Launch of spirituality research group (SpirSoP)

June 1, 2021 in Featured News, News

Over 80 academics and professionals attended the launch of a new research group, Spirituality in Society and the Professions (SpirSoP), at a webinar at Waterford Institute of Technology on 21 May 2021. It marked the 20th anniversary of the MA in Applied Spirituality programme, and was co-organised by the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education (SpIRE). The guest speaker was Dr Jonathan Reams, Associate Professor at the Department of Pedagogy and Lifelong Learning, Norwegian University of Science & Technology, who gave a talk entitled ‘Soul Space for Adaptive Leadership’. Click here for more information on SpirSoP ».

Dr Reams is a graduate of Gonzaga University, a Jesuit university in Washington, United States. In his talk, he presented insights from integral psychology and neuroscience that can help people recognize, name, and utilize their inner spiritual capacities to become more transformative leaders. Below are five key points from his talk:

  1. Tuning into the spirit enables a person to take a unique approach to leadership in the workplace. Spirit is ‘always becoming more than itself’. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
  2. Three concepts of leadership were presented. These include Heifetz’s adaptive work (requiring a change in values, beliefs or behaviour); a holding environment (whereby a person is psychologically safe to deal with questions); and the virtuality of self (which deals with the ‘soul space’ of the brain in learning).
  3. Three principles of leadership were also presented. These include an expansive way of conceiving reality (‘reality as an ocean of love and mercy’); engaging our presence with others in the world (non-judgmental awareness); and an invitation toward a coherent self and soul (‘life will teach you better’).
  4. Heart at war: A person whose heart is at war is obscuring reality. Their ‘complexity of mind’ is enmeshed with self-deception and justifications leading to more complex obfuscations of reality.
  5. Heart at peace: A person whose heart is at peace is present to reality. Their ‘complexity of mind’ – blended with self-awareness, clarity and purity – leads to robustness, resilience and coherence.

Click here for the website of Dr Jonathan Reams ».

The webinar featured an address on the brief history of the MA in Applied Spirituality and an outline of the vision for the new research group. Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ noted how he was recruited by Dr Bernadette Flanagan at the beginning of the millennium to join the Department of Spirituality at the Milltown Institute in Dublin.

As Dr O’Sullivan said, “the rest is history” for this partnership led to the spread and development of spirituality as an academic discipline within and beyond Ireland, which included the advancement, with other staff, of the MA in Applied Spirituality programme. Today, there are MA graduates in this programme from more than 20 countries and 40 professions.

Dr O’Sullivan pointed out that Dr Flanagan was the “leading light” behind the creation of the Spirituality in Society and the Professions (SpirSoP) research group, and is its co-director with Dr Paul Clogher and Dr Pádraic Hurley of WIT.

In outlining its vision, Dr Flanagan said the spirit of SpirSoP can be represented by the word ‘welcome’, hoping it can be an “open space to explore the deep questions of our age”. She emphasised the group’s support for MA and PhD candidates with the use of the SpIRE library, a specialised collection of spirituality books and resources in Milltown Park, Dublin. In 2021 to date, WIT researchers have secured funding for two PhD positions to investigate the extensive topics of eating disorders (co-funded by SpIRE), and pilgrimage routes in Ireland.

Members of SpirSoP examine how to bring the academic study of spirituality into engagement with social and professional contexts through first/second/third person methods of enquiry. ‘Spirituality’ is used in a broad range of contexts including established religions and wisdom traditions; professional settings such as education, medicine, health and social care; leadership, management and workplace studies; as well as in healing therapies, life-coaching, and personal and professional development.

Dr Flanagan also emphasised an ever-expansive view of spirituality that is relevant to academic and non-academic interests.

Participants at the webinar included Professor William West, University of Chester, the external examiner for the research modules in the MA in Applied Spirituality; Professor Eckhart Frick SJ from the University of Munich, the first Professor of Spiritual Care in Europe; Dr Alain Noghiu, Director of the Spiritual Capital and Moral Leadership Institute at Washington and Madrid; colleagues at WIT, IT Carlow, DCU, RCSI and UCC; and PhD candidates including from Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio.