Philosophy of Spiritual Education - I
There has been in the U.K. during the last two decades, a good deal of discussion on the theme of spiritual education. Apart from brilliant papers by Mac Laughlin and several others, the paper by David Carr and another by Michael Hand are not only instructive but provide us with analyses of the issues and also of the phrase 'spiritual education' which can be utilized properly in developing relevant and suitable pedagogy.
David Carr examines three important conceptions of spirituality and spiritual education, the 'reductionist' or residual conceptions, "process' conceptions, and 'content' based conceptions. In regard to the Reductionist conceptions, he identifies two accounts, namely, spirituality as the sublime, and spirituality as the ineffable. The first one is related to the emphasis in contemporary thinking about spiritual experience, which focuses upon the moral, religious and aesthetic as concerned with the sublime. This he considers to be hardly more than a pious way of exalting or celebrating those aspects of human experience, which may be entirely explicable in rational terms, and he thinks that it fails to bring out the uniqueness and distinctiveness of spirituality, and, in practice, it aims at encouraging search for personal fulfillment through religious participation, or artistic creativity or to value such activities highly. In other words, it does not indicate those processes and activities, which can be distinguished distinctly as spiritual. As regards the conception of spirituality as ineffable, Carr points out that this conception refers to the experience of awe
and reverence, the kind of experience which one might feel in the experience of starry heavens, as wondrous and inexplicable. Once again, Carr does not find in this conception that differentia for spirituality which one might look for obtaining precision, except that, pedagogically, the concepts such as that of infinity can be utilized in mathematics and science to show how such a concept, which involves irresolvable paradox, evokes incomprehension and establishes the sense of the limits of rational understanding. He concedes that the kind of wonderment that arises from incomprehension is valuable as a part of good teaching and ought not to be neglected, but we are not helped by it to explain the distinctive characteristics of spirituality.
In search of distinctiveness of spiritual as opposed to moral, aesthetic, religious or just simply educational, Carr analyses those conceptions, which refer to potential objects of spiritual attitude, which can be construed in terms of process in a certain relationship that obtains between persons and the activities in which they are engaged. In this connection, he examines the concepts of spiritual attitudes as affective responses and spirituality as an intellectual capacity. In regard to the attempt to understand the spiritual through the affective dimension, he finds that while it may be useful to draw attention to spiritual attitudes in terms of attention to spiritual qualities through explanations of aesthetic attitudes in terms of aesthetic properties, the difficulty lies in the fact that one cannot genuinely identify spiritual attitudes on account of the fact that there is a wide disagreement about what constitutes a spiritual property. He, therefore, concludes
"the assimilation of spirituality to affective states of one sort or another - whether these are understood as cognitive or non cognitive - would not appear a very promising basis for a programme of spiritual education." (Pg 166) In regard to spirituality as an intellectual capacity, he concedes that one might propose to equip young people with some sort of rational capacity for the recognition of spiritual problems common to (say) both Christianity and Hinduism, one can nevertheless continue to doubt the likelihood of coming to any significant appreciation of such similarities, considering that the understanding of spiritual problems is closely connected with the individual's initiation into a given religious or spiritual perspective. In other words, he argues that in those realms of human enquiry, in which judgment is inseparable from value and evaluation, one cannot arrive at true understanding through mere detached empirical observation. Just as one cannot really understand the real value of significance of courage or justice in human affairs except through the performance of courageous or just acts, even so in matters of spirituality, participation through experience as distinguished from activities of intellectual discrimination is indispensable.
Finally, Carr examines 'content' based conceptions of spiritual education. Here, he finds that one cannot arrive at the apprehension of the content of spirituality without some account of truth that spirituality refers to. He points out that, in regard to spiritual knowledge as cultural information, there are no facts but only highly contestable beliefs, reflections or
opinions, and communication of such beliefs and reflections or opinions runs the risk of becoming easily a matter of indoctrination. How to communicate truth and knowledge as distinguished from transmission of facts, beliefs or opinions is an extremely difficult process, and these difficulties will present themselves when the spiritual truth and the spiritual knowledge are required to be communicated. Carr, therefore, considers the question of communicating spiritual truth claims in terms of traditions of enquiry, considering that in any field where truth claims are involved, one is required to face the test of experience not singly but as a body. In other words, spiritual knowledge cannot be communicated in terms of truths of several statements severally but only through engagement with some serious tradition of spiritual reflection or enquiry. For then only, he argues, one can come to appreciate the nature of genuine spiritual concerns and questions.
Having examined thus the several rival conceptions of spirituality and spiritual education, he concludes that no genuine understanding of the religious or spiritual can be had except via some substantial initiation into religious and spiritual practices. But considering that there are rival religious and spiritual practices, and since the proper aim of a religious or spiritual education must be that of facilitating a critical understanding of the great religious and spiritual traditions, and further, considering that spiritual education is not identical with religious education, one has to acknowledge the need to have a place for different sorts of school community in which different sorts of initial spiritual education might be provided. He concedes, however, that this conclusion is deeply at odds with those who
advocate spiritual education to be spread across the curriculum. But he finds no other solution.
The conclusion that has been arrived at is truly disappointing, despite the fact that Rival Conceptions of Spiritual Education have been analyzed very carefully, - although it may be remarked that many other possible conceptions also need to be explored. But the thrust of the paper is sharp towards its target, namely to arrive at that clear distinctiveness of those characteristic features that are distinctly spiritual as distinguished from many others which might seem similar but which are within the realm of religious, ethical, aesthetic, refined intelligence and indefinably mysterious, wonderful and even ineffable. He has rightly underlined the point that the spiritual is concerned with knowledge, with truth, even though this knowledge and this truth do not mean what we mean by them in regard to the empirical world; it is also true that the spiritual has to do with some faculty and some method which are higher than those which are used in the rational, ethical, aesthetic and religious pursuits. But having insisted on the search for the unique features of spirituality and consequently of spiritual education, we still find Carr just touching the borders of the wide and rich terrain of spirituality which can be ascertained from a larger enquiry that is not limited only to spirituality that is to be found acknowledged in the institutional religions of the world. For there are experiences, which are, spiritual but which can be attained by purely psychological and methodical processes, which are known in India as yogic methods. Hence, larger conceptions of spiritual education can be formulated. Again, spiritual education implies a
vaster background of psychology of spiritual experience on a sound basis of which the pedagogy of spiritual education can be built. We seem to be as yet in a state of beginnings of spiritual pedagogy, and Carr has rendered valuable service in clarifying certain important concepts, and his analysis helps us to create strong bases for spiritual pedagogy, but we need to go farther.
There are grounds in yoga to show that spiritual experience has many gates and that there are many preliminary stages through which human psychology can be developed before one can enter into the realm of the spiritual in its distinctiveness. Moreover, it is underlined in yoga that spiritual pursuit in its decisive movement must be preceded by a voluntary decision on the part of the individual where a choice is made to devote oneself centrally, to begin with, and increasingly, more and more comprehensively to pursue spiritual disciplines not only as a central occupation of life but also in all preoccupations of life. If there is one unique feature that distinguishes spirituality is the necessity of this choice. Against this background, we have the idea that the human civilization has reached today a stage where both the survival and fulfilment of civilization require to be assured urgently, and this cannot be done unless education for spiritual development is generalized. The central question, therefore, for spiritual education is as to in what way and to what extent one can provide to the students that kind of preparation which would enable them in due course to arrive at that critical point where they can make a voluntary choice to pursue spiritual disciplines with centrality in their occupations and
preoccupations. If anything else, or anything more than this, is attempted, there will necessarily be the need to resort to those methods which are appropriate to the mechanical religiosity, indoctrination or premature methods of inducement for transcending the limits of the physical into the supra - physical, a road which is full of perils which are difficult to avoid.
An important conclusion that follows from these considerations is that while it is salutary and necessary to arrive at distinctive idea of spirituality as also of distinctive and central methods of spiritual education, our central focus should be to discover those avenues of development by opening which and by perfecting which we are able to prepare students to understand what is spirituality, what are its distinctive features and what are the numerous ways by which the gates of spirituality can be opened and can be pursued, if one voluntarily chooses to enter into life of spiritual methods and spiritual regeneration, the life of what is often called by mystics as the life of a second birth.
These observations point to the need of exploration of various gates through which the realm of spirituality can be approached. Among these gates are those of refined development of intellectual thought and those conceptions of the object of direct spiritual experiences which can be captured in intellectual terms, the development of the affective sensitivities, feelings, emotions and aesthetic imagination up to a high degree of acuteness in various normative pursuits of Truth, Beauty and Goodness where spirituality and spiritual experience can in their distinctiveness be pursued, and, finally, the development of volition directed in the search of those virtues which one may
arrive at in consideration of the Right and the Good. In this connection, all that Carr has suggested as illustrations derived from Rival Conceptions for Spiritual Education can all be utilized. Again, although it is true that the spiritual is supra - mundane, it is also immanent in the dynamic manifestation of the world and in various experiences of the mundane. Thus, even in the domain of physical education, one can provide for the development of those features, which manifest more and more the immanence of the Spirit, such as grace and beauty. In the pursuit of illumination, in the pursuit of heroism and harmony and perfection in skills, one can discern those refinements, which are very near to the spiritual and in which the immanence of the Spirit can be discovered and experienced. In art and music and poetry one can emphasize those points and those experiences, which can open up into the domain of the spiritual in its distinctiveness. All these and many more can be suggested as an important part of the curriculum for the spiritual education, and all this can be provided in such a manner and such a measure that all common schools can accept them without infringing the principles of freedom and rationality.
The only important point that can still remain to be considered is Carr's insistence that spiritual education implies a process of facilitation by which the students are enabled to experience the distinctive character of spirituality and attainment of those spiritual virtues which spirituality in its distinctive character promises. According to Carr, this essential aspect cannot be provided for in common schools, since this requires initiation in spiritual life. He also maintains that even intellectual enquiry into spiritual
truth cannot be fruitful unless this enquiry transcends mere intellectuality and one can have some direct experience of spiritual virtues. It can be suggested that for a fruitful spiritual education which can limit itself justifiably to that point where one is introduced to the domain of spirituality, where one can exercise free choice in taking up the pursuit as a full occupation of life, one does not need to be initiated into the experience of spiritual virtues except in their elementary forms. And for providing the experience of these preliminary forms what is needed is a serious, sincere and exploratory programme, and such a programme can practically be conceived and implemented. And such a programme can be suggested for common schools without infringing, once again, the principles of freedom and rationality.
At one point in the course of his argument, Carr contends that it has been doubted whether in areas of instruction and teaching concerning moral, religious, spiritual and other inherently evaluative forms of enquiry, there is any rational or objective basis of the kind to which we can apparently appeal in the case of (say) statements of natural science. In this connection, it can be suggested that spirituality can be studied as methodized effort of arriving at spiritual experiences, and, apart from important biographies in which such methods are illustrated, there are also other works such as William James's "Varieties of Religious Experience", and other books on yoga which can be recommended for arriving at rational or objective basis.
But even then, if it is argued, as Carr does, that substantial acquaintance with particular evaluative perspective enshrined in specific traditions of reflections
has to be the core of meaningful program of spiritual education and that such substantial acquaintance does require initiation in substantive spiritual education, which cannot be provided in common schools, we have to urge that such a contention will need evidence and even experimental research. What seems necessary is the sense of sincerity in pursuing any program of spiritual education, but such sincerity can and should be expected even in respect of areas that are acknowledged to be connected with scientific knowledge. Common schools do not need to change their character just simply because we have to prescribe to them the need to develop the environment and atmosphere in which the quality of sincerity can be fostered.
There are indeed certain enquiries which are not at present conducted in the curriculum of common schools, such as those that are designed to explore the meaning of life or aim of life, but if such programs can justifiably be proposed for common schools, and if such programs require seriousness and sincerity on part of teachers and students, are we to equate such requirement with programs of initiation? Basically, all programs of positive sciences as of those relating to normative attitudes and knowledge need to be promoted as programs of exploration, and all of them require seriousness and sincerity. For that reason, we do not need to build up different sorts of school community in which different sorts of initiations are provided. A curriculum relating to meaning of life or aim of life, and this program has to deal with exploration of aims of life which have been advocated by different religious and spiritual as also by materialists, vitalists, and idealists. But it cannot be said that a proper
exploration of this program can be done only in a different kind of school where initiation into spiritual education can be specially provided.
Apart from what has been observed above, some other observations can also be made in the light of Michael Hand's paper on The Meaning of 'Spiritual Education', which is a critique of David Carr's work on the topic. According to Michael Hand, Carr has left "many logical stones unturned" and he presents an outline of a more comprehensive analysis. In his view, Carr has identified only two activities, which can appropriately be described as 'spiritual', namely, enquiry into spiritual truth and the practical activity of cultivating spiritual values. He complains as to why enquiry into spiritual truth to be unsuitable for inclusion in the curriculum of the common school, and he seems justified, considering that Carr's contention that such an enquiry will require focusing the pupils in the early stages on the spiritual truth - claims of just one religious tradition, - a contention that seems untenable, particularly when Carr explicitly and repeatedly denies that education in spiritual enquiry involves any kind of confessional or indoctrinatory teaching. It may be pointed out, as observed in the earlier observations, Carr has presented no evidence for his contention. In any case, some experimental research in regard to this contention needs to be carried out.
As far as the practical activity of cultivating spiritual values is concerned, Michael Hand contends that this activity is not necessary; there is no mandate to instil spiritual virtues in pupils. He, however, concedes that 'spiritual education' may include such an activity and that it seems positively desirable that
pupils should come to understand the aims and procedures of that activity. He, however, maintains, and one may think quite rightly, that this can be imparted to the pupils on an optional basis, and such an optional basis can be provided for both in faith schools and common schools alike.
Michael Hand's more serious criticism of Carr is that the latter has failed to provide a logical taxonomy of the different ways in which the adjective 'spiritual' might qualify the noun 'education'. He, therefore, suggests four basic categories based upon three distinctions that he puts forth: first, the distinction between 'spiritual' as a part or aspect of education, and 'spiritual' as an approach to education as a whole; second, a distinction between education in some spiritual content and education of the human spirit; and, third, a distinction between activities relating to the spiritual and dispositions relating to the spiritual. The four basic categories that these three distinctions yield in regard to the phrase 'spiritual education' are: 1) education based on spiritual principles; 2) education of the human spirit; 3) education in a spiritual activity; and 4) education in a spiritual disposition. It may be observed that these three distinctions and the four categories that Hand has presented throw valuable insights into various aspects that should be taken into account while speaking of spiritual education. But when he comes to the conclusion that only education of the human spirit satisfies the two criteria that are laid down for admitting spiritual education in the common schools, namely, neutrality with regard to religious beliefs and substantial conceptions of human flourishing, one feels that his conclusion is too narrow. He does not consider, for instance, that important
contention, which seems central to spiritual education that spirituality is not merely a question of dispositions and their affective domain, - although this is very important, but also that the inner core is related to the truth - claim of spirituality. Can one adopt the principle of neutrality in regard to truth claims, particularly when these claims are related not merely to beliefs and opinions but to the knowledge that the genuinely spiritual experience claims to provide? And one may further ask the question as to why education of the human spirit should be limited only to the affective domain, particularly when the domain of the human spirit is greatly related to cognitive and volitional domains also?
One conclusion, therefore, that one can draw is that while Michael Hand seems to be right in suggesting that spiritual education can justifiably be provided in common schools, he arrives at this conclusion by sacrificing those aspects of spiritual education which to many people may seem to be central, and those to which David Carr has drawn central attention.
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