Spirituality and education: A conceptual analysis

Date of Completion

January 2000


Religion, General|Education, Philosophy of




The dissertation is a conceptual analysis of the concept of “spirituality” in education as it appears in recent literature. The study focuses on the writings of Parker J. Palmer, David E. Purpel, and John P. Miller. It provides a conceptual analysis of “spirituality,” presents a comprehensive argument for spirituality in education, and proposes an implementation continuum. ^ The concept of “spirituality” names or refers to a state of consciousness in which we experience a sense of wholeness and relation. It is an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, a compassionate attentiveness in the here and now. “Spirituality” thus understood is synonymous with “mindfulness.” Attaining this state of consciousness involves transcending the I-It relations characteristic of the busy interactive world of everyday life and entering into I-Thou relations—with one another, with nature and the invisible world of the Spirit, and with our deeper selves. ^ The argument for spirituality in education involves the recovery of wholeness and relation in educational contexts. It acknowledges alternative ways of knowing such as intuition, imagination, and empathy. It calls for a recommitment to educational freedom so that students and teachers can live authentically and compassionately as communities of truth. It demands that all educational policies and programs be grounded in discussions of the meaning and value of human life. ^ The implementation of spirituality in education is best conceptualized as a continuum. It begins with the individual teacher getting in touch with his or her true self through contemplative practices and spiritual disciplines. The contemplative teacher then creates a peaceable classroom, which is characterized by community, contemplation, and compassion. At the school level, impediments to wholeness and relation such as grading and the Carnegie unit are removed, and integrated studies and world religions courses are instituted. Finally, the school is connected to the larger culture by placing real world problems and problem-solving at the heart of the curriculum. ^ In closing, the study considers the status of spirituality in education as a movement; proposes an agenda, including a call for vouchers; and affirms the primacy of love in moving toward this radical educational vision. ^