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Panel at W&L to Examine the State of Contemplative Education

A gathering of W&L faculty and students will be joined by the directors of the Association for the Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACHME) and the Contemplative Science Center at the University of Virginia for a panel discussion on Thursday, Feb. 27, “Contemplative Practices in Higher Education.”

The event will take place in the Elrod Commons’ Stackhouse Theater, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and is open to the public.

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Eduardo Velasquez, professor of politics at W&L and organizer of the event, has offered a contemplative curriculum to students of political philosophy for several years. “Contemplation in the academy means learning the art of observation in a direct and unadulterated way. It’s about creating space to actually see what is before you,” said Velasquez.

“We see through a framework and have certain expectations of what things are supposed to be. In our perception of things, we think that facts are out there, and they just are. But they come framed with a whole mental apparatus, and if we actually want to know what our relationship is to reality, we have to scrutinize the way that we see reality.”

Velasquez cited the example of a scientist who frames an experiment to look at light to measure waves and therefore sees light as waves. If the scientist were to set up an experiment to look at light to measure particles, then he would see particles. So how a scientist sees and interprets the world reflects on the scientist’s mode of interpretation and observation.

Contemplative practices are widespread and diverse throughout the W&L campus, with a campus-wide conversation among scientists, social scientists and humanists about a common enterprise. Velasquez conceived of this event as a way for those involved in contemplative education to explore the subject further.

The panel includes Daniel Barbezat, the director of the ACHME and an economist from Amherst College, and David Germano, director of the Contemplative Science Center at UVA. Velasquez described the UVA program as the most ambitious and thorough contemplative program in the nation. It runs through all the major schools, both graduate and undergraduate, and several students and faculty will attend the event, as will faculty and students from Virginia Tech, where contemplation started in the engineering department.

The panelists will give “lightning talks,” where they each speak for four minutes, giving quick anecdotes about teaching at the frontier of the embodied mind, the conjunction of neuroscience and the humanities, and contemplative practices and contemplative sciences.

Velasquez pointed out that the panelists were invited not because they all agree with each other. “They will be there because they have questions, as many people do, about what is happening in contemplative higher education, because it’s comprehensive. And with the backing of empirical, experimental brain sciences, it is also irresistible,” he said.