Toward the Implementation of Contemplative Practices in Higher Education


  • Valerie Bonnardel University of Winchester
  • Terry Biddington
  • Brandon May
  • Rhiannon Jones
  • Simon Roffey



Contemplative practices;, compassion;, secular ethics;, student surveys;, higher education


Endorsing the role of Universities as caregiving organisations and following an initial report on contemplative practices (CP) in Higher Education by the Institute of Theological Partnerships (2016) and the Mindful Nation UK (2015), a Contemplative Pedagogy Working Group (CPWG) was convened to explore the possibilities to implement contemplative pedagogy and practices at the University. CP such as Buddhist meditation have direct bearings in developing and cultivating compassion. With the intention to foster a culture of gentleness within the University, a survey was administered to 301 students to: 1- probe their attitudes toward the introduction of CP at the University and 2- to collect information on their use of technology. Results indicate that 79% of students will be favourable to the introduction of CP at the University on a voluntary basis and 58% will be keen to engage with the practice. However, if short time practices were to be introduced in classes, 44% will be self-conscious and admit it will affect their practice. Seventy percent admit difficulty with their attention during lectures and exam revisions and 58% are distracted by mobile technologies used in classes, report of distractibility is more marked among the youngest.

The survey’s result highlights student’s tendency to consider learning about CP in relation to the mind and emotions should be part of their education. This awareness is indicative of a change in students’ expectation and support the CPWG initiatives in offering regular Zen meditation practices and building up a Cosmic Garden within the University premises. Challenges in fostering a compassionate learning and teaching environment and concerns related to the pervasive use of technology in classes, in particular the correlation between the variety of online multitasking and the worry of feeling self-conscious during CP will be discussed.

Author Biographies

Valerie Bonnardel, University of Winchester

Valérie Bonnardel is Reader in Experimental Psychology at the University of Winchester. She did her PhD in Visual Neuroscience under the supervision of Francisco Varela whose philosophical and scientific approach to the study of mind was most influential in her research and teaching. She recently developed a third year Psychology module on ‘Embodied Cognition and Contemplative Practice Studies’.

Terry Biddington

Terry Biddington is the Dean of Spiritual life at the University of Winchester. His areas of research include practical theology, applied hermeneutics, multifaith spaces and plays an instrumental role in engaging the community in creative ways around the University’s values of compassion, individual matters and spirituality.

Brandon May

Brandon May is a Researcher in Applied Cognition at the University of Portsmouth. His research examines frontline communication, trauma, and memory in Forensic and Vulnerable populations with a focus on the development of evidence-based protocols and interventions for UK Emergency services. He has interest in Pedagogy and Feedback Intervention in Higher Education.

Rhiannon Jones

Rhiannon Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Biological Psychology at the University of Winchester, specialising in cognitive neuroscience. Her research explores the neural correlates of stress and anxiety, and she has a strong interest in the neuroscientific mechanisms of contemplative practice as a therapeutic intervention.

Simon Roffey

Simon Roffey is Reader in Archaeology. He has received lay-ordination in the Soto Zen lineage and is Buddhist Chaplain for the University of Winchester. His area of research includes exploring links between contemporary Zen practice in the West and the Christian mystical tradition and creating contexts for a contemplative practice in Higher Education.


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