One day in 2009, three OSU faculty members decided to apply for a grant to study research on the impact of meditation. All three had been deeply involved in contemplative practices for decades, and wanted an opportunity to integrate what they knew to be true from their own personal experiences into their academic fields. While the grant money eluded them the research was eventually performed, and conversations around contemplative practices continued. In 2013, the same three professors held a seminar series on Contemplative Studies. It was attended by a handful of faculty and graduate students, and at the conclusion of the series a vision was launched to create a Contemplative Studies Center at Oregon State University.
Opportunities began to appear across campus as classes such as the Psychology of Meditation, and Yoga and Tantric Traditions were offered along with physical movement classes like Yoga and Tai Chi. At the same time, contemplative pedagogy was being researched and implemented in fields as diverse as Writing, Integrative Biology, and Geosciences. A student Mindfulness Club was launched and drop-in Mindfulness Meditation sessions were made available to students and staff alike. Momentum was strong for creating a Contemplative Studies Initiative.
Before the initiative could become fully realized, one of the original three faculty members, James Blumenthal of the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, lost his battle with cancer. Jim was one of the founders of Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, where he was a scholar/lecturer on Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. In his memory, his parents donated the first seed money for the Contemplative Studies Initiative and thus began the James Blumenthal Contemplative Studies Fund. Other donations followed and in the Fall of 2014 College of Liberal Arts Dean Larry Rodgers approved the Contemplative Studies Initiative, which was housed in the School of Psychological Science. Today the Contemplative Studies Initiative is healthy and progress is being made in three distinct areas: Education, Outreach and Research.
In recent years studies have shown that bringing contemplative pedagogy into the classroom environment enables students to have a more personal understanding of subject matter. In fields as divergent as Biology or Social Work, introducing activities that bring individual focus, and allow students to put themselves into the subject matter, enhance content mastery and eventual application in real work situations. The Contemplative Studies Initiative is poised to equip more teaching faculty in the use and advantages of contemplative pedagogy for improved content mastery.
In keeping with Oregon State’s land-grant mission, the Contemplative Studies Initiative organizes outreach activities such as workshops, retreats, lectures, and opportunities for various contemplative practices to the OSU and Corvallis communities. The goal of this outreach is to increase the well-being of individuals, further equipping them to fully realize their potential impact as citizens, meaningfully engaging in and contributing to society.
The initiative supports research related to contemplative practice and philosophy. Research is most often interdisciplinary and brings together scholars with diverse backgrounds and expertise. Recent OSU research includes the effectiveness of meditation techniques, the precursors of compassionate behavior, the intersection between Buddhist philosophy and scientific methods, and links between yoga and environmental issues.