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Spirituality, Education & Society

An Integrated Approach

Foreword by Ali A. Abdi

Edited by

Njoki N. Wane
University of Toronto

Energy L. Manyimo
University of Toronto


Eric J. Ritskes
University of Toronto

A C.I.P. record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

ISBN 978-94-6091-601-4 (paperback)

ISBN 978-94-6091-602-1 (hardback)
ISBN 978-94-6091-603-8 (e-book)

Published by: Sense Publishers,

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No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or
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the work.

This project is dedicated to the seekers; to those who are willing to move beyond
the dictated realms of quantifiable knowledge and search for meaning outside of
what can be physically experienced. May you find what you are looking for.
It is also dedicated to those who have gone before us – the faithful that have
blazed the path and passed down their knowledge for us to follow in their
footsteps. Without you, we would not be here.

Acknowledgement .................................................................................................. ix

Ali A. Abdi ............................................................................................................... xi

Njoki N. Wane & Eric Ritskes ............................................................................... xv

Chapter 1: Situating Children in the Discourse of Spirituality

Susannah Cole ......................................................................................................... 1

Chapter 2: Connected: Indigenous Spirituality as Resistance in the Classroom

Eric J. Ritskes ......................................................................................................... 15

Chapter 3: Nourishing the Authentic Self: Teaching with Heart and Soul
Lisa Hart ................................................................................................................ 37

Chapter 4: Spirituality and Its Relevance for the Contemplative Educator

Jennifer Motha ....................................................................................................... 49

Chapter 5: Spirituality: A Philosophy and a Research Tool

Njoki N. Wane ........................................................................................................ 67

Chapter 6: The Role of Spirituality in Maori and Tibetan Village Schools

Jia Luo ................................................................................................................... 83

Chapter 7: Spirituality and Indigenous Knowledges: Study of Kototama and

Decolonization in the School System
Yumiko Kawano ..................................................................................................... 97

Chapter 8: The Dialectics of Western Christianity and African Spirituality

Akena Adyanga .................................................................................................... 111

Chapter 9: A Spiritual Journey in the Academy: My Personal Experience

Energy L. Manyimo .............................................................................................. 127

Chapter 10: My Name is ‘Mohamed’, But Please Call Me ‘John’: Canadian

Racism, Spirit Injury and the Renaming of the Indigenous Body
as a Right of Passage
Aman Sium .......................................................................................................... 139


Chapter 11: Holding Relationships as Sacred Responsibilities: A Journey of

Spiritual Growth and Being
Nadia Salter ........................................................................................................ 157

Chapter 12: Spirituality: An Interconnected Path to Healing

Adelin Brunal ....................................................................................................... 169

Chapter 13: Spirit Injury: The Impact of Colonialism on African Spirituality

Jennifer M. Jagire ................................................................................................ 183

Chapter 14: The Loss of My Indigenous Languages: As I Lose, I Struggle to

Wariri Muhungi.................................................................................................... 193

Chapter 15: Religious Fundamentalism, Political Power and the Colonization

of Spirituality
Emily Antze .......................................................................................................... 205

Chapter 16: Wisdom Sharing and Altered Consciousness: A Transformative

Learning Project
Jennifer Richmond-Bravo .................................................................................... 219

Conclusion: Extending the Dialogue

Energy L. Manyimo & Eric J. Ritskes .................................................................. 235

Notes on the Contributors .................................................................................... 239

Subject Index........................................................................................................ 243


The editors would like to thank the contributors to this volume for the way in
which they have opened their spirits and shared their stories; without you, this
book would not exist. There is something intimate about spirituality and the stories
that are shared here; we appreciate the courage it takes to reveal your soul in such a
public way. In receiving your stories, hopefully we have revealed and presented
them in ways that honour both the intimacy as well as the power that is inherent
within the stories and the act of telling them.
Not only is this book indebted to the people who have directly contributed
chapters but, much like in any project, there is a vast web of people who have
contributed in less direct, but no less important, ways. Much gratitude is given to
the people who have spoken spiritual words to us, both within the walls of the
academy and beyond them. To those who have spoken and acted into our lives, our
family, colleagues, friends and mentors, this book is a testament to how no one can
live, work or study in a vacuum – we are all connected in spiritual and physical

To all of you: Asante sana.


In Spirituality, Education & Society: An Integrated Approach, Njoki Wane, Energy

Manyimo and Eric Ritskes have given us an important scholarly gift, that has been
seemingly missed by so many of us in the burgeoning educational literature. The
location of spirituality in education has been definitely, not only under researched,
it has been also severely misunderstood. Indeed, when we see spirituality for what
it is: an appreciation of the expansive immaterial reality that influences social
relations, mental dispositions as well as the universally more inclusive explanations
we attach to the metaphysical world, then we should have, long ago, incorporated
this important area of educational studies into our realms of research, teaching and
scholarly conclusions. Interestingly, the world of academia seems to have shied
away from confronting, indeed, advancing the constructively complex terrain of
spirituality. Perhaps most of us believed that we were ill-equipped to investigate a
topic that is not as measurable, or minimally as observable as the conventional
educational topics and/or educational phenomena we examine in our classrooms,
research projects and academic conferences. Undoubtedly, that could partially
explain the apparent immense shortcomings in this extremely important area of
study. But there may even be a bigger reason for this intellectual vacuity. Via an
expansive misunderstanding of what the conceptual and para-practical
constructions of spirituality contain, many academics might construe such study
and its meta-operational dimensions as attached to, or at least related to organized
religions and, therefore, should only concern those who engage in such practices.
While one need not formally attempt to separate spirituality from religions,
mainly because religious people would have every right to also be spiritually
connected, it is the case as it is presented in this pioneering book, that spirituality is
more expansive than the general domains of many religions, appeals to more
inclusive aspects of people’s lives, which are not, by the way, limited to linearly
identifiable situations and topics, but in almost every space, context, relationships,
intentions, and assumptions. As such, the limiting or the uni-dimensional
understanding of spirituality deprives educational contexts and related spaces of
schooling, as the editors and their contributors so cogently note, the richness of
both learners and teachers relating to their world with holistic dispositions that
have the volition to understand and appreciate so much that is not immediately
observable, but that definitely influences, even occasionally determines, the way
we relate to everything that informs our contexts including the living, the physical,
the hidden, and the overall amazing wonders of the universe.
Such understanding and appreciation could assure a more harmonious existence,
not only in general relational prospects, but more so, in the totality of one’s own
being. And wouldn’t that be something that will positively impact the lives of
many learners who feel socially alienated, academically detached, even mistakenly
labeled for seeking out and surviving (as much as humanly possible) in de-


centering learning contours that neither enfranchise their inner existentialities, and
of course, never support their yearning for less measurable understanding of their
subjective locations, needs and aspirations. Needless to add that the education
system, as it is structured today in Canada and elsewhere, with its basically
colonialist and supposedly rationalist intentions and constructions, never aimed for
a spiritually amicable learning and teaching processes that enrich more than the
market needs of the schooling project. Indeed, it is these historically-located
rationalist assumptions, operations and expected outcomes that would generally
stifle the clearly needed spiritualizations of the pedagogical context. But to what
extent is education really rationalist, objective and effectively measurable? Perhaps
a more important question: whose rationalist, de-spiritualizing life systems are
being advanced in current relations of the schooling project? If these enlightenment
and by extension, modernist-driven ways of learning and teaching are
representative of one way of seeing the world, then the epistemic enfranchisement
of spirituality in educational research and schooling platforms should and will
delightfully disturb such hegemonic edifice of monocultural scientism which has
dominated the learning landscape for too long.
Undoubtedly, as should be clear from the many, diverse themes contained in this
book, the absence of spirituality in education represents more than a purely
rationalist prospect. More so, it is one hitherto functional and dangerous scheme to
diminish the knowledge foundations as well as the epistemological revival of
Indigenous and communal ways of knowing and social well-being. As implicated
in the pages of this exceptionally timely book, therefore, it should not be
uncommon to realize that in today’s less organic societies in Indigenous America
(North and South) and Oceania, Africa and Asia along with the huge diasporic
communities from especially the latter two, which now resides in North America
and Europe, and whose educational well-being has not been fully supported by the
conventional structures of schooling, the introduction of the spiritual could play an
important role in recasting the educational system as less alienating, more
subjectively connected, and capable of seeing beyond the economistic and biased
exam-driven walls of all learning and teaching. Needless to add that, beyond these
learners, people in all corners of the world, regardless of their social or ethnic
background, will definitely benefit from a spiritually enriching educational
In critically responding to these learning and human emancipation related
attachments of spirituality, this book powerfully achieves, via its five sections and
16 chapters, which range from analyzing the conceptual foundations/constructions
of the case, examining the methodological selves of the ‘story’, and critically
deformalizing its practices, a potentially multi-centering analytical perspective in,
not only convincingly advancing the indispensability of spirituality for our actual
educational existences, but as well, in discursively illuminating the expansiveness
of the meanings as well as the practices (yes, practices) of spiritually as directly
affecting, and in original, lived terms, impacting the ways we create meanings,
establish knowledge systems, behave or do not behave in our cultural contexts, and
make use of the resources that are available and that we use to understand,


appreciate, even recreate in our lived milieus. As the authors in this important
endeavor clearly expound, the noticeable absence of spirituality from the
educational research and from contemporary spaces of schooling, is to say the least
lamentable, and the coming of this work and other treatises that should follow it,
are essentially needed, and should awaken, one must hope, in all those whose
perception of public education as a primary public good is authentic and present,
an urgent sense of advancing the place of spirituality in all learning situations,
relationships and outcomes.

Ali A. Abdi,
University of Alberta



For too long spirituality has been an underexplored, often misunderstood aspect in
the field of education. This book is an attempt to show that exploring spirituality
within the context of education will create new pathways of understanding, for
educators and students. By weaving spirituality into learning and knowledge
creation discourses, educators as well as learners can foster spiritual growth while
strengthening the connections between the learner, knowledge and the process of
schooling. The main intention of writing this book is to create an educational space
that develops learners’ and educators’ spiritual interconnectedness in relation to
learning, schooling and the community at large. Spirituality is very important to
many people’s lives and valuing the spirituality of students and teachers means
valuing the uniqueness of individuals, regardless of race, gender, creed, sexuality
or ability. Spirituality has been silenced and marginalized as a discourse or
embodied knowledge in the academy. In this book we explore the questions and
issues of spirituality and its intersections with schooling from a wide range of
diverse perspectives. Often, the education systems like to believe that they are
eminently concerned with the real problems and dilemmas facing society, culture,
human suffering, and the struggle for liberation. In the business of this never-
ending search for liberation, there is no time for what people consider as spiritual,
which is considered to be “otherworldliness and esotericism” and of little value. In
this book, we argue that the spiritual quest is inherently part and parcel of
liberation and resistance as well as a vital part of society and the search for holistic
living and learning; it is a search for guiding visions and values within this world
and for the many people who occupy this planet. What academics perceive to be a
flight from the ‘real’ is often a quest for the heart of the real (Tacey, 2002).
Spirituality is about personal empowerment, personal and collective
transformation, and relationships.
For instance, many of us do not think about breath, yet if we were to stop and to
imagine that there would be no human or any living being without air, it would
lead us to recognize and pay attention to that certain aspect of who we are as
something that is collective and common to all of us – Breath. Thich Nhat Hanh,
says in western culture we are always focused on the future and not on just
“being”. We are always working towards something, always blinded by the next
step so that we forget many of the inner journeys we are taking. We are so goal
oriented, that we forget the little changes we make. We have such high ideals of
what change means that we do not pay attention to the very breath that we need


and that our next door neighbour needs to sustain us to make these anticipated huge
changes. As a result, we direct our energy to those places that may not be attainable
at the moment, forgetting the many inner changes that need to take place in order
to create the spaces that are conducive to real spiritual change. What we are
advocating in this book is that we need a different level of consciousness, a new
way of seeing the world around us: A focus on the self and our spiritual selves as
intricately connected and vital to the environments, goals, locations, changes and
desires that we seek to attain.
Many times, when we bring spirituality in our academic discussion, it is closely
followed by discomfort and there is an instant disconnect that is created; the
inevitable critiques of the rigor of your academic engagement or your level of
theorizing, that you are advocating soft discourses that should be left to those who
are not of the academic world, spirituality as only for those who peep from a
distance at academic walls. Academics who lay any claim to spiritual knowledge or
experience are asked to leave it at the doors of the academy upon entry and politely
(or perhaps not so politely) asked to pick it up as they leave, almost as if there is a
fear that spirituality will somehow ‘taint’ the academic spaces. Spirituality in the
academy is like mixing water and oil – there is inevitable and strict separation – but
this should not be. We cannot divorce the intellect from our invisible being – that
is, who we really are bell hooks, writing on spirituality in education, said: “We
can’t begin to talk about spirituality in education until we talk about what it means
to have a life in the spirit …. To live a life in the spirit, to be true to a life of the
spirit, we have to be willing to be called on – often in ways that we may not like”
(2003, p. 158). What this means is that, for educators who genuinely invoke the
spirit and strive to connect with others at deeper levels that appeal to the emotional
consciousness, to the heart, there is no place in the academy for them. As
educators, we have to address both needs for intellectual as well as emotional
growth. The structures that surround us have many tactics and methods of
suppressing the spirit and creating oppression, depression and many times spirit
injury. As academics, activists and educators we must be willing to recognize the
damage that our current systems are inflicting on us, society and students and
choose to bring the spirit into our work in ways that challenge existing structures
and that create spaces for the ‘whole self’, spaces that embrace spiritual and
emotional knowledges.
The study of spirituality is also a call to the integration of hope, love and unity
into our research, our lives and our classrooms. It is about creating organic spaces
of trust and respect. Even the utterance of such words as hope and love in academic
spaces brings awkwardness and disjointedness – these words don’t seem to belong
in such a place that values abstractness, cold truth and numbers. Bringing
spirituality back into the academy is not a rejection of logic or reason but a
rejection of the privileged position that it is given; it is a call for the inclusion of
hope, love, respect, diversity, peace, community and humour – the things that make
us whole. For too long the academy has rejected these aspects to its detriment, this


book then is also a call for the rejuvenation of the academy, the introduction of a
vitality and holism that has been largely absent.
The arguments presented in this book are that, if we do not pay attention, if we
separate the spirit from the self, if we allow the self to be disconnected by the
current education system – how can we expect things to change? The explicit goal
of this work is transformation. We cannot afford to be oblivious to the oppressive
structures that are continuously reproducing themselves in society and,
consequently, in education. We need to bring this level of consciousness to our
work in order to bring transformation. Some readers may not see the relevance of
what we are talking about and the subject at hand. The academic structure
functions to appeal to meritocracy and any deviation from the norm is challenged,
devalued and even ridiculed. What is not obvious to many scholars is the fact that
the academic discourse deals with abstract knowledge that appeals to the cognitive
faculties of the brain. Where it places value is on logic, reason and mental
abstractions. There is no emphasis or recognition that, in order to function as a
normal human being, you need to develop all aspects of yourself – that is the
invisible you – which some people refer to as spiritual self. In most academic
institutions, this is not encouraged and it becomes very difficult to talk of
spirituality in the academy. bell hooks argues:

Most of my teaching experience has been in climates that are totally, utterly,
and completely hostile to spirituality. Where colleagues laugh at you if they
think that you have some notion of spiritual life. … my teaching practice has
been…within an environment that is utterly hostile … Not naming that
hostility but working with it in such a way that the spirit can be present in the
midst of it: that the fire burns bright without any generation, anything in the
environment generating it. (2003, p. 162)

bell hooks concludes her argument on spirituality in education by stating: “I can

testify to the meaningfulness of spiritual practice and that such a practice sustains
and nurtures progressive teaching, progressive politics, and enhances the struggle
of liberation” (2003, p. 164).
There is an urgent need for educators who are willing to unsettle the status quo
and critically demand that mainstream discourses stop ignoring such essential
aspects of student’s growth. Many times, the message given is that learning is
solely an intellectual exercise, which negates the reality that the whole person
enters the classroom and that we, as educators who seek to nurture and grow, need
to appeal to all of their senses and faculties. As a result of this negation, students
are often unprepared to cope with topics of spirituality when they are raised in the
academy or are unable to connect and grow in atmospheres that feel sterile,
fragmented and devoid of aspects of themselves that they value.
In the course of writing and getting the material ready for this anthology, we
found that the difficulty of talking about spirituality in general paled in comparison
to when we pushed the envelope and asked how we might incorporate spirituality
in our learning, teaching, and everyday interaction in the academy. Also, it is


essential that we critically examine the impact of Eurocentric education and the
spiritual scars which emerge as a result of the indoctrination of learners into a
Western system of thought, as this is primarily what is valued in academia. If we
are to proceed in an ethical manner, we must interrogate the implications of an
educational system which reifies Eurocentric systems of thought, and a particular
method of generating knowledge. The insidiousness of privilege must be
acknowledged and challenging this must be thought of as part of the task of
introducing spirituality and holistic learning into the academy. Part of the privilege
of the dominant is that such ongoing connections between Eurocentric learning,
privilege, and the absence of spirituality are not remarked upon. Perpetuating
dominant frameworks on already suppressed indigenous spiritual beliefs is harmful
not only to the students but other educators (Potter, 1995, p. 73). As alternative
epistemological frameworks are widely rejected within academia, the outcome for
many students, especially those who come from a background where spiritual
knowledges are valued, is disengagement from one’s spiritual ways of
understanding and knowing the world. This results in epistemological dissonance.
Creative dissociation is a skill developed by many students to allow them to
survive the academic experience. It is these issues that we are evoking in this
anthology. Incorporating a spiritual paradigm would challenge us to recognize that
we are all connected in diverse ways and at varying levels of being and would
promote the re-valuing of diverse ways of knowing. There must be the recognition
that there are very real consequences to how we operate in the academy and in
society at large; in this way, we are held ethically and morally accountable for the
implications of our theorizing.
How then, do we incorporate and integrate the spiritual in the academy?
Spirituality has always been about inclusiveness; hence our practice needs to center
this. We do not want to perpetuate a hierarchy of values. Elsewhere Wane (2007,
2009) has indicated that there is no need to name our spirituality, however, we
should allow the space for it and provide space for students to define their
spirituality from their roots or religious backgrounds because the definition of
spirituality has to be open ended. What we are advocating is to have spirituality
included in the discussion, for the inclusion of voices and knowledges that have
been silenced. Some people may see this as moral or therapy work, but this is not
what we are pushing to have in the academy. It is allowing people to be authentic
to who they are and to their experiences. In this book then we are engaging with
questions such as: What is spirituality? What are the spiritual ways of knowing?
How do you situate yourself in the discourse of spirituality? What is your entry
point? What do you mean if you refer yourself as spiritual person? What factors
contribute to how you define your spirituality? How do you nurture the spiritual
self? What does spirituality entail? Why do we need to break the silence about
spirituality in education? How does being spiritually inclined help us in our work,
our research, our writing, our teaching? What would be the end result if everything
we did had a spiritual component in itself? What is the connection between
spirituality and learning; knowledge production; health; work; social justice;
culture; research; higher education? What do we mean when we talk of spiritual


tools or spirituality as a discourse or a methodology? Our suggestion is that one

should define their spirituality by weaving together their understanding of what is
spiritual from their own background, the readings, everyday interactions and
experiences and discussion. That is, the definition that speaks to you is the correct
definition of spirituality. This is not a call to some sort of vague relativism but an
acceptance and valuing of personal experience and diversity as they fit into the
wider scope of knowledge and society.
Spirituality has been part and parcel of indigenous peoples of the world and
religious institutions and is an important part of life. Among indigenous peoples,
spirituality was never separated from everyday living. Today, we have fragmented
spirituality. When we examine spirituality in higher education, it is mainly in
relation to how knowledge is constructed. In relation to an emerging new age
spirituality, there has been great concerns because of appropriation and
commodification of past traditions and knowledges; however, the response from
New Age followers is that there has been a decline of traditional religion and this
new form of spirituality, fills that vacuum. There is this notion that the world’s
various spiritual traditions are public property and no longer the private preserve of
the parochial groups. Unfortunately, what happens is that the sacred becomes
commodified and in the process loses its sacredness. The messy conglomerate of
New Age mysticism moves away from the relational, connected and practical
spirituality that this book is advocating as a form of resistance to Eurocentric,
dominant discourses; instead, it all too easily falls prey to them. The diversity that
is advocated in this book is one that is willing to critically interrogate issues of
history, oppression, domination and the personal implications and relationships to
these forces.
How do we develop a contemplative mind that explores issues of social
injustice, discrimination, homophobia etc. within the contexts of history and
oppression? Inviting the contemplative does not mean being silent and passive; it is
the invoking of the humaneness in us that demands an action component to our
work. If we know the systems, the structures, the organizations that we operate in
that keep our spirit broken, create scars, fragment our humaneness, we need to
think of different ways of doing things. This transformation becomes possible
when we look inward, ponder deeply, and witness the contents of our
consciousness. This approach will help us to cultivate an inner and outer way of
learning, a pedagogy without imposition of religious doctrines. Spirituality is
therefore about awareness and honouring of wholeness and the interconnectedness
of all things through the mystery of what many refer to as life-force; higher power;
higher self; cosmic energy. This book seeks to explore these connections between
spirituality, society and schooling in new ways that illuminate how a holistic
education cannot be confined to a classroom or to a curriculum; a critical education
must engage with spirituality as seen in the whole self, society and learning as a
never ending process.
Part one of this book focuses on two aspects of spirituality as a concept. In
Chapter 1, “Situating children in the spirituality discourse”, Susannah Cole
explores how Western society and traditional development theory has failed to


socialize children’s spiritual identity, choosing to value quantifiable elements of

development at the expense of multidimensional, interconnected and spiritual
aspects of childhood development. She uses her experience as an Early Childhood
Educator to explore how transformational learning can be brought about through
the inclusion of the whole child, through the inclusion of the spiritual alongside the
cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. This inclusion would allow
for each child to be centred in a nurturing environment that values their
In Chapter 2, “Connected: Indigenous spirituality in the classroom”, Eric
Ritskes explores how Eurocentric understandings of spirituality have negatively
centered the individual at the expense of the community and relationships. He
argues that spirituality, as conceived through indigenous knowledges, demands the
valuing of the relational as primary. This involves acknowledging connections to
the whole self, the community, history and to a higher power or larger framework.
It is through this recognition of the inter-connectedness of all things that inclusive,
transformational education can be implemented through recognizing and affirming
difference, collaborative learning, openness, and active/embodied learning.
Part two of this book looks at how spirituality can be conceived of as
methodology within the academy. In Chapter 3, “Teaching with heart and soul:
Nourishing the authentic self”, Lisa Hart explores why it is important for educators
to nurture the spirit of their students if they wish to bring transformational learning
to their classrooms. Using her experience as an educator, she argues that the
philosophy of ‘one-size-fits-all’ devalues students’ spiritual experiences and that
there needs to be a restructuring of the classroom to include the spiritual, which
allows students to connect to their home life, communities and lived experiences
outside of the classroom. Transformative learning means building trust and
community within the classroom where students feel safe to bring their spirituality
into their learning.
In Chapter 4, “Spirituality and its relevance for the contemplative educator:
Insights into the discourse of spirituality in education and sociological
implications”, Jennifer Motha works to highlight what she sees as the salient
conceptualizations of spirituality as a discourse and their relevance for the
contemplative educator. She draws on her own personal experience as an educator
as she explores the value of meditative practices and their value in life and in the
Part three explores how spirituality is closely tied to cultural practices and what
this means for transformative education. In Chapter 5, “Spirituality: A philosophy
and research tool”, Njoki Wane explores the relational philosophy of Maat, an
indigenous African belief, to ask the question: What would research that embraces
spirituality look like? She emphasizes the need for a new framework that
reconnects the intellect, one that allows a researcher to bridge their inner and outer
knowing, and one that honors their humanity while incorporating high scholarly
standards in their research project.
In Chapter 6, “Spirituality and indigenous knowledge: Study of kototama and
decolonization in the school system”, Yumiko Kawano looks at how re-envisioning


spirituality through kototama (the “spirit of words”) can lead to the regaining of a
balanced mind. She examines the immense power of words and thoughts in re-
valuing suppressed knowledges and in re-valuing the spiritual aspects of students
which are inherently tied to language and indigenous knowledges. She warns that
spirituality is much like a knife, it can be used negatively to divide or harm others
or, if we use it carefully, as a useful tool.
In Chapter 7, “The role of spirituality in Maori and Tibetan villages”, Jia Luo
uses his research in Tibet to examine commonalities between the Tibetan and the
Maori response in indigenous communities towards the integration of indigenous,
mother-tongue education. He argues that notions of ‘quality’ must be evaluated
through the lenses of indigenous knowledge, spirituality and culture. He argues that
top-down development approaches to education are doomed to failure while
community driven responses will lead not only to maintenance of indigenous
traditions and languages but also to the enrolment and achievement goals that
policy-makers desire.
In Chapter 8, “The dialectics of Western Christianity and African spirituality”,
Akena Adyanga explores how spirituality and the related practices of healing,
sacrifices, and rituals are deeply rooted in the everyday life of the Acholi people of
Uganda. These practices and values have been devalued through Western
Christianity which has led to the destabilization of communities. Adyanga explores
to what extent syncretism is possible and the importance of indigenizing local
education systems as to value the community’s spiritual and indigenous practices
and knowledges.
Part four focuses on spirituality as intricately tied with personal experiences as
the authors explore meanings and implications of spiritual learning through the lens
of their own experience. In Chapter 9, “A spiritual journey in the academy: My
personal experience”, Energy Manyimo challenges himself to re-envision how he
conceives of African spirituality in the context of his spiritual journey as an
academic. He uses an Afrocentric and indigenous knowledges framework to
answer the questions: What is spirituality? Why is it important to practice
spirituality? When is it important to introduce spirituality in the education system?
How should it be introduced and by whom?
In Chapter 10, “‘My name in Mohammed but you can call me John’: Canadian
racism, spirit injury and the renaming of the indigenous body as a rite of passage”,
Aman Sium challenges the practice of re-naming and Anglicizing the names of
Indigenous people upon arrival in Canada. He shows the importance of naming in
Indigenous cultures and uses his own personal experience to show how the practice
of renaming is closely tied with policies of assimilation and racism and how it
results in spirit injury for Indigenous bodies. The relationship between renaming
and spiritual disconnection is explored in the context of Canada and the classroom
and explains why Indigenous people need to reclaim the history and past that is
represented in names and the process of naming.
In Chapter 11, “Holding relationships as sacred responsibilities: A journey of
spiritual growth and being”, Nadia Salter discusses how relationships are a vital
part of everyday life and how integrating spirituality into one’s life or educational


practices involves holding these relationships as sacred. Holding relationships as

sacred involves seeing everyone as interconnected and purposeful, honour, respect,
kindness and seeking harmony and balance with those around you. By honouring
these relationships we can nourish our whole being and provide spaces for others to
do the same.
In Chapter 12, “Spirituality: An interconnected path to healing”, Adelin Brunal
explores the histories of African Canadian communities and sees the need for
spirituality to act as a key component in the ‘re-education’ project of Black youth,
as a way to resist complacency and discourses of materialism. He sees spirituality
as a way to bring ‘oneness’ to both individuals and communities and as a positive
force of interconnectedness which enables the recognition and valuing of the
holistic individual.
In Chapter 13, “Spirit injury: The impact of colonialism on African spirituality”,
Jennifer Jagire looks at her personal experiences to show how traditional African
spirituality has been devalued by Western Christianity both in her homeland of
Uganda as well as in Canada. She argues that indigenous spirituality can be used to
disrupt hegemonic Western conceptions of spirituality as perpetuated in the
schooling system and can be a way of re-valuing the self and the past.
In Chapter 14, “The loss of my indigenous languages, as I lose, I struggle to
find”, Wariri Muhungi explores how, as an African Kenyan woman, the loss of her
indigenous languages has affected her emotional and spiritual well-being. She uses
critical autoethnographic and feminist lenses to explore her experiences of
colonization through schooling systems in Africa, Europe and North America.
Through these experiences the need for spiritually-centred education is examined
as a key feature of the struggle for personal liberation and socio-cultural meaning
within Eurocentric, dominant educational structures.
Part five looks at how spirituality can be mobilized and applied in various ways
and locations. In Chapter 15, “Religious fundamentalism, political power and the
colonization of spirituality”, Emily Antze examines the use of spirituality within
religious fundamentalist movements and explores how spirituality has been co-
opted for personal or group political gain. The exploration of power structures
within these movements reveal that individual expressions and outlets of
spirituality have been ‘colonized’ by organized religion. Antze explores
possibilities of decolonization, especially through classroom pedagogy, in hopes
that spirituality can be used to promote equality and harmony.
In Chapter 16, “Wisdom sharing and altered consciousness: A transformative
learning project”, Jennifer Richmond-Bravo argues that for transformative learning
to take place, educators must be willing to not only interrogate their own lives but
willing to look openly across lines of difference without prejudice. In dominant
Eurocentric society much of this difference has been appropriated, commodified
and used to further oppress minoritized peoples. Informed learning and
understanding can come through pedagogy that approaches learning as a
relationship and knowledge as something not to be consumed but received with


Many of the chapters in this book deal intimately with the personal and
experiential nature of spirituality. While there are certainly some who will decry
this approach due to a perceived lack of academic rigour or objectivity, what we
seek to highlight is the rich and valuable work that is to be done in exploring how
spirituality affects each of us in unique ways and in ways that allow us to approach
the work of transformation, both in society and in schooling, in new and powerful
ways. The goal of the book is to explore connections both to aspects of our whole
selves that have been suppresses and subordinated within the academy and also to
others around us.
This project, Spirituality, Education & Society: An Integrated Approach is a call
for the creation of an academic community which sees the value of spiritual
knowledges in creating communities where compassion, hope and love are valued.
It is in these places that transformation becomes possible and where learning
becomes a healing, sacred process rather than the dehumanizing, consumptive
process that it so often is today. When spirituality is valued both as a personal
pursuit as well as a form of connection and relationship, space is created for
communities who value diversity and inclusivity. Educators who use spiritual
knowledge value the power that is found in diversity. Hopefully, as you read and
use the texts found in this book, you are taken in by both the diversity of the voices
as well as the common message that they are advocating: spiritual knowledge is an
irreplaceable aspect of the whole self and, if we are serious about transformative
learning, we must engage with this aspect of all learners.

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York: Routledge.
Tracey, D. (2002). Student spirituality and educational authority. International Journal of Children’s
Spirituality, 7(22), 171-182.
Wane, N. N. (2009). Black Canadian feminist thought: Perspectives on equity and diversity in the
academy. Journal Race Ethnicity and Education, 12(1), 65-77.





How is it possible that I have an undergraduate degree in Child Development and

am completing my final course for a Masters in Education in Developmental
Psychology and I have only just been introduced to the validity of the concept of
‘other ways of knowing’? ‘Other ways of knowing’ explore alternative, non-
scientific ways of interpreting and understanding reality. Western scientific models
of knowledge production rely almost exclusively on linear theories and empirical
evidence that place logical reasoning as the definitive source of knowing. Spiritual
ways of knowing rely on intuition and wonder, aspects that Western scientific
models discount as taboo. My interest in writing about children’s spirituality has
arisen from the startling realization that my current knowledge of child
development is dangerously limited. Until now I have been led down a singular
path in my education. Without an appreciation for other ways of knowing, my
understanding of spirituality has been restricted. I believe that spirituality lies at the
core of our humanity and is a gateway to knowledge, not the obstruction that I’ve
been taught.
Imagine how different our lives might be if we approached each day with an
appreciation of ourselves as spiritual beings. Placing spirituality at the centre of our
lives opens a realm of possibility that leads to our deepest self. Everyone is
spiritual; however accessing this facet of our lives can be challenging if we are
taught as children to disregard our connection with spirit. Often, the innate spiritual
nature of children is disregarded because children are often perceived as immature
and selfish. Their ability to squeal in delight at the sight of something new or twirl
around in circles just to watch the world go by is viewed as frivolous and juvenile
rather than as an uninhibited expression of their innate spirituality. A child’s sense
of self is the source and origin of his or her spirituality. The experiences and
relationships children have in their lives will enhance and further their spiritual
development. When adults make space for and honour children’s authentic
expression they are accepting and nurturing children’s spirituality. Children’s
spirits grow when they experience a sense of belonging in, and interact within, an
environment that acknowledges and provides opportunities for diversity of
expression and critical reflection.
In Western society spirituality is not supported in the curriculum and
consequently our education system fails to socialize children’s spiritual identity.
Providing support to parents and educators to facilitate children’s spirituality

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 1–14.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

begins with knowledge building. Our understanding and teaching of child

development needs to incorporate spiritual development and adults need to apply
this knowledge in their relationships with children. In Western society we rely
primarily on traditional developmental theory that is purely evidence-based in
exploring the lives of children. Accordingly, our work with children often focuses
on the domains of development that are readily visible and externally measured.
Unfortunately, highlighting only the quantifiable elements of development negates
the ability to appreciate the multidimensional, interconnected, and dynamic nature
of spirituality. Our knowledge of child development becomes incongruent with the
lived experiences of children when we overlook the non-quantifiable spiritual
domain that encompasses internal elements and permeates the whole child. I will
introduce postformalism as a theory capable of expanding our understanding of
development. The theory of transformational learning will be applied as the vehicle
for developing greater insight into the complex nature of spiritual development and
deepening our awareness of our spirituality.
This chapter originated from my desire to holistically represent child
development – inclusive of spiritual development. As an Early Childhood
Educator, I have observed children and witnessed their spiritual nature. However,
my university texts neglected to mention spiritual development alongside physical,
cognitive, social, and emotional development. Until recently, I had never been
taught how to recognize or nurture a child’s spirit. I am writing from the
perspective of a white woman of European descent, who has benefited from all the
unearned privileges associated with my position. My knowledge of child
development is rooted in Western scientific thinking; thus only recently has it
occurred to me that my understanding of child development is limited and
exclusionary. Over the past few months, I’ve become aware that I’ve unwittingly
been working within a dangerous structure that relies on exclusionary and
oppressive processes that limit ways of knowing. This course has been my
introduction to theories related to epistemology, power structures, and oppression.
By challenging my privileged position, this course has opened my eyes to
opportunities for transformation.
According to Dei (2004), transformative learning is a form of education that
involves a “shift of consciousness that dramatically and permanently alters our
ways of being in the world” (p. 4). For learning to become transformational, it
needs to become more “inclusive, discriminating, self-reflective, and integrative of
experience” (Mezirow, 1997 as cited in Robinson, 2004, p. 112). I’m now
becoming increasingly conscious of privileged assumptions I’ve made about
children and how they grow and learn, and I’m questioning the supremacy of
Western scientific thinking. I am developing what Robinson (2004) refers to as
‘reflexivity’, or the ability to see my historical and cultural conditioning and its
influence on my worldview.
Through an exploration of transformational learning, I hope to address the
limitations of my knowledge by highlighting ways of knowing that transcend the
essentialist and reductionist tendencies of purely evidence-based developmental
theories. I am not proposing the complete discounting of Western scientific


thought, as it is one valid source of information, but it does not provide a platform
to discuss the spiritual aspects of children’s lives. It is essential that the whole child
be valued in discussions of spiritual development.


In this chapter I will be exploring children’s spirituality through a developmental

perspective. In Western society, developmental theory has predominantly focused
on notions of progress and evolution highlighting predictable, sequential, and
increasingly complex stages. Inherent in this perspective is the discounting of the
lower (child) stages in favour of the more developed stages of adulthood (Johnson,
1999). Mainstream Western society has been remiss in presenting developmental
theories that provide a holistic, fluid, and interconnected representation of
development. It is my position that fostering children’s spiritual development
requires an understanding and integration of both traditional developmental theory
as well as post-formal thinking. Specifically, children’s spiritual development will
be discussed using cognitive developmental theory to explore the ways in which
children perceive and interpret the world in relation to their spiritual nature. Jean
Piaget’s model of cognitive development will be presented as representative of the
traditional developmental theory, and Kincheloe and Steinberg’s (1993) theory of
postformalism will be used to provide a more expansive and inclusive perspective
of children’s cognitive development.
Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland and studied philosophy, psychology, logic,
mathematics, and biology. Ultimately, he dedicated himself to finding a biological
explanation of knowledge (Rathus & Rinaldi, 2009). His work has had a significant
impact in education over the past 30 years. His theories help shift long-standing
perceptions of children as empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge to a
view of children as active builders of knowledge – little scientists who are
constantly creating and testing their own theories (Papert, 1999). At the core of
Piaget’s theories is a belief that looking carefully at how knowledge develops in
children can provide insight into knowledge production in general. Unfortunately,
Piaget’s significant and detailed achievements have been simplified and applied in
limited ways in education. The trend is to rely only on his four stages of cognitive
development in teacher education and curriculum development (Papert, 1999).
Piagetian cognitive theory highlights rational, logical ways of knowing and holds
them as the most sophisticated representation of knowledge production. Cognitive
developmental theory is primarily concerned with the individual and the
development of self (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993). We must ask ourselves if we
are limiting our understanding and interpretation of the world by dogmatically
following this model.
In contrast to Piaget’s cognitive theory, Joe Kincheloe and his life partner
Shirley Steinberg have developed a more contemporary theory of cognitive
development called postformalism, a theory that provides a more comprehensive,
inclusive, and expansive view of knowledge production (1993). Kincheloe as a
leading scholar in critical pedagogy who focuses his work on exposing unexamined
power relations that shape cognitive theory and educational psychology in an effort


to create a psychology of possibility. Born in Tennessee in 1950 to parents who

were committed to social justice, he witnessed extreme forms of classism and
racism in the Southern United States during the 1950s and 1960s. These
experiences shaped his view of the world and helped to ground his theories with
the perspectives of those who have suffered at the hands of dominant power blocs
(Steinberg, 2009).
Postformalism posits that mainstream developmental psychology has
historically dismissed the cognitive abilities of those who do not fit in the dominant
white, middle and upper socio-economic and patriarchal classes. Postformal theory
is ideally suited to exploring knowledge production outside the realm of scientific
logical thinking because it is concerned with questions of meaning making,
emancipation, and processes of self-production (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993).
Kincheloe and Steinberg (1998) point out that White culture has used
Enlightenment ideologies, that place ‘reason’ as the ultimate human
accomplishment, to establish their superiority. ‘Whiteness’, they argue, has become
synonymous with rationality, which in turn has become synonymous with ‘the
good’. Similarly, they suggest that non-whiteness has often been identified with
irrationality and deficiency (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1998). Post-formal thinking
addresses the limitations of knowledge based solely on science by demoting
‘reason’ to only one type of knowing. This model acknowledges various forms of
knowing by focusing on cognitive processes through the union of reason and
emotion. It draws from feminist theory and deconstructs the thought-feeling
hierarchy used by men to oppress women (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1998).
Introducing post-formal thinking into the discussion creates a space to explore
intuitive ways of knowing as well as the emotional and relational elements of
spirituality. The integration of Piagetian cognitive theory and postformalism
represents a holistic and inclusive framework for an exploration of children’s
spiritual development. Once we are equipped with relevant knowledge that reflects
an inclusive understanding of children’s spiritual nature, it becomes imperative to
effectively apply this knowledge in our relationships with children and in our
educational practices.
Transformational learning theory represents a theoretical approach that provides
a framework for exploring relational dynamics that deepen our understanding of
our spiritual selves and its expression. This theory challenges individuals to reflect
critically on the ways in which they engage with and interpret the world (Belenky
& Stanton, 2000). Transformational learning is flexible and makes space for
fluidity in relationships by integrating a questioning approach that acknowledges
the changing nature of circumstances, people, and ultimately decisions (Belenky &
Stanton, 2000). Exploration is valued and answers are not forced when we use a
questioning approach in our self-discovery. Transformative learning can support
individuals to move “toward a more inclusive, differentiated, permeable, and
integrated perspective” (Mezirow, 1991, p. 155). When adults confront their own
limiting beliefs and assumptions, they are more capable of creating a space
inclusive of spiritual ways of knowing and therefore support and facilitate the
spiritual development of children.


In this chapter I will incorporate both my knowledge of child development from

a traditional developmental standpoint as well as apply post-formal thinking to my
understanding of children’s spiritual development with the goal of presenting a
holistic picture of the spiritual lives of children. From this perspective, I will
highlight how transformative learning can be used as a tool within the education
system to create an environment that supports and nurtures children’s spiritual


The definition and interpretation of spirituality is largely dependent upon one’s

worldview. Adult assumptions about spirituality, which rely on rational thinking
and religious concepts, often hinder the ability to understand the spiritual nature of
children. Spirituality lies beyond rational conceptualizations and thoughts about
God (Hart, 2003). It is important for me to compile a definition of spirituality that
is inclusive of children. To this end, a constructive definition would provide a place
for all individuals to locate themselves as spiritual beings, regardless of age,
gender, race, ability, sexuality, or culture. Therefore, for the purpose of this
chopter, I will use the term spirituality to reflect a child’s development of self that
includes a search for meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and purpose (Love,
2001; Tisdell, 2003). The spirit of children is captured when spirituality is
understood as an “inexhaustible web of meaning interrelatedly connecting self,
other, world, and cosmos” (Myers, 1997, p. 109). Furthermore, the essence of spirit
is mysterious and experienced by children in moments of awe and wonder. For
Tobin Hart (2003) this mysterious quality of spirituality is an unquantifiable force
that animates and connects all things. He suggests that one cannot separate oneself
from this force because all aspects of life contain the essence of the whole.
Applying a definition of spirituality that reflects its personal nature allows for
inclusivity and helps to delineate it from religion that reflects a collective
expression. It can be problematic when the terms are applied interchangeably,
particularly in educational contexts. Although spirituality and religion are
interrelated, they do not necessarily overlap (Love, 2001). Spirituality refers to
something intimate and personal that helps children expand their understanding of
themselves and their place in the universe. Alternatively, religion refers to
institutional beliefs, codes, and rituals that provide structure or expression to
spirituality (Forster, McColl, & Fardella, 2007). Religion can serve as a sanctuary
that provides a sense of community, but it can also be experienced as oppressive
when it requires strict adherence to codes of conduct and claims to hold a
monopoly on the truth (Fernandes, 2003; Hart, 2003). Within education, children
need to be able to locate themselves and experience a sense of belonging within the
classroom. Incorporating various religious practices in the classroom becomes
problematic because exclusion is inevitable. In contrast, educational environments
that support spirituality reflect inclusivity and occur naturally when teachers
employ an open mind and are committed to critical reflection.
Although a child’s spiritual nature involves an inward experience that originates
in a connection to self, excessive individualism can get in the way of further


spiritual development (Myers, 1997). To ensure that spiritual pursuits do not

become narcissistic or destructive, it is necessary to introduce the concept of
responsibility in the definition of spirituality. Fernandes (2003) reminds us that
although spirituality connotes a personal experience, it should not be considered
private because at its essence it is relational and therefore necessitates a
responsibility to self, others, and the world. This responsibility can be expressed
through daily activities, relationships, and actions that reflect a willingness to
engage in what matters most to us. Children need to be supported to explore their
spiritual identity, discover meaning for themselves and share their understanding of
the world with others.


To ensure the recognition and nurturing of children’s spirituality it is necessary to

understand how they experience and express their spiritual nature. Traditionally, in
Western society, child development has been conceptualized through the theories
of White, male psychologists such as Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and Lawrence
Kohlberg (Rathus & Rinaldi, 2009). These theories are characterized by
individualistic, linear, product-oriented thinking and are filled with Eurocentric
ideologies that espouse generalizations about the mind. They provide a structure
for understanding the quantifiable domains of development, but exclude spiritual
ways of knowing.
In particular, Piagetian cognitive theory is based on the notion that as children
progress through the stages of their lives, they construct knowledge in an orderly
fashion as their thinking becomes increasingly sophisticated. Although Piaget
claims that these cognitive stages are qualitatively different from each other, they
are presented as hierarchical and ultimately culminate in a mastery of formal
logical thinking. According to Piaget, children three to six years old are considered
to be in the preoperational stage of cognitive development. This stage is
characterized by intuitive and perception bound reasoning, caused by their inability
to decentre their thinking which leads to egocentrism and errors in logical thinking.
This stage is often referred to as an immature form of knowing. At age seven,
children enter the stage of concrete operations where Piaget argued we see the
beginning of adult logic; however, children are still limited in their reasoning by
their inability to deal with abstract concepts. A child’s logic remains bound by
reality because they rely on tangible, easily manipulated constructs. It isn’t until
Piaget’s final cognitive stage, formal operations, when children twelve years of age
and older become capable of sophisticated logical thinking characterized by
hypothetical, deductive reasoning. Piagetian cognitive theory regards this form of
logical reasoning as the highest level of thought, a level some individuals might
never attain (Rathus & Rinaldi, 2009). This linear portrayal of children’s cognitive
development is exclusionary and limits our understanding of the dynamic and
diverse nature of knowledge production. It is a reductionist view of childhood that
incorporates principles of universality and uniformity that are intended to reflect
normal childhood development. This brief overview of Piaget’s cognitive


developmental theory illustrates that it does not value subjective and intuitive
thinking and is grounded in a specific set of assumptions about the mind that
reflect a Western, male scientific point view. Devaluing knowledge that is viewed
as non-intellectual, illogical, and irrational fragments our understanding of spiritual
Piaget’s cognitive theory has been criticized at several levels – for the purposes
of this paper, I’ve chosen to focus on just a few. First, his theory does not
acknowledge that children learn within multifaceted sociocultural environments
(Rathus & Rinaldi, 2009). We cannot understand the spiritual nature of children
without an appreciation of diversity and the importance of reciprocal learning
between children and adults. Second, Piaget has presented his work in the form of
a stage-theory, which inherently requires changes to be discontinuous (Rathus &
Rinaldi, 2009). Yet, children have innate knowledge and their cognitive abilities
are continuously developing and growing as they are introduced to new
experiences. Finally, the theory fails to mention integrating these cognitive abilities
to reflect an appreciation of both intuitive and logical thinking. In fact, Piaget
believed that for children to be truly rational, their development needed to move
away from emotions (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993). This belief is irresponsible
because an appreciation of children as spiritual beings is severely limited without
valuing emotion.
Spiritual ways of knowing delve into non-quantifiable domains related to
subjective, intuitive, and relational knowledge production (Shahjahan, 2006).
These domains are rarely discussed in current developmental psychology texts.
However, I have witnessed spiritual knowing in children and it is my belief that
spiritual knowing is the underlying source of cognition. Infants are born with
innate knowing and an ability to experience connection. Johnson (1999) suggests
that the roots of intelligence can be observed in an infants drive to seek and create
meaningful patterns and relationships. The connection between cognitive
development and spiritual ways of knowing is not a notion found in traditional
developmental theories. Through my own process of transformative learning I have
discovered several alternative perspectives of child cognitive development put
forward by Tobin Hart (2003), Alison Gopnik (2009), and Barbara Kimes Myers
(1997) that highlight spiritual ways of knowing.
Children show us the beauty of vulnerability with their honesty and remind us of
the simplicity of the moment when the mundane elicits awe (Hart, 2003). From the
moment of birth, children demonstrate empathy as they identify with the people
around them and literally take on the feelings of others. The roots of care and
compassion are evident early in our lives. Children have an incredible ability to
create and imagine long before they read and write. The touchstones for our
spiritual being are found in our childhood (Hart, 2003). Alison Gopnik (2009), a
psychologist and philosopher, believes that children are actually more intelligent,
thoughtful and conscious than adults. Children are not primitive adults gaining
perfection with age. They have different, though equally complex and powerful
minds, brains, and forms of consciousness. Children’s brains are wired to take in as
much sensory input as possible. They are capable of paying attention to everything,
which makes them successful at finding out about the world rather than just acting


on it (Gopnik, 2009). Personal knowledge, based on feelings, is developed as

children explore the world through their senses. All knowledge is based on the
integration of personal knowledge (Myers, 1997). This open-ended intellectual
capacity should not be underestimated. I must construct my knowledge of child
development with multiple perspectives and theories to fully appreciate the
spiritual lives of children. Postformalism is representative of an inclusive theory
that expands my current knowledge of child development to include spiritual ways
of knowing.
Postformalism is informed by and extends Piagetian cognitive theory to include
social, interpersonal, and ideological concepts that form the basis of spiritual ways
of knowing. Unlike formal operational thinking, post-formal thinking is inherently
flexible because it recognizes that all theories, including itself, are historically
situated and socially constructed (Johnson, 1999). Understanding children’s
spirituality necessitates an appreciation of the individuality of expression and the
inevitability of change. Postformalism addresses questions of purpose, meaning,
human dignity, freedom, and social responsibility. It broadens our understanding of
thinking to include both constructed and innate knowledge and emphasizes
interconnected, dynamic, and intuitive modes of expression (Kincheloe &
Steinberg, 1993). For example, it draws from feminist theory to acknowledge
cognitive processes that are created by the union of reason and emotion. Within
this theory, emotions are viewed as essential in grounding our cognition and
providing insight where logic cannot (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993).
Creativity and spiritual knowledge are closely linked: they are intangible and
expansive in nature and involve exploring possibilities and producing meaning
(Villaverde, 1999). Creativity can be viewed as a core process that supports
spiritual knowing. Examining how formal and postformal models view the creative
process highlights an important distinction between these theories. Traditional
conceptions of the creative process rely on a mechanistic model that separates the
whole into pieces, whereas postformal thinking depicts creativity as an unfolding
of an implicate order through an integrative process (Kincheloe & Steinberg,
1993). Fluid rather than static processes facilitate spiritual development. The
formal view of the creative process reinforces convergent thinking – thinking that
brings together information focused on problem-solving, often with a single
answer. The postformal view of the creative process supports divergent thinking –
thinking that moves in many directions and involves a variety of aspects, often
leading to novel ideas and solutions (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993). The
cultivation of our spiritual awareness ideally occurs within contexts that welcome
the unknown and challenge individuals to reflect on their experiences with an open
and questioning mind. Postformalism represents a more inclusive description of
knowledge production that provides a framework for exploring children’s
spirituality. Postformal thought is intended to broaden our understanding of
cognition, a starting point in a search for a comprehensive view of cognition rather
than a definitive explanation of cognition (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2003).
In the interests of presenting a variety of perspectives related to ways of
knowing, I conclude this section with a recommendation made by Mi’kmaq Elder


Albert Marshall. He proposes a blending of our ways of knowing into a new

worldview called “Two Eyed Seeing”. This worldview synthesizes scienctific
knowledge from traditional Aboriginal concepts and orthodox Western science. He
asks us to “learn to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges
and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western (or
Eurocentric or mainstream) knowledges and ways of knowing … and use both
these eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Marshall & Bartlett, 2009). This
perspective offers insight into how our various ways of knowing can work together
to strengthen our understanding of our relationship to the world and ourselves. To
respect the spiritual nature of children, we need to acknowledge various
worldviews and teach children to remain open to new ways of knowing.
Developmental textbooks must present a more diverse representation of cognitive
theory. When our understanding of how children think and learn is expanded to
integrate various ways of knowing, our education system can create a place for a
child that acknowledges and even rewards authentic individual expression. It is my
belief that spirituality unfolds in a multitude of ways throughout our lives and
requires cultivation to bring into fullness.


The current Western education system is not formally addressing spirituality.

Concerns related to the separation of church and state have led to fear around
explicitly labelling spiritual development. The education system has chosen not to
develop curriculum that directly speaks to spirituality (Kessler, 1999). In some
cases it is being incorporated in fragmented, informal ways but this tends to only
further indoctrinate students in White, Christian values rather than offer
opportunities for genuine spiritual expression. As a first step, educators can begin
to incorporate the word spirituality in their daily vocabulary and confront the fears
that arise as a result.
Recently I came across a book, Teacher, the Geranium on the windowsill died,
and you just kept on talking (Nieuwejaar, 2003). This title encapsulates the essence
of what is lacking in the spiritual education of children. It captures the palpable
nature of human experience that is felt deeply by children and reminds us of the
importance of being present in our relationships. Our teaching needs to be aligned
with the lived experiences of children. We have a responsibility to meet children
where they are, with a willingness to share openly. This requires us to cultivate an
attitude, both within ourselves and in our teaching practices, that encourages us to
appreciate and capitalise on meaningful moments. We need to be able to heed the
plant that died, the seed that sprouted, or the fragrance of the flower (Nieuwejaar,
2003). Adults and children are enriched when they have space to experience
complexity and simplicity, laughter and grief, and giving and receiving. If the
focus of our role as educators is on being in the moment with children, the
relationship will present mutual opportunities for learning.
Spirituality is often connected with experiences of awe, wonder and mystery,
but adults don’t always acknowledge the difficult emotions that often accompany
these experiences (Earl, 2001). In Western society, we ask children to deny who


they are when we don’t make space for all their experiences. We teach them that
there is only one right way to live. Therefore, children progressively shut down and
hide parts of them that don’t fit with adult expectations, creating a ‘shadow’ (Hart,
2003). ‘Shadow’ can be described as the negative or undeveloped side of the
personality composed of characteristics people are denying (Earl, 2001). Hart
(2003) poignantly states: “shadow is created when we stand between ourselves and
our own light” (p. 179). Children don’t need to be rescued from difficult
experiences; they need a space that supports a range of experience. Neglecting to
address all the spiritual aspects of children’s lives sends them the message that the
most important aspects of their lives are not okay to talk about. It reinforces the
notion that life is about what we are told to know and not about what we know for
ourselves. Dei (2004) reminds us that when educators deny spiritual knowing,
either through a lack of awareness or an inability to engage with students on a
spiritual level, their teaching practices can become destructive rather than
liberating. Denial does not lead to wholeness; therefore, children who are restricted
in their expression are left without the support and encouragement they need to
meet their full potential (Hart, 2003). In accordance with my definition of
spirituality, I assert that spiritual education involves acknowledging and teaching
sacredness, respect, compassion, and connection.
I believe schools play a crucial role in shaping a child’s worldview, values, and
character through both visible and invisible means. Visibly, children are taught a
curriculum based on Western scientific principles that value logical reasoning and
emphasize individual achievement, competitiveness, materialism, and objective
knowing (Lindhom, 2007). Observable and measurable knowledge is highly
esteemed (Shahjahan, 2006). More dangerously, within the school system a hidden
curriculum reinforces compliance, competition, a single answer, and the notion that
authority and truth are found outside of oneself, in a teacher or textbook (Hart,
2003). Spiritual ways of knowing that include subjective and intuitive knowledge
are not acknowledged as valid forms of representation.
Western curriculum has become consumed with external variables and objective
solutions because these elements are easily quantified; whereas the internal realm
is often ignored or discredited (Palmer, 2003; Hart 2004). Shahjahan (2006) points
out that the view of the world as interconnected is made invisible and illegitimate
in our current education system. This leaves children with a feeling of emptiness
and a fragmented life that lacks purpose and meaning. In classrooms, students
often find themselves disconnected from the aspects of their lives that matter most
to them. What happens in relationships, the space between ‘you and me’, is often
lost in chaotic classroom environments (Hart, 2003). Theologian Martin Buber
wrote that “spirit is not in the I, but between the I and you. It is not like the blood
that circulates in you, but like the air in which you breathe” (as cited in Hart, 2003,
p. 67). This relational dynamic lies at the centre of our spiritual lives and forms the
basis for compassion and sense of community. To make space for this in the
classroom, teachers need to deepen their understanding of themselves and support
their students to do the same. Thomas Merton, a poet, social activist, and writer,
believed that “the purpose of education is to show a person how to define himself


authentically and spontaneously in relation to the world – not to impose a

prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of the
individual himself” (as cited in Hart, 2003, p. 175). Our current Western school
system, with its visible emphasis on scientific ways of knowing and a hidden
curriculum that emphasizes conformity, ultimately serves to deconstruct children
rather than support their inherent capabilities. For education to become inclusive of
spirituality, educators must take responsibility and challenge both themselves and
their teaching practice to confront ideologies and systems that hinder genuine,
individual expression
Transformative learning is an ideal tool to examine personal beliefs, feelings,
and assumptions. When these beliefs are left unexamined or when educators take
the position that they are ‘all knowing’, the ability to relate honestly and
empathetically with children is impeded. The transformational process occurs
when educators engage in critical reflection aimed at creating a more inclusive,
discriminating, and autonomous perspective (Merriam, 2004). Reflecting on
experience is key to transformative learning. Experience alone does not constitute
transformative learning. Rather, it is the ability to critically reflect that shifts
everyday experiences into opportunities for learning (Merriam, 2004). For
educators to access their own spiritual nature they must be willing to engage with
experiences in their lives on a deeper level. Mezirow (1991) specifies premise
reflection, which involves examining socially constructed beliefs and assumptions,
as the only type of reflection that can truly lead to transformation. This type of
reflection requires educators to develop a level of comfort with contradictions so
that they no longer view inconsistencies as problems that need to be fixed. Instead,
educators learn to apply dialectic thinking that allows for acceptance of alternative
perspectives and different worldviews. As educators move away from unilateral,
rigid thinking, they open themselves up to the possibility of creating meaningful
relationships with children. Relationships rooted in honesty and compassion
honour the children’s spirituality.
Ultimately, nurturing the spiritual lives of children is about drawing out as
opposed to adding on (Hart, 2003). This notion reflects an underlying trust in
children’s innate spiritual nature and their ability to fully express themselves. From
this perspective, the adult’s role is not about filling children up from the outside by
downloading information into empty receptacles. Instead, spiritual education
requires an acknowledgment of children’s innate knowledge and the ability to
support their process of unfolding (Hart, 2003). The role of the educator in
supporting the spiritual development of children is to show children what they
already know and who they are rather than teach them what they think children
should know and who children should be. Educators validate self-discovery when
they accept children for who they are and create a free environment to imagine,
create, and experiment (Hart, 2003; Kimes Myers, 1997). As children develop an
understanding of themselves, connect with others, and ask questions about the
world, they are showing us their spiritual selves. Children develop as whole beings
in relation to people who love, listen, respond to, and guide them (Kimes Myers,



The education system itself needs to engage in transformative learning. It needs to

reflect on what it is to see itself clearly, appreciate that other ways of knowing are
valid, and abandon exclusivity in favour of inclusive practices. How can we create
an education system that allows all children the opportunity to locate themselves
within the classroom without resorting to extreme individualism? Having
experienced transformative learning firsthand I am aware of the amount of time
and energy it requires to engage in critical self-reflection and confront my cultural
conditioning. Is it fair to ask educators to engage in transformative learning?
Would educators be willing and able to do it? In this paper I have argued that
transformative learning is an ideal tool for self-exploration and the development of
dialectic thinking. What other tools are accessible to educators to support spiritual
The definition of spirituality and the methodologies used to study it also raise
some interesting questions. How can we define spirituality without describing it as
the antithesis of scientific? Michael Hogan (2009) argues in his paper, On
Spirituality and Education, that it is a mistake to ignore the scientific study of
spirituality and that we should find a way to synthesise the study of spirituality
with mainstream psychological science. Is this an appropriate avenue for the
exploration of spirituality, or should we concentrate on maintaining spirituality as
separate from science?


I conclude this chapter with an excerpt from a children’s novel by Margery

Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (1922). It is a magical story that chronicles the
experiences of a stuffed rabbit in his quest to become real. This excerpt captures a
simple, yet profound conversation between two toys, the Rabbit and the Skin
Horse, which highlights the essence of what it means to be spiritual. Children can
connect with their spiritual nature when they are engaged in relationships that
value their inherent worth.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was
so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams
underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead
necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys
arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass
away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into
anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only
those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse
understand all about it.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by
side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it
mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”


“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that
happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play
with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you
are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes
a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily,
or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time
you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out
and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter
at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who
don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not
said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse
only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years
ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for
always.” (Williams, 1922, p. 1)

Challenging my cultural conditioning has expanded my understanding of children’s

spiritual development. Valuing other points of view has finally allowed me to
create a fluid, inclusive, and reflective perspective that is capable of not labeling
‘other’ as less than. Abandoning the practice of diminishing ‘other’ has opened up
the possibility of experiencing ‘all’ as valid. This allows me to experience
spirituality as intrinsic to being human.
Western society needs to establish an education system that facilitates the
development of the whole person. It is our responsibility to create environments
that nurture children’s spirituality by engaging with them in the process of learning
instead of presenting them with a packaged understanding of the world. By
adopting a receptive and compassionate position, educators create opportunities for
children to transform. Trusting that learning is transformative gives children the
freedom to develop their spiritual lives.

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An ever increasing body of work is emerging within the pedagogical arena that
explores the realm of spirituality and its implications within a classroom (Tisdell
and Tolliver, 2006; Groen, 2008), in curriculum (Fraser, 2004), for student
development (Love, 2001; Kessler, 1999; Hindman, 2002), or within the academy
as a whole (Shahjahan, 2006; Rendon, 2000). The emergence of this body of work
stems from what is perceived as an ever widening chasm that separates Western
education from the “whole person”, suppressing and silencing aspects of student
life that are important in the quest for a holistic education experience. This chapter
examines the definitions of spirituality that are emerging out of this Western
educational discourse and contends that the current definitions undermine the
collective power of spirituality by centering the individual as the sole locus of
spiritual determination in a sort of spiritual solipsism. The current discourse of
spirituality has been born out of resistance to organized religion and its coercive,
imperialistic endeavors but, in rejecting the organized structures of religion,
spirituality has engaged in the other extreme, namely Western liberalism and its
dogmatic emphasis on individual rights – throwing any notion of collective
spirituality out with the proverbial bath water.
I will argue that any definition of spirituality needs to acknowledge the value of
connection, as conceived in indigenous spirituality, as vital and inherent to its
being: a connection to all aspects of the self, connection to one’s community,
connection to history, and connection to a higher power or larger framework. It is
through this connectivity that spiritual power is constructed and spiritual resistance
is empowered and without it, spirituality falls prey to individualism and relativism.
Finally, I will attempt to elucidate some of the implications that such a
collaborative spirituality might have on the classroom and the academy. The
impetus for spirituality to be brought into the classroom is based on a desire for
change to how we educate, a desire to resist the current patterns of thinking and,
according to Kessler (1999), a desire for connection.
I come to this topic from a position of spiritual and mental struggle. Not only do
I struggle to locate myself within the discussion of resistance and spirituality but I
also struggle with the possibility of being able to locate myself at all. I recognize
and am aware of my full participation within the discourses of Western domination
that I am implicated in through my skin color (white), my heritage (European), my
religion (Christian), my gender (male) and my sexuality (heterosexual). I do not

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 15–36.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

posit these influences as something apart from who I am, in some sort of nebulous
“out there” (Howard, 2006), but recognize that I come from a position of
illegitimate privilege and who I am is embedded in domination. While not
overlooking the influence that these locations have on my work, I also understand
the difficulty of discovering how they influence my work (though undoubtedly they
do) as well as the challenge in locating what I have left unsaid; what remains
hidden is undoubtedly the most insidious. While I cannot escape these locations,
my work hopefully resists against these discourses from within them; as Dei &
Asgharzadeh (2001) clearly state: it is not possible to claim impartiality or
indifference and I do not choose to do so. As Budd Hall (2000) states in his preface
to Indigenous Knowledges in Global Contexts, “I can’t change my race or gender,
but I am able to shape my approach to my work” (p. xiv). My move or shaping,
then, is one of resistance. This resistance comes not in the form of the post-colonial
which not only falsely demarcates periods of oppression, but as Dei (2000) also
argues, post-colonial discourses disturbingly ignore the histories and lived realities
of indigenous peoples. So instead it is an anti-colonial resistance that I choose to
mobilize, one that seeks to challenge and ultimately bring down colonial
relationships within society through epistemologies of the colonized.


The anti-colonial framework that I apply to this chapter seeks to both affirm
indigenous ways of knowing while at the same time interrogating the intersections
of power and knowledge that are inherently imbedded in any type of knowledge
production. This framework also recognizes that knowledge does not reside in one
site or location but is produced as a result of multiple, localized lived realities and
experiences. This position avoids succumbing to the post-modern tendency to
oversubjectify individual voices or experiences and rather chooses to recognize the
value of individual experience within the framework of collective histories, as Dei
(2005) states: to see unity in diversity. Knowledge, then, is bound up not only in
the individual but also in the collective and communal identities, in recognizance
of the multitude of flows and cycles that occur in knowledge production. Not only
does this framework challenge how knowledge is created but also how totalizing
theories are used to simplify complex realities, choosing instead to focus on the
fluidity and flexibility of a discursive framework (Dei & Asgharzadeh, 2001).
I theorize colonial here, not strictly in its historical context nor as alien and
foreign, but more broadly as discourses and forces of domination, imposition and
exploitation. This approach does not seek to devalue, homogenize, or misrepresent
the unique qualities of the historical representations of colonialism that were
imposed on indigenous groups by Western nations but rather argues for more
nuanced approaches and interrogations of how different forms of colonial power
have been enacted in different ways, in different locations, in different times, in
different spaces, and how these might work in conversation with each other. There
is a caution here in creating an ‘umbrella’ term that veils the intricacies of its many
members but, in recognizing this danger, there must be the move away from


homogenizing the issues and towards giving each colonized body a voice and
many allies to raise their voice in unison with. Not only this, but in eschewing false
dichotomies, an anti-colonial approach does not seek to set up the colonizer as
‘other’, aware of the dangers in setting up such dichotomies and recognizing the
spectrum and complexities inherent in domination.
In light of these complexities, resistance is viewed in localized ways and as
embedded within daily actions and choices, with the understanding that
“colonizing practices can be unending and deeply embedded in everyday relations”
(Dei, 2005, p. 273). An anti-colonial framework seeks to explore these various
manifestations of colonization to uncover similarities and differences that might be
of value in the resistance of and the dismantling of colonial powers. This approach
also seeks links and alliances between those who resist domination in different
forms (gender, class, race, disability, etc.) in an effort to explore how lived realities
are shaped by multiple forms of power relationships. It rejects any singular
approach to anti-oppression and supports solidarity in the struggle against the
multiplicity of dominations.
In seeking to affirm indigenous knowledges, of vital importance is to theorize a
‘working definition’. In constructing a ‘working definition’, an anti-colonial
framework recognizes the fluidity and ever-changing nature of knowledge while
challenging the Western discourses that seek to fix, categorize, contain and reify;
as Battiste (2000) argues, “The quest for universal definitions ignores the diversity
of the people of the earth and their views of themselves” (pp. 36-37). An anti-
colonial framework also recognizes that “at each arrival at a definition, we begin a
new analysis, a new departure, a new interrogation of meaning, new
contradictions” (Davies, 1994, p. 5). This process of arrival/departure, in relation to
indigenous knowledges, resists being defined by others which has too often been
the case as Western academies and discourses have tried to contain and define
indigenous knowledges and bodies in order to dominate and control them; it allows
indigenous people to define for themselves what ‘indigenous’ means.
In defining indigenous knowledges, too often the tendency has been to locate it
solely in the past and to fall prey to what Macedo (1999) calls a “blind
romanticism”. Locating indigenous knowledges in the past only serves to reify and
enclose, to position indigenous knowledges as out of sync with ‘modern’ times, as
a relic to be discarded for something better. Instead, I seek to define indigenous
knowledges along the lines of Dei, Hall and Rosenberg (2000) who not only
associate indigenous knowledges with the long-term occupancy of a certain place
but define it as, “The sum of the experience and knowledge of a given social group
[which] forms the basis of decision making in the face of challenges both familiar
and unfamiliar” (p. 6). Indigenous knowledges are dynamic rather than static,
constantly being created and re-created in the face of new obstacles, experiences
and locations, yet never losing what makes it ‘indigenous’. Indigenous knowledges
are created in relation to a specific location or place but, just as colonialism
uprooted indigenous peoples it also uprooted their knowledges which are
constantly adapting, creating, re-creating and persisting (Purcell, 1998). In falling
prey to a blind romanticism or static definitions rooted solely in past or place, not
only are indigenous knowledges reified but a false dichotomy is imposed in which


indigenous knowledges are posited in direct opposition to Western knowledge. As

Dei (2000) states, indigenous knowledges do not sit in pristine fashion outside of
other knowledges; an anti-colonial framework recognizes the collaborative and
cumulative processes involved in knowledge production and calls for a more
nuanced interrogation of how knowledges interact with each other in a constant
process of creation and re-creation.
Indigenous knowledges also seek to work with the power of diversity. The term
‘indigenous’ encompasses a wide array of knowledges, cultures, peoples, and
locations (Wane, 2008). Roberts (1998) argues that indigenous knowledges
develop through an in-depth understanding of relationships to a specific place and
Dei (2000) states that indigenous knowledges are operationalized differently
depending on history, environment and context. It is in the fluidity and openness of
indigenous knowledges where all of these localized knowledges find their meeting
point. There is recognition of multiple origins of knowledge and the multiplicity of
ways that knowledge is operationalized, as well as an understanding of how
knowledge is much like a river with many tributaries, ever expanding and
overflowing its boundaries, constantly charting new courses and paths. This is not
to so easily dismiss the realization that differences are prone to be homogenized
within such an overarching concept as indigenous knowledges but rather to call for
close interrogations and appreciations of diversity which will recognize that, even
within such a wide scope there are common threads to be found which bring
diverse peoples together under the banner of ‘indigenous’.
An anti-colonial framework also recognizes that schooling is not innocent and
that it has historically played an important role in colonizing indigenous groups; in
producing and re-producing inequality along the lines of gender, race, culture,
class, religion, and language; and in “miseducation”, as Renato Constantino sees it:

We see our present with as little understanding as we view our past because
aspects of the past which could illuminate the present have been concealed
from us. This concealment has been effected by a systematic process of
miseducation characterized by a thoroughgoing inculcation of colonial values
and attitudes. (qtd. in Macedo, 1999, p. xv)

Institutes of education, sanctioned by the state, serve to further the agendas of the
state and social structures of exploitation (Dei & Asgharzadeh, 2001). This chapter
recognizes that education has been used to silence and subsume the voices and
knowledges of indigenous people, divorcing them from their histories; still it
chooses to view education as a key site of resistance, giving indigenous peoples
agency and power to resist even within systems of domination.
Finally, anti-colonial discourse is a discursive framework, a dialogue. It is a
process rather than an arrival. This is especially apparent as I struggle to attenuate
my position in this chapter; I am acutely aware of how little I know about what I
am doing and I echo Hanohano (1999) in stating, “[I am] begging your compassion
as I stumble on – for I don’t know anything” (p. 210). As Dei (2000) argues,
learning is not always about acquiring new knowledge but working with the power


of not knowing, of revealing the knowledge that has always been within you but
obscured; hopefully this chapter works towards bringing this type of personal and
public revelation. Spirituality and the anti-colonial framework are also closely tied
to humility and I approach this project with the highest level of regard for those
who have ‘gone before’ and have struggled with the topic before me, as well as
holding the humble hope that I can add to the discussion.
This anti-colonial framework is particularly important to this chapter, not only
in its focus on epistemologies of the colonized but also in its understanding of how
all aspects of knowledge, from literature to politics to spirituality, come together to
create social understanding (Dei & Asgharzadeh, 2001). An anti-colonial
framework recognizes the power in struggle and resistance, as well as in
celebrating the spiritual aspects of life through art, literature and oral traditions, as
a way to move beyond a preoccupation with victimization as well as a way to
incorporate the language of hope. Finally, it recognizes the power of the
‘indigenous’ in creating and sustaining resistance to dominant forms, recognizing
the power of working with fluid and ever adapting definitions and realities.


