepticism and hope.

Skeptical of the dominant culture of empirical‐rationality among academic researchers that separate mind, body and often disregard notions of spirit, the authors collectively maintain hopeful optimism in the possibilities for more holistic forms of being, becoming and understanding through adept introductions to the nuances of a wide variety of spiritual perspectives. From a pragmatic lens, the “skeptical hope” that underlies this book offers two promising points of departure for future conversations among educational researchers and graduate students. First, the editors’ decision to include numerous points of view regarding spirituality extends a non‐doctrinaire platform for spiritual research. Secondly, several of the authors’ willingness to engage with dominant paradigms of educational research, in their own terms, marks a possibility for spiritual researchers to take advantage of opportunities to participate in mainstream educational discourse, instead of relegating themselves to the sidelines. Advocating for qualitative inquiry in a contentious policy environment, Donmoyer (2006) suggested a similar pragmatic strategy, arguing that the incommensurability of disparate philosophical assumptions does not equate to logical incompatibilities that prohibit generative dialogue. Hence, it is my hope that the theoretical depth and practical utility of this will be taken up by spiritual and secular researchers alike, complicating
conversations and broadening the horizons of educational research.

Donmoyer, R. (2006). Take my paradigm… please! The legacy of Kuhn’s construct in educational research, International Journal
of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19(1),11–34.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Cite This Article as: Teachers College
Record, Date Published: January 26, 2018 ID Number: 22256, Date Accessed: 1/31/2018 3:17:41

Tom Culham teaches TRANSFORMATION THROUGH ETHICAL LEADERSHIP, A certificate program designed for Executive and Middle Management Leadership, offered through CityU’s Continuing Education programs. You can learn more about the next series beginning February 28, 2018 HERE. The program is taught over 5 consecutive Wednesdays 9am – 1pm, Feb 28 – Mar 28. Download a program flyer HERE.

Tom Culham, Ph.D., Program Director School of Management City University in Canada Co-Chair, Contemplative Inquiry and Holistic Education, Special Interest Group of the Comparative International Education Society. Representative at Large Research, Management, Spirituality and Religion Special Interest Group of the Academy of Management.