At the heart of contemplative pedagogy is the cultivation of what psychologist DeWit (1991) and neurobiologist Varela (1996) have called “first–person inquiry,” a method that valorizes critical subjectivity in science and social science endeavors. This lecture briefly surveys diverse theoretical foundations of this method, with emphasis on application to higher education teaching and learning in a variety of academic fields.
Drawing on paradigms developed at Naropa University, a 45–year experiment in contemplative higher education, we will explore how first–person inquiry may be cultivated in a variety of disciplines. What does first–person inquiry add to the learning journey, and how do we ensure that it is not merely reinforcing opinion, anecdotal narrative, or bias? How do we create inclusive methods of contemplative inquiry that do not violate the agency and privacy of our students? For example, in Naropa University’s undergraduate course on compassion, students train in first–person methods adapted from Buddhism while comparing their personal observations with those from compassion science. How can mindfulness or compassion practices be effectively adapted to a nonsectarian secular university setting without compromising its traditional profound methods?
In our investigation, we will pose key questions for further scientific inquiry: Does contemplative training ensure introspective accuracy––that is, is first–person inquiry actually critical, and how? Where are the challenges or blind spots? From a related perspective, one particularly important to higher education, can first–person inquiry be assessed and evaluated, and how? The presentation concludes with practical examples from Naropa’s assessment methods from selected courses.