Defining Spirituality through Individualism

Equally important to this project is how we are to define spirituality. Prior to the
last century, Western spirituality was not conceived of outside of religion,
originating out of Christian tradition and scriptures, specifically from the idea of
the Holy Spirit (Schneiders, 2003). Even today, the issue of how to conceptualize
or define spirituality as a distinct concept apart from religious frameworks seems to
be primarily based in ‘first-world’, Western locations. What has caused this shift
towards conceiving of spirituality outside of religion? In line with Schneiders’
(2003) argument, I argue that spirituality has been separated from religion as a
response to perceived problems with religion; its exclusivity, its rigid ideology, and
clerical systems are all at odds with a (post)modern society’s image of self and
society. Yet, despite this perceived failure of religion, within the self there is a
desire to find a meaningful life path which consequently leads to a desire to
continue the search for meaning outside of the frameworks of religion. This
extraction of spirituality from religion has been aided by society’s move to what
was considered rational, secular, and scientific thought, as well as a move towards
the explicit separation of church and state – a separation of private matters from the
public sphere. In rejecting everything religion had to offer, the locus of Western
spirituality moved from the congregational to the individual, from the public realm
to the private realm. This conceptualization of spirituality drew heavily from
spiritual traditions in other parts of the world, appropriating what was useful in a
sort of religious consumerism (York, 2001). What was taken was divorced from its
contexts and used to confirm Western desires. These forms of spirituality were
transplanted into Western society as exotic and different, being positioned as a
counter-discourse to the hegemonic influence of religion, as an alternative way of


reaching personal fulfillment. Spirituality could be the positive force to counter the
ills of religion.
This polarization of spirituality and religion is evident in society as a whole and,
as a microcosm, in schooling and the academy. There has been an explicit
dichotomization that posits spirituality as acceptable, personal, liberating, and as a
mature entity while religion is demonized as institutional, constraining and childish
(Johnson, Kristeller, and Sheets, 2004). Spirituality was born as a counter-
discourse or resistance to the hegemonic, restrictive reigns of religion but, in the
process, it created its own regimes of truth, its own definitions, and its own
dominant discourse (Foucault, 1978; Estanek, 2006) which not only appropriated
indigenous traditions into a ‘spiritual stew’ but, in defining itself through
individualism, silenced the voices of communities and other collective groups. Any
notion of collective spirituality was silenced through a discourse of individualism.
The emergence of spirituality as its own discourse has provoked a large body of
work that has struggled to define exactly what spirituality is: as Palmer (2003)
states, “Spirituality is an elusive word with a variety of definitions – some
compelling, some wifty, some downright dangerous” (p. 377). Most definitions are
understandably broad and abstract as they try to accommodate all varieties of
spirituality, attempting to negotiate the connections between religion and
spiritualityand yet facilitate a divergence. The common thread in these attempts is a
focus on the individual as a locus for ‘authentic’ spirituality. By placing the locus
of spirituality in the individual there is room to accommodate a multiplicity of
spiritualities, little need to come up with a clear definition of what spirituality
entails, and also a clear delineation from the congregationalism of religion. Bennett
(2003) states that spirituality is the organizing story or force of one’s life, Hindman
(2002) takes the approach that spirituality is who we really are inside, which agrees
with Chittister (1990) who argues that spirituality is what we are and how we act.
These definitions emphasize the individual and are in line with many of the
definitions emanating from recent research in spirituality (Rose, 2001; Love, Bock,
Jannarone, and Richardson, 2005; Palmer, 2003). To find an ‘authentic’ spirituality
one must be able to discover the ‘authentic’ self – the approach and direction is
inward. Personal spirituality is independent of other people and their spiritualities;
the histories, forces and discourses at work around the individual; and independent
of any realm outside of the core self. The primary concern is with moving inward.
This affirmation of individualism is in line with Western society’s move toward
secularization and liberalism. York (2001) defines secularization as a society-wide
decline of interest in organized religious traditions. As spirituality is freed from the
rules of religion it becomes a fluid and disparate entity. For Western society this
has led to an upswing in spirituality, as seen in the New Age movement which
views the individual alone as the “locus for selectivity and determination of belief”
(York, 2001, p. 366). Secularization and spirituality are in this way tied together in
promoting individualism in the model of Western liberalism. York (2001) goes on
to argue that this Western New Age spiritualism is an outgrowth of Western
capitalism (the ‘religious consumer supermarket’) and falls into the same traps as
Western liberalism in denying difference through individualism in effort to further


hegemonic culture. It was this culture of consumerism and individualism that has
led writers to explore spirituality as a cure or alternative in the first place, but
instead of escaping the Western hegemonic discourse they are merely reproducing
it within this new discourse of spirituality.
This self-dependence and individualism are not completely insular in that they
ignore any type of relationship but, rather, in that they place all relationships as a
secondary effect. It is only after a discovery of the authentic self that it is possible
to look outward to relationships in other realms; spirituality is “how I live at the
center of who I am. I live at a center with an image of who I am, how I am
embodied and in touch with the concrete …. My spirituality is the way I live at my
center … [italics mine]” (Johnson, 1983, p. 252). This spirituality has self at the
center of the formation and not until the self is uncovered can the individual
understand their relationships with the world around them. Schneiders (2003)
argues that this inward-outward thrust “implicitly defines spirituality as a private
pursuit for personal gain, even if that gain is socially committed” (p. 177). To put it
simply – spirituality as it is conceived here is limited by self; as Rendon (2000)
states, “I can make a difference for others only if I make a difference for me” (p.
11). As a private gain it is reproducing Western liberalism, secularism, and
capitalism within the discourse of spirituality.
The primacy of ‘me’ is connected to the search for an ‘authentic self’ or, as
Robinson (2004) calls it a “solid me” (p. 108). As alluring as it is to think that there
is something pure and discoverable within all of us, this argument ignores the
always ongoing construction and fluidity of self. There seem to me to be three
areas that need to be troubled in this search for the ‘authentic self’. First, the search
for authenticity promotes a spiritual hierarchy of “more authentic” and “less
authentic” which is inherently fragmentary and marginalizing rather than unitary.
Those who have ‘attained’ a certain level of authenticity can claim priority in
spiritual discussion and the voices of those who are ‘not spiritual enough’ are
silenced. Second, in the search for what is pure and innocent within us, the
multiplicity of forces and discourses that interact with us and through us are
ignored, especially in the ways that they might shape our journey or even our
“authentic self”. Third, in imagining such an authentic core, the self and spirituality
are seen as static, unchanging, and contained when, as I will argue later, this is
exactly the opposite of how we need to view spirituality. As our life experiences,
perceptions, feelings, and understandings of spirituality change, are we moving
away from our authentic spiritual core or is it rather a move towards spirituality as
a connected, fluid, uncontained identity?

Defining Spirituality through Connectedness

My intended goal with this chapter is not to negate the self but to remove it from
the center of the grid. Spirituality needs to be viewed as a connected experience
where the individual is one node in the web of existence or, perhaps to use an
indigenous American image, merely one point in the Circle of Life. Spirituality
cannot be summed up, as Tisdell and Tolliver (2006) state, as “an individual’s
journey to wholeness” (p. 38). There has to be a recognition that everything is


connected, that each individual is connected to others in their communities,

connected to the past and those who have gone before, connected to frameworks or
entities larger than themselves, and connected to the future through their actions
and relationships in the present. These relationships do not develop out of the self
but are part and parcel of a reciprocal relationship with the individual; we cannot
conceive of our spirituality without looking at relationships and how they mould
us. Kinchloe (2006) states, “Knowledge production and the construction of
selfhood cannot take place outside of this intricate web of relationships” (p. 188). It
is not an inward movement that should be primary to spirituality but an opening of
the self to accept and embrace the forces and relationships at work all around us.
At the same time, this chapter is not trying to set up another dichotomy in
self/other but is interested in viewing both as interlocked or interwoven with each
This sense of connectedness is vital to ideas of indigenous knowledges and
spirituality and I argue, that in promoting this connectedness, this is one way that
indigenous knowledges and spirituality can be used as a methodology of resistance
in the academy. Mazama (2002) argues that a central tenant of indigenous
spirituality is that everything in life and death (humans, plants, objects, ancestors,
events) is imbued with a common essence that binds us all together. Hanohano
(1999) states that every aspect of indigenous life is saturated with the spiritual and
the purpose of life is simply to be. Dei (2002b) understands indigenous spirituality
in terms of collective empowerment, the ability to relate to others without
preconceived motives, and listening to the self and world rather than the
“hegemony of me”. Dei (2002b) goes on to say that, “The individual develops a
spirituality through the engagement of society, culture and nature interrelations” (p.
5) and that the individual only makes sense within the context of community (Dei,
1993). Kinchloe (2006) argues that “A human being simply can’t exist outside the
inscription of community with its processes of relationship, differentiation,
interaction, and subjectivity” (p. 192). In this light, spirituality is not a journey into
the self to find an authentic core but rather an unveiling of the self to recognize the
multiplicity of relationships that we interact with and that interact through us. It is a
breaking down of the ‘hegemony of me’ and the rebuilding of the self through
Again, I feel the need to reiterate that indigenous spirituality does not seek to
obscure or destroy the self but rather seeks to destroy the self/other dichotomy in
which it is possible to conceive of the self as autonomous and separate from the
larger collective (Dei, 2002b). I do not wish to set up the binary of
dependence/independence but rather to look in a more nuanced way at what might
be called mutual inter-dependence; a reciprocal spiritual relationship whereby,
through relations we connect and shape others and, at the same time, are re-shaped
and impacted by others. This is a fluid spirituality that progresses, grows, is aware
and is constantly struggling to resist and break free from the relations that seek to
control or dominate it. It resists the urge to place self at the center. In a mutual
inter-dependence, the self cannot be negated or expunged but only exists in the
context of connections.



The connections that I am talking about in regards to spirituality can be focused

broadly around four main categories: connections to communities, connections to
history and the past, connections to larger frameworks, entities or mysteries, and
connections to one’s whole self. I purposefully use the plural form of connection to
note the multiplicity of relations that can spring out of infinite lived realities and
the multiplicity of connections that we all have in varying forms. These categories,
upon closer interrogation, are neither clearly delineated nor definitive, each bleeds
into the others and outside of these borders. Yet, by looking at these connections
separately, hopefully it is of at least some heuristic value.

Connections to People and Communities

To be connected to the people around you means to be connected through shared
language, shared location, shared experiences, shared culture, or shared
environment. The idea of a shared language is central to ideas of spirituality as
language is more than simple communication and the imposition of foreign
languages have been used to divorce people from communities, culture and
spiritual connections. Chrisjohn, Young and Maraun (1997) argue that it is through
language that peoples “come to know, represent, name, and act upon the world” (p.
338). Almeida (1998) sees language as the thread between generations through the
knowledge passed down by the elders. The imposition of foreign languages has
divorced people from their connections and given them a new, colonial framework
to work within (Wane, 2008). In terms of spiritual connections, Simpson (2004)
argues that by translating traditional narratives into colonial languages, knowledge
and people are separated from the spirituality, its source and meaning. Language is
the thread that connects spirituality to everyday lived realities.
The indigenous concept of embodied, active learning is critical to this
connection as well, as people interact in physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual
ways with one another – often all at the same time. This is evidenced in the daily
interactions of people in communities through actions such as healing rituals that
are themselves imbued with meaning, knowledges, and spiritual connections
(Wane, 2008). These connections are not always explicit as they might be in a
healing ceremony and often don’t need to be as the fluidity of meaning is implicitly
recognized by the community. It is the community, through its practical realities,
rituals and ceremonies that direct and illuminate the pathways into the inner self
and into a greater understanding of mystery and sacred knowing (Ermine, 1995).
Spirituality in this sense cannot be extracted from the lived realities of the people
and communities; Portman and Garret (2006) describe how in many indigenous
languages there is not even a word for spirituality or religion as something
separable from existence. It is these lived realities of communities that impact and
shape who we are as spiritual beings.
In the spiritual connection to communities there is also a spiritual interaction
and connection to place and environments. Almeida (1998) argues that it is the
land that is the physical core that connects communities and if it is lost, so too are


the languages, knowledges, and spiritualities. Hanohano (1999) describes how

specific locations or sites are imbued with spiritual essence and power; Dei’s
(1992) study views land as the bridge between the living and the dead for
indigenous cultures; Dei (2002a) describes how land transcends into the
metaphysical realm through the giving of life, sustenance, and spiritual strength;
Holmes (2000) states that the Earth is the voice and humans the listeners, Ilmi
(2010) explains how land can be sacred and spiritually cleansing; and Portman and
Garret (2006) look at how a harmonious relationship with nature is essential for
being a whole spiritual self. This connection to the land resists Western scientific
discourses that conceptualize the land and people as separate entities, choosing
instead to see humans as one link in the vast chain of nature, intimately connected
to earth, sky, water, animals, and plants (Wangoola, 2000). The land is much like
family and evokes a language of love that resists Western discourses that are tied to
the land, discourses of economy and exploitation (McIsaac, 2000). Not only this,
but it resists universalizing and reductionist Western scientific discourses that seek
to divide, measure, and control the earth, in the process not only fragmenting the
earth into various ‘extractable resources’ but also fragmenting knowledge and
space (Ermine, 1995; Purcell, 1998).
The intention here is not to ignore some of the inherent problems in theorizing
community as a singular, homogenous entity. Daniels (2009) argues convincingly
how community has been constructed as a male dominated space through memory
and ‘his-story’, ignoring and omitting the contributions and voices of women. This
gendering of memory is a result of the colonial frameworks that created the public
space and, consequently, the history created in them, as a male space (Oyewumi,
1997). Also, Gujit and Shah (1999) show how the term ‘community’ has been used
as a ‘Trojan horse’ by the western development agenda to cloak and validate
Western development aims, all the while ignoring the complexities and diversity
that are inherent in any community. Not only this but to view community as a
static, enclosed entity only enforces the insider/outsider binary, making the
community a type of elitist club whose members hold the key to an essentialized
‘community’ knowledge. The community is fluid and often disparate as people
move in and out and choose to play greater or lesser roles. To envision boundaries
of a community, especially in today’s globalized space where communities and
connections can span the globe, is an impossible task. Fluidity and difference is
often seen as disruptive and threatening, silenced in the name of cooperation but, as
Dei (2005) argues, we need to recognize that there is strength in the diversity of
communities. This is not to advocate for the opposite extreme of complete
fragmentation and attenuation of differences but to advocate for the explicit
recognition of communities as open, diverse spaces in need of meaningful ways of
understanding the complex structures of relationships.

Connections to History and the Past

Gearon (2001) clearly articulates that spirituality cannot be seen in ahistorical
terms. Two key elements of this connection in regards to indigenous spirituality


are: connection to the elders who are the “repositories of knowledge from time
immemorial” (Hanohano, 1999), as well as connection to the ancestors that have
gone before. This connection to history is an important one as it actively
participates in the decolonizing project. Fanon (1963) examines how colonization
sought to distort and misrepresent the past, divorcing people from their histories.
Linda Smith (1999) argues that a vital part of the decolonization process is “about
recovering our own stories of the past” (p. 39). This spiritual connection to the past
through elders and ancestors is a reconnection to, or reclamation of, hidden
histories and obscured memories. I am not trying to position a sort of authentic or
romanticized ‘past’ that is the basis for validity but positioning the role of history
along the lines of Lattas (1993) when he states that, the past needs to be recreated
and viewed “as a way of formulating an uncolonized space to inhabit” (p. 254).
Longwood, Muesse and Schipper (2004) recognize the use of older mentors in
spiritual or religious development but the indigenous connection to elders is based
on more than a student/mentor relationship. Holmes (2000) looks at how land was
given voice through the elders, blood memory was kept alive, and heart knowledge
was expressed; all of these coming together to form an ancestry of experience. It is
this lived experience of those who have gone before which shapes our spiritual
self, as Holmes (2000) explains: it is through the elders that knowledge lodges in
the heart. Hanohano (1999) calls the elders repositories of knowledge from time
immemorial, Kirkness (2002) speaks of giving voice to the ancestors through the
knowledge of the elders, and Garrett (1996) sees elders as parent, teacher,
community leader, and spiritual guide. The elders then are important mediators in
spiritual connections and, subsequently, in knowledge production; as Holmes
(2000) describes in regards to indigenous Hawaiian peoples, knowledge is a gift
from a higher power which is then revealed and contextualized through
Not only is there a connection to the elders but to those in the community that
have passed on. Dei (1993) and Mazama (2002) examine how indigenous African
cultures view life and death as inherently linked and how the ancestors’ role in the
community is to guide and protect the living. Mayuzumi (2006) looks at how
connection to the ancestors through the Japanese tea ceremony is how Japanese
women can connect with history and create and expand one’s spiritual space. Being
able to connect to common ancestors is also critical in symbolizing the social unity
of a community (Dei, 1993). This connection speaks to how the present cannot be
theorized without another dimension; it is never as simple as what you can see.
This connection is also vital in the resistance to Western ideas of time and
boundaries; those who have passed on slip in and out of the present, the past
experience actively informing the knowledge production of the present. Spirituality
is not only mutually inter-dependent with events in the present but also with history
as symbolized by the lived experiences of the elders and ancestors.

Connections to Larger Frameworks, Entities or Mysteries

Tisdell (2003), in part two of her seven part definition of spirituality, talks about
connectedness to the “Life Force, God, higher power, higher self, cosmic energy,


Buddha nature, or Great Spirit” (p. 28) but, in the indigenous understanding, this
connection goes deeper than simply recognizing a higher power. It is recognition
that beyond the physical, knowable world is something larger than the conceptual
ordering of community and individuals, a world too full to talk about. This
connection highlights an awareness of an alternative framework that exists beyond
the tangible and scientific. Portman and Garrett (2006) show how Native American
peoples believe that all things are alive and have spiritual energy; everything has a
connection to this alternative framework which exists in balance with the physical.
This connection to higher mysteries speaks through silence, subverts traditional
modes of verification, can be felt through intuition, dreams or visions, and is
experiential. It is unquantifiable and ever-changing; the Great Mystery.
This connection is often understood and expressed through creative expression,
through songs and chants, proverbs and storytelling, rituals and ceremonies, again
pointing to the value of indigenous languages in these forms. Wane (2005) states
that rituals take us beyond our social locations and positioning to allow us to
interconnect at a higher level, as well as allowing us to move beyond the part of
self that wants to restrict possibilities. Portman and Garrett (2006) explain that
Native American traditional ceremonies are designed to keep the self in good
relations with those around them and with a higher power. Oral forms of
communication, such as singing, poetry and storytelling, communicate a
connection to something higher, another dimension that is not easily explained in
the words themselves and often the only way of expressing what is ‘unsayable’.
The spiritual connection is emphasized through the personal connections and
context of these oral events and narratives, as Lakota chief Harold Dean Salway
said, “You have a tendency to lose some of the spirituality when it’s down in black
and white” (qtd. in Barringer, 1991, p. 1).
This connection exists outside the realms of Western scientific discourses and
resists their ordering of the world through the traditional senses, adding a spiritual
sense. It also resists how history and knowledges are viewed, in that they are not
embedded in the text (the story, the song, the poem) but enacted upon through the
telling or the performance, they are both engaged in and derived from social
activity (Cohen, 1989). In the indigenous context, knowledge of the higher realm is
revealed through performance which acts as a bridge between the physical and the
spiritual dimensions. Not only this but rituals and storytelling explore the
intricacies of the community in ways that cannot be done otherwise, exploring the
interplay between personal and collective, the intertwining of spiritual and
physical, and the mixture of mythology and history. This spiritual connection to a
higher realm is always an exploration, always a process rather than an arrival, and
always shrouded in mystery; still, through its very denial of definable boundaries it
plays a role in resistance. Ward (1990) states, oral narratives and its listeners do not
“seek to construct from the text a unified meaning; rather [they are] attentive to the
text’s refusal to mean” (pp. 88-89).


Connections to One’s Whole Self

Spirituality is not a separate entity that can be extracted and examined separately
from the other aspects of life, it weaves its way through every aspect, from the day-
to-day physical actions (Graveline, 1998), to sexuality (Love, Bock, & Richardson,
2005), to how we think (Shahjahan, 2006). Our spirituality is shaped through the
influences that are placed on our emotions, our bodies and our mind; they cannot
be separated. This is the recognition that everything we do is tied to our
spirituality, that every breath we take is at one moment both physical and spiritual,
both mental and emotional. Spirituality cannot be cocooned away and divided from
other aspects of life, it is in everything we do and everything we are. This
connection is aptly conceived in the idea of the First Nations sacred circle which
typically represents seven directions of which one is the center or the core
(Portman & Garrett, 2004; Cajete, 1994). It is through the integration of the core
with the other directions (east, south, west, north, upper/Sky, lower/Earth) that
spiritual harmony and balance are achieved.
This is the place for individual agency within the community, for self-
empowerment within the web of relationships. As Malidoma Somé (1994) argues,
“Each one of us possesses a center … The center is both within and without. It is
everywhere” (p. 199). A communal spirituality is not the negation of the self to the
capricious whims of the community or a higher power but an exploration of self
through the lens of relationship and connection to communities and higher powers.
These connections provide a way to place the self physically, historically and
spiritually. As iterated before, these connections cannot be neatly examined or
categorized as they intermingle and affect one another. The connections are not
static over time or space; they are constantly changing as we live our own realities
and others live their realities beside us. There is no strict delineation of self and
community, they converge and diverge at specific moments, never escaping each
other. This is part of the beauty of spirituality.


The previous sections have explored how ideas of a connected indigenous

spirituality are in opposition to the hegemonic, individualistic discourses of
spirituality. Putting this in discussion with an anti-colonial framework necessarily
entails envisioning spirituality as resistance. Each previous section has briefly
touched on how indigenous spirituality and its connections can be used as
resistance but a concerted effort must now be made to explore exactly what this
Both Said (1993) and Fanon (1963) argue that colonial discourses never “give
anything away out of goodwill” (Said, 1963, p. 207). Said goes on to argue that the
colonial must be forced to yield its control through political, cultural and physical
battle, to which I would add as an aspect of cultural struggle: the spiritual struggle.
In regards to indigenous spirituality, Graveline (1998) argues that “inter-
connectedness is a necessary resistance strategy” (p. 46). The power of a collective
indigenous spirituality needs to be brought to bear in resistance against dominant,


imperialistic discourses which seek to posit their knowledge as the only valid form.
Dei and Doyle-Wood (2006) see indigenous spirituality as an active and
“revolutionary spirituality” that is vital to the anti-colonial project. Spirituality is
not resistance simply as a defensive stance to hegemonic Western discourses but it
is also constructive, giving ways and spaces to explore power/knowledge
relationships through connections and working towards restoring the language of
hope. I do not seek to put forward a romanticized notion of resistance and struggle
for the sake of struggle; it is not a grand movement or popular uprising but a
collection of everyday choices that cumulