Cover Page

Introducing Contemplative Studies

Louis Komjathy






















“Each day I examine myself in three ways: In doing things for others, have I been disloyal? In interactions with friends, have I been untrustworthy? Have I failed to practice what has been transmitted?”

–Zengzi (Master Zeng; ca. 505–435 BCE)

“The third point is to demand an account of my soul from the moment of rising to that of the present examination, hour by hour or period by period. One’s thoughts should be examined first, then one’s words, and finally one’s actions.”

–Ignacio de Loyola (1491–1556)

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.”

–Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969)

“The aim is a person that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but through increased consciousness of how movement works.”

–Moshé Feldenkrais (1904–1984)


This is the first book‐length introduction to 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. It may employ first‐person, second‐person, and third‐person approaches, although “critical first‐person discourse” is a defining characteristic. This exciting, controversial, and potentially subversive field also includes contemplative pedagogy. Contemplative pedagogy is a new experimental and experiential approach to teaching and learning informed by and perhaps expressed as contemplative practice. At once comprehensive overview, critical reflection, and visionary proposal, Introducing Contemplative Studies contains eight chapters that cover Contemplative Studies, contemplative practice, contemplative experience, contemplative traditions, contemplative pedagogy, interpretive approaches, current trends, and future prospects. The book not only examines various emerging approaches and related theoretical issues, but also addresses unrecognized problems and potential research trajectories. Along the way, readers will gain a comprehensive and sophisticated understanding of Contemplative Studies and receive encouragement to find their own place in what is increasingly becoming a widespread movement, with contemplative research being conducted from various disciplinary perspectives and contemplative pedagogy being used throughout every level of the American educational system and beyond.


Contemplative Studies inspires reflection on one’s life. It asks one to consider the ways in which commitments are embodied, views enacted, and theories practiced. In fact, it reveals these as interconnected and inseparable. Contemplative Studies explores the diverse and complex expressions of contemplative practice and contemplative experience, including through contemplative inquiry, contemplative consciousness, and contemplative being. It makes space for embodied, lived, and participatory approaches. Such a “way” has always appealed to me, even though I did not have a name for it. Embodied practice, a life beyond mere theory, has informed my life and my work.

For me, Contemplative Studies has provided an alternative discourse community, a contemplative space if you will. It has offered and continues to offer a sanctuary from much of academic life that is at odds with my own values, commitments, and deeper interests. I have found myself constantly standing at the proverbial crossroads between contemplative seclusion, the mountain hermitage or monastic community, and contemplative engagement, the academy or radical (re)education. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke tells us, “Sometimes a man stands up during supper/and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,/because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.” I often wonder whether I am walking away or towards.

So, first and foremost, I am grateful to the pioneers of the field and others with similar affinities for opening and tending to such a site. This is a place where actual contemplation, inquiry, interiority, and transformation are possible. Contemplative Studies has allowed me to continue to be in Daoist Studies, without being of Daoist Studies. The latter is small in every sense of the word, and in ways that fail to actually engage Daoism as such. Contemplative Studies has enabled me to share my sustained research on the varieties of Daoist meditation, in both historical and lived expressions, in settings where individuals are actually interested in Daoism. In terms of Religious Studies, it has also provided a venue for exploring my interests in contemplative practice and mystical experience from a comparative and cross‐cultural perspective, but in collaboration and dialogue with a wider community of individuals. Through interdisciplinarity, deeper and more sophisticated understanding is possible. Contemplative Studies also consists of a community that recognizes the unique contributions of “scholar‐practitioners” and that explores the possibility of a more integrated and holistic way of life.

I wish to thank my colleagues and friends in Contemplative Studies, especially members of the Contemplative Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion. They include Thomas Coburn, Andrew Fort, Fran Grace, Anne Klein, Harold Roth, and Judith Simmer‐Brown. I am also appreciative of opportunities to present my approach to and vision for Contemplative Studies in a variety of academic contexts, specifically through formal public lectures and workshops. I am particularly grateful to Harold Roth, the Department of Religious Studies, and the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University, Fran Grace and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Redlands, and Andrew Fort and Mark Dennis, the Department of Religion at Texas Christian University (TCU), and members of the southwest region of the American Academy of Religion. Like my edited volume Contemplative Literature (2015), the TCU workshop was supported by a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religious Studies as well as a grant from the American Academy of Religion. The present book has also benefited from and been informed by the Conference on Contemplative Studies (2014), which was organized by me and held at the University of San Diego. I am thankful for the support of the Center for Educational Excellence, Center for Inclusion and Diversity, Center for Christian Spirituality, Department of Theology and Religious Studies (THRS), Office of the Dean, and Office of the Provost. Like the TCU workshop, this conference was partially funded by the American Academy of Religion. I am also grateful to my THRS colleagues for their assistance with organization and support of the conference itself.

Additionally, I have benefited and received encouragement from other colleagues and friends outside of Contemplative Studies per se. They include Douglas Christie, Mary Frohlich, Aaron Gross, Jeffrey Kripal, Gerard Mannion, and Alberto López Pulido. I also wish to express my gratitude to those who have opposed, disparaged, dismissed, and marginalized my work. While it was difficult at the time, in the end it has become a source of liberation, one in which writing projects like the present one are undertaken without concern for “critical reception,” “professional repercussions,” and the oft‐stated threat of “professional suicide.” Perhaps Contemplative Studies is one antidote to the trials and tribulations of academic life. Like the great Peng bird in the Zhuangzi (Chuang‐tzu; Book of Master Zhuang), it perhaps offers the possibility of “carefree wandering” and “seeing all things as equal.”

The book has also benefited from a life rooted in dedicated contemplative practice and involvement with various contemplative communities. This has included attempts to apply a “contemplative approach” to every undertaking, including “dialogic exchange” and “right livelihood.” I would like to thank the many participants who attended the Daoist retreats offered through the Daoist Foundation and other communities. They have listened with attentiveness, inquired with sincerity, and practiced with dedication. I am grateful for a communal space where I may speak freely about Daoist practice from a committed and lived perspective. I am thankful for the moments to simply be who I am. In particular, I wish to thank the Plaza family (Steve, Cheryl, Evan, and Elliott) for helping to establish and maintain the Gallagher Cove Daoist Association in Olympia, Washington. I am also grateful to community members of the Floating Bridge Daoist Association and Red Bird Lodge.

In addition, I have benefited from various “conversations with contemplatives,” from relationships with individuals who have dedicated their lives to following a contemplative path. In particular, I wish to acknowledge an ongoing “inter‐contemplative dialogue” with Beverly Lanzetta of the Community of a New Monastic Way and William Meninger of St. Benedict’s Monastery. As readers will see, this book is rooted in ecumenical, interreligious, and even inter‐monastic dialogue.

I have also shared many meals and espresso conversations about various dimensions of this book with Frank Biancalana and Susan Cox, and I am grateful to Susan for offering the image that graces the cover of this book. Along these lines, I wish to thank Rebecca Harkin, my editor at Wiley‐Blackwell, for encouraging this book project, as well as the anonymous readers for their support and helpful suggestions. The book also was improved based on critical comments from Douglas Christie, Andrew Fort, and Harold Roth.

Finally, though not last, Kate Townsend, my wife and life partner, has shared many insights and contributed in various undocumented ways. Both personally and professionally, I have benefited from her lifelong practice of meditation and involvement in complementary alternative medicine and movement studies. There’s a science to walking through windows and a light that will never go out. Let’s not try to figure out everything at once.

List of Figures and Tables


0.1 Mountain path
1.1 Contemplative Studies as interdisciplinary field
1.2 Cultural influences on the emergence of Contemplative Studies
1.3 Contemplative Studies as expressed by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and the Mind & Life Institute
2.1 The Tree of Contemplative Practices
2.2 Dimensions of praxis
2.3 Kōdō Sawaki (1880–1965) practicing Zazen
2.4 Examples of religiously committed contemplative practices
2.5 Primary decontextualized and reconceptualized practices in Contemplative Studies
2.6 Major secular and ecumenical practices in Contemplative Studies
3.1 (a) Aikido throw; (b) Moshé Feldenkrais practicing functional integration
4.1 Novices entering the Carthusian Order at Grande Chartreuse (Saint‐Pierre‐de‐Chartreuse, France)
4.2 Simonopetra Monastery (Mount Athos, Greece)
4.3 Shinto misogi ritual at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America (Granite Falls, Washington)
5.1 Children meditating at the Instilling Goodness Elementary School (Ukiah, California)
5.2 Examples of contemplative exercises utilized in contemplative higher education
5.3 Everything (2004) by Guillermo Kuitca (b.1961)
5.4 Detail of Everything
5.5 Floating Rocks by John Daido Loori (1931–2009)
6.1 Detail of Mengxian caotang tu (Dreaming of Immortality in a Thatched Hut) by Tang Yin (1470–1523)
6.2 Contemplative Studies as interdisciplinary field
6.3 Cover image from the program book for Conference on Contemplative Studies
6.4 Four aspects of the study of religion
6.5 Laban Movement Analysis
7.1 Self‐immolation of Thich Quang Duc, 1963
7.2 Statistical analysis of International Symposium for Contemplative Studies 2012
7.3 Mindfulness journal publications by year, 1980–2015
7.4 Tibetan Buddhist monk engaging in technological meditation
8.1 Reconsidering critical subjectivity
8.2 Chicano Park Takeover (Logan Heights, San Diego)
8.3 “Tank Man” near Tiananmen Square (Beijing, China), 1989
8.4 Monkey in captivity


2.1 Major types of contemplative practice
3.1 Comparative table of contemplative states and stages


American Academy of Religion
Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education
Before the Common Era
critical adherent discourse
Common Era
Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Contemplative Studies. Also abbreviated as COST
Contemplative Studies Initiative of Brown University
Contemplative Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion
Contemplative Studies Website
dates unknown
inter‐contemplative dialogue
Introducing Contemplative Studies
International Symposium for Contemplative Studies
Mind & Life Institute
no date
pers. comm.
personal communication
Professional Learning Community


Here is the first book‐length introduction to Contemplative Studies (CS; COST), which 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 practice, especially meditation, in a modern context has become embraced by people of every possible persuasion and social location. There are now contemplatives and contemplative communities that are both rooted in and independent of more encompassing religious traditions. Contemplative Studies aims to study and understand these and related phenomena. Contemplative research is now being conducted from various disciplinary perspectives, and contemplative pedagogy is being used throughout every level of the American educational system and beyond.

Given the recent pedigree of Contemplative Studies, which formally emerged in the early 2000s and only became fully established in the last five years or so, this book may be seen as a strange and complex undertaking. It attempts to describe a field that, in a certain sense, only exists in a nascent form and approximate expressions. So, it could be argued that I am creating a field, rather than describing one. While I do not believe this, it is a legitimate concern, and perhaps a viable criticism.

My decision to write the present book involved a great amount of reflection, not to mention wide‐ranging research, and it was not undertaken lightly. My intention is rooted in both a strong conviction in the importance of the field, including its transformative potential in various areas of inquiry, and an aspiration to move the field forward. It might be seen as a contemplative exercise in itself, both in terms of its expression and its engagement. It offers opportunities for reflection and challenges for clarification, and perhaps even inspiration for participation and adaptation. My own process of writing resulted in some serious reservations and identification of areas requiring revision.

Initially, I had imagined a book that might be comparable to Francis X. Clooney’s Comparative Theology (2010a), also published by Wiley‐Blackwell as an introduction to the associated field. However, these areas of inquiry are radically different, including in terms of origins, development, interests, and expressions. Clooney had, moreover, been a founding figure and primary exponent of the field for almost 20 years when he wrote that book. He had even witnessed the emergence of the “next generation” of comparative theologians, some of whom were trained by Clooney himself. In the present case, representatives of Contemplative Studies are still establishing the parameters of the field, discussing definitional issues, developing critical lexicons, exploring interpretive approaches, and working to create viable models and programs. Generally speaking, we have yet to see more critical engagements and “meta” reflections, ones attentive to various unquestioned assumptions, ingrained opinions, and unrecognized biases. Thus, the present book is at once comprehensive overview, critical reflection, and visionary proposal, with the latter dimension being particularly problematic. In a field that is only emerging, and still requiring reflective revision, how can one offer a “new vision”? One answer is that involvement with the field and thinking through its current expressions and underdeveloped possibilities opens up new vistas, if only vaguely perceived at the present moment. Nonetheless, other CS representatives probably would have written different accounts, and this presentation may be unrecognizable to some. In fact, I am aware that parts of my account will no doubt be disturbing, and may disturb the apparent “stability” of the field. While it contains critical reflections, it is primarily intended to establish a more viable and convincing, more sophisticated and integrated field. This is one in which the foundations are solid and may endure.

The book is informed by my involvement as a participating member in the field for about eight years. During this time, I helped to establish the Contemplative Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion (2010), of which I am the founding co‐chair. I have also been working to create an interdisciplinary program and center of Contemplative Studies. This work has involved a variety of on‐campus public lectures on contemplative education, collaborative relationships with colleagues, as well as participation in the Contemplative Pedagogy Professional Learning Community (PLC) at the University of San Diego. It has also raised questions about Contemplative Studies undertaken at a religiously affiliated (“sectarian” or “church‐based”) university, specifically one with Roman Catholic commitments. I see this as a unique institutional location in the larger field, one in which religious practice, religious values, and theological inquiry are acceptable and compatible.1 As mentioned in the acknowledgments, I have also had the good fortune to present my views and approach at various universities and in the associated CS programs. The opportunity to discuss the field with faculty, students, and participants over informal meals and coffee/tea meetings has clarified my perspective. Along these lines, I have benefited from various “colleagues” who expressed reservations and constantly pointed out the “problematic,” even “dangerous,” nature of the field, all the while avoiding reflection on their own biases.2 More importantly, this account has been informed by my participation in the Cultural Histories of Meditation conference (2010) through the University of Oslo, the first International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (2012) through the Mind & Life Institute, and the Ninth Annual Summer Session on Contemplative Pedagogy (2013) through the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. In short, I have had at least some experience with most of the major CS gatherings. This is not to mention attendance of many public lectures by key CS representatives. However, I attended not simply as a participant, but also as an ethnographer, as a “participant‐observer.” Readers will, in turn, find various “field observations” in my account. Such a “meta” approach was partially encouraged by Clifford Saron of the University of California, Davis, who himself has expressed reservations about the popular construction of “mindfulness” and invocation of the supposed “scientific benefits of meditation.” In his own words, “Science is inherently contemplative. But discussions of the ‘neuroscience of meditation’ often obscure the profundity of both neuroscience and meditation” (pers. comm.). Finally, this book draws upon my role as the principal organizer of the Conference on Contemplative Studies (2014), which was held at the University of San Diego. As discussed in subsequent chapters, this conference was my attempt to foster a truly interdisciplinary approach and ideally to provide a model for further collaboration. Like the present book, it aspired to encourage greater engagement and integration.

Herein I have worked hard to present a relatively descriptive, inclusive, and neutral account. I have attempted to recognize and honor the contributions of various expressions of the field, among individuals, organizations, programs, and other activities. That is, I have endeavored to avoid privileging any specific expression, including my own. I also am not endorsing any individuals, organizations, programs, approaches, or practices. Individuals must follow their own affinities and discernment, and ideally formal training, in determining what is appropriate. While one finds self‐serving and self‐justifying narratives in certain recent publications, ones in which the associated project is framed as “authoritative” or “representative,” the field of Contemplative Studies is diverse, decentralized, and experimental. There is no single or dominant model or authority, although there are some influential expressions, recurring patterns, and emerging trends. Thus, any attempt to discuss the field requires attentiveness and may prove problematic, if not wholly flawed. We are, nonetheless, in need of a comprehensive, representative, and integrated discussion of the field, including a “generous reading” and “critical evaluation” of the contributions and limitations of its various expressions. This is what Introducing Contemplative Studies (ICS) aspires to do.

While I have endeavored to be relatively neutral, especially in my initial presentation of a given articulation, I am not neutral with respect to my own positionality and participation. Thus I should be clear about my own interests and commitments, ones that have at least partially influenced my presentation. Perhaps in a manner paralleling the confessional methodology utilized by certain theologians, one in which “self‐contextualization” is involved, some reference to my own location and views is in order. This may be seen as an expression of the “critical subjectivity” that Contemplative Studies explores and often advocates.

I am a teacher‐scholar of Daoist Studies and Religious Studies. As such, I am concerned about the privileging of Buddhism and the lack of attention to “underrepresented contemplative traditions” in Contemplative Studies. I envision a “non‐Buddhocentric field.” I am also primarily interested in what I refer to as “religiously committed” and “tradition‐based” contemplative practice, including attentiveness to dedicated and prolonged as well as holistic and integrated contemplative practice. This includes recognition of soteriological and theological dimensions. Such a comparative and cross‐cultural approach is more fully expressed in my edited volume Contemplative Literature: A Comparative Sourcebook on Meditation and Contemplative Prayer (2015),3 which might also be engaged as a companion to the present introduction. In addition to a comparative Religious Studies approach, that work utilizes a historical contextualist and textual methodology, including literary translation. In contrast, the present book aspires to be rooted in the interdisciplinary field of Contemplative Studies beyond my location in Religious Studies. Nonetheless, I am disturbed by certain tendencies in the larger field, including cognitive imperialism and spiritual colonialism (see Roth 2008; Komjathy 2015). I am also concerned about the banalization, commodification, and corporatization of contemplative practice, patterns that fail to engage the radical challenges and insights of contemplative traditions. Along these lines, in addition to recognizing secular and spiritualist engagements, we need scholars to research such “new religious movements,” including the Mindfulness Movement. From these comments, readers can probably gather that I believe that Religious Studies has unique contributions to make, and it is telling that so few scholars are consulted, included, or highlighted at major CS gatherings. They/we might help to explain why the field is being constructed in the ways that it is.

One major issue here involves the assumptions and misconceptions of individuals outside of Religious Studies, which is also sometimes referred to as the History of Religion or Religionswissenschaft (Science of Religion). Religious Studies designates the academic study of religion. It is generally characterized by a comparative, descriptive, interdisciplinary, non‐normative, objective, and theoretical approach. That is, in contrast to common misrepresentations, Religious Studies is not catechetical (religious education). Generally speaking, Religious Studies contrasts with, and emerged as a response to, the discipline of Theology (Christian Theology), which tends to involve adherent/insider discourse. That is, Religious Studies tends to be about religion, while Theology tends to be of or from religion. In the larger field of Contemplative Studies, one often finds not only rudimentary understanding of religious traditions, but also problematic views of “religion.” The latter is especially associated with dogmatism, evangelism, sectarianism, and similar tendencies. Thus, paralleling major trends in the larger American society, “religion” is often seen as the “root problem” for peace and progress. One might, in turn, analyze Contemplative Studies in terms of (different) patterns of adherence. We will return to the critical engagement with religion, specifically the relationship between contemplative practice and religious adherence/commitment, in the pages that follow.

Throughout the present book, observant readers will also note a strong emphasis on “contextualization,” that is, the process of locating people, texts, movements, and other phenomena in their corresponding historical, cultural, social, and political circumstances. From my perspective, this involves contextualizing not only “data‐sets,” but also the field itself and its various expressions. That said, while I am a “contextualist” with respect to interpretation, I am not a “constructivist,” at least not in a strong sense, with respect to consciousness. I bring attention to this interpretive approach and commitment because the two are often conflated, and my work has sometimes been misunderstood. Contextualism simply recognizes various influences on a given phenomenon, including one’s life. Constructivism usually utilizes a specific view of consciousness and suggests that mediation is always involved. It is often presented as a form of “postmodern” and “deconstructionist” discourse, rooted in hyper‐relativism, in which human consciousness is thoroughly conditioned and limited, in which every insight and experience is completely constructed. From a contemplative perspective, contextualism reveals the embedded and relational nature of contemplative practice, while constructivism suggests that human being is inherently limited and overdetermined. Unlike constructivism, contextualism does not necessarily preclude the possibility of “liberation,” or even the possibility that context‐specific (e.g., community‐specific and tradition‐specific) contemplative practice could be a source of liberation. It is not mere conditioning and enculturation; de‐automatization and deconditioning are possible. This relates to contemplative practices as rooted in and expressions of distinct soteriological systems, ones in which emphasis is placed on actualization, liberation, perfection, realization, salvation, or some other ultimate purpose of human existence. In short, I accept that there is a “possibility of being” and “psychology of realization” at work in contemplative systems.

Here I should also add that I am a comparativist, particularist, and pluralist. I am not a perennialist. The latter position, common throughout Contemplative Studies, claims that contemplative practice has a shared set of characteristics and aspirations, or at least that experientially it is “about the same thing.” There is an imagined singular goal. As a view of religion, and of contemplative experience by extension, perennialism utilizes an assumed monotheistic or monistic theology. It believes that reality is singular in nature. In contrast, I place emphasis on diversity and difference. In fact, I believe that deep and sophisticated engagement with contemplative traditions reveals mutually exclusive, equally convincing accounts of “reality.” Contemplatives and contemplative communities, and members of any culture more generally, inhabit different worlds, at least cognitively speaking. In theological terms, one is confronted with diversity and plurality. It is possible that different contemplative practices derive from, orient one toward, and/or lead to experiences of different realities. That is, reality may be plural rather than singular, multiple rather than unified. A contemplative approach to being and living might thus be expressed as a deeper commitment to comparative theology and interreligious dialogue, as an acceptance of multiculturalism and religious pluralism that is both committed and open (see Simmer‐Brown 1999; Komjathy 2015). While exclusivism perhaps manifests in opposition and violence, in a drive toward subjugation and extermination of other, and while inclusivism perhaps manifests in collaboration and harmony but perhaps through domestication, homogenization, and convergence, pluralism views diversity and actual difference as beneficial. In place of the potential monoculture of exclusivism and inclusivism, pluralism accepts a world characterized by wildness, biodiversity, and symbiotic relationships. The comparative engagement with contemplative practice and contemplative experience thus need not require cognitive annihilation or transcendence of difference. It may, rather, require complete acceptance of difference.

Returning to my own identity, I am also a Daoist (Taoist) scholar‐practitioner and an ordained Daoist priest, specifically of the Huashan (Mount Hua) lineage of Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) Daoism.4 In terms of personal practice, I have engaged in holistic and integrated Daoist training for over 20 years, including consistent meditation practice. For the last 10 years, I have taught Daoist practices in a variety of contexts, including formal community retreats, personal spiritual direction, and ecumenical venues. Thus, I believe that consideration of religiously committed and tradition‐based practice is important not only from an “academic” perspective, but also from an embodied, lived, and participatory perspective. It relates to my own commitments. I believe that scholar‐practitioners like myself have unique contributions to make. Specifically, they/we offer perspectives in which practice informs theory, and vice versa. At times, this involves “theorizing from the inside out.” The present work is rooted in such postcolonial and postmodern views, although autobiography is perhaps underutilized. The latter inhibition is partially informed by the Daoist values of anonymity, circumspection, deference, and discretion. It is rooted in the Daoist emphasis on “abiding in obscurity” and “remaining hidden,” although I have clearly faltered. Not to worry—there are many other deficiencies as well. In terms of Daoist adherence, I in turn have major reservations about secular and spiritualist engagements with so‐called “Eastern religions” and “wisdom traditions.” These frequently disempower, exclude, and marginalize actual adherents and representatives of the source‐traditions, with the latter seen as “resources.” They frequently create what I refer to as “surrogates of tradition.” Such critical views are based upon my own observations of popular Western constructions of Daoism. They parallel similar “engagements” with respect to Buddhism in general and Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in particular, though there seems to be more adherent and academic complicity there. Colonialist, missionary, and Orientalist legacies are involved. Stated positively, religious adherents and religious communities, especially contemplative ones utilizing what I refer to as “critical adherent discourse” (CAD), may offer radical insights and radical challenges. I see these as extending to questions about aesthetics, community, embodiment, geography, and so forth. As someone with neo‐Luddite tendencies, I am also interested in the possibility of contemplative‐being‐in‐the‐world as an alternative and potential remedy to digital identity, technological mediation, and virtual reality, with their accompanying dislocations, mass distraction, and ecological distortions/disruptions. I see so‐called social media as a death knell for actual, lived community and a major contributing factor in the loss of humanity. Contemplative systems and contemplative traditions point toward the transformative potential of contemplative practice. I would thus like to see greater inclusion of religiously committed and tradition‐based contemplatives in the field. Then, perhaps, Contemplative Studies may actually be Contemplative Studies, a field not only interested in contemplative practice, but also informed by contemplative practice.

Thus, if I had written this book from my disciplinary and committed perspective, it would have been a very different work. Instead, I have aspired to write a book about the field and for the field. This means that Religious Studies is only one disciplinary approach, that Daoism is only one contemplative tradition, and that religiously committed meditation, including Daoist meditation, is only type or style of contemplative practice. I have endeavored to map the field in an ecumenical, interdisciplinary, multi‐perspectival, and pluralistic manner. I have endeavored to envision the field in its fullest possible expression, including the contributions and limitations of different approaches. I have worked to understand the field in a comprehensive and integrated way, a way that includes marginalized and underrepresented viewpoints. Perhaps the book may be seen as a contemplative inquiry, pointing toward the possibility of contemplative being and a more contemplative field.

The book consists of eight chapters, which cover Contemplative Studies, contemplative practice, contemplative experience, contemplative traditions, contemplative pedagogy, interpretive approaches, current trends, and future prospects. Chapter 1 explores Contemplative Studies as an emerging interdisciplinary field, provides a preliminary history of the field, examines programs, organizations, and venues, and discusses critical issues in the field. Chapter 2 covers contemplative practice in terms of terminology and characteristics, types of contemplative practice, dimensions of contemplative practice, and prominent methods. In Chapter 3, I focus on contemplative experience through attention to the meaning of “experience,” varieties of contemplative experience, the possibility of being and psychologies of realization, and dark nights and spiritual emergencies. Chapter 4 considers contemplative traditions by exploring the notions of tradition, traditioning, and traditionalization, contemplative traditions themselves, contemplative strains of religious traditions, and “emerging traditions.” Chapter 5 investigates contemplative pedagogy by considering teaching and learning, contemplative pedagogy itself, approaches and courses, and actual contemplative exercises. In Chapter 6, I examine interpretive approaches with particular attention to contextualization and identity, interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity, approaches to contemplative practice, and approaches to contemplative experience. Chapter 7 covers current trends in terms of power, prestige, and privilege, “therapeutic meditation” and “contemplative science,” meditation as a new religious movement, and cognitive imperialism and spiritual colonialism. The final chapter explores future prospects by considering “the depth dimension,” the meaning and potential meaning of “contemplative” in Contemplative Studies, autoethnography, alterity, and intersubjectivity, and contemplative resistance and contemplative engagement. Each chapter also contains a variety of aids for increasing engagement and understanding, including charts, images, and text boxes. The book also includes a glossary of key basic terms for Contemplative Studies. A more complete glossary appears in my edited volume Contemplative Literature (2015). Both of these are intended to assist members of the field in developing a “critical lexicon.”

The book is intended for anyone interested in understanding Contemplative Studies, whether from a participant, sympathetic, or even critical perspective. I imagine that CS educators, scholars, and students will find a variety of opportunities for clarification and reflection. I also hope that, in addition to being read individually and communally, the book will become a textbook for introductions to and gateway courses in CS programs. With this in mind, I wish to apologize for moments that might appear to be self‐promotional. At times I use my own work and experiences as examples of critical subjectivity and in hopes of advancing the field. I also point toward alternative models along the way. I would, moreover, ask for forgiveness from those whose lives and work are not recognized, or with which I am not familiar. I also welcome direct communications about omissions or inaccuracies. In a book like this, there are bound to be deficiencies, misrepresentations, and oversights. This is indeed a risk. Given the complexity and diversity of the field of Contemplative Studies, the writing of this book has been a humbling experience. I have discovered just how much more there is to know and to be done, and the book will no doubt require future editions.

In transitioning to explore the landscape of Contemplative Studies, perhaps we might benefit from understanding the inquiry as following a mountain path (see Figure 0.1). In addition to finding fellow travelers as well as unexpected flora, fauna, and vistas, we may welcome chance encounters with contemplatives and contemplative communities who share their insights. These may, perhaps, remind us that contemplative practice is often rooted in interiority, seclusion, and a sense of place. It is often rooted in an orientation and aspiration toward something more. Perhaps we may benefit from engagement with actual contemplatives and mountain hermits living in seclusion from the world of mundane concerns. As expressed by the Chinese poet Hanshan (Cold Mountain; fl. ninth century CE), whose name refers to his mountain residence and his own contemplative distance,

I climb the road to Cold Mountain,

The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.

The valleys are long and strewn with stones;

The stream broad and banked with thick grass.

Moss is slippery, though no rain has fallen;

Pines sigh, but it isn’t the wind.

Who can break from the snares of the world

And sit with me among the white clouds?

(Translated by Burton Watson)


Figure 0.1 Mountain path. This is a photograph of Morskie Oko, a lake located high in the Tatra Mountains of Poland. Photograph by Sara Filipa Delić (National Geographic).

Source: Reproduced with kind permission of Sara Filipa Delić.