Contemplative Studies

Contemplative Studies is an emerging interdisciplinary field dedicated to research and education on contemplative practice and contemplative experience, including the possible relevance and application to a wide variety of undertakings. Contemplative Studies has some connection to other fields of inquiry such as consciousness studies, mysticism studies, neuroscience, psychology, religious studies, and so forth. The field of Contemplative Studies is in an embryonic or formative phase, and its parameters are still being established. One approach emphasizes the development of awareness or mindfulness in each and every area of inquiry, including teaching and learning within an academic community. From this perspective, contemplative practice might contain art, dance, movement awareness, and so forth. A more narrowly-focused and religious studies approach seeks to map the entire breadth and depth of contemplative practice as documented within and transmitted by religious adherents and communities. In either case, Contemplative Studies recognizes the importance of both third-person and critical first-person approaches; it makes space for direct personal experience with specific forms of practice. In this way, it challenges the denial of embodied experience within academic discourse and brings the issue of religious adherence in religious studies into high relief.

As currently developed, the primary methodology in Contemplative Studies focuses on neuroscience, and neuroscientific studies of Buddhist meditation in particular. That is, "science" and Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism (cf. Transcendental Meditation in the 1970s), are given a privileged position. Many researchers in turn neglect the religious dimensions of contemplative practice, and, in the process, domesticate contemplative practices by removing them from their religious contexts and larger soteriological systems.  My own approach, rooted in comparative religious studies, emphasizes the contextualized and soteriological dimensions of contemplative practice. This includes locating modern medicalized/therapeutic and appropriative modifications (e.g., iRest, Relaxation Response, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, etc.) within their socio-historical and cultural contexts as well as informing worldviews.

Contemplative Studies programs are being developed at various universities, with the most prominent being Brown University, Emory University, Naropa University, Rice University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia.

The following individuals and organizations offer helpful resources for contemplative study. Information and instruction on contemplative practices are easily found through tradition-specific and technique-centered organizations. View Contemplative Studies Website. Read Contemplative Studies: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).


California Institute of Integral Studies.

Center for Consciousness Studies (University of Arizona). Under the direction of Stuart Hameroff.

Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Under the direction of Mirabai Bush.

Center for Mind and Brain (Uc Davis). Under the direction of George Mangun.

Center for Mindfulness (University of Massachusetts). Associated with Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Esalen Center for Theory and Research.

Esalen Institute. Under the direction of Gordon Wheeler.

Fetzer Institute. Under the direction of Thomas Beech.

Forge Institute. Associated with Robert K.C. Forman.

Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Associated with Herbert Benson.

Institute of Noetic Sciences. Under the direction of James O’Dea.

Integral Institute. Associated with Ken Wilber.

Mind and Life Institute. Under the direction of R. Adam Engle.

Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. Associated with B. Alan Wallace.


Contemplative Education Program (Naropa University).

Contemplative Studies Initiative (Brown University). Under the direction of Harold Roth.

Contemplative Studies Initiative (Emory University).

Mind Body Program (Emory University).

History of Consciousness Department (UC Santa Cruz).

Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies (University of Michigan). Under the direction of Ed Sarath.


Contemplative Studies website

Arthur Deikman's Homepage.

Charles Tart's Homepage.

Journal of Consciousness Studies. Edited by Valerie Gray Hardcastle.

Richard Davidson's Homepage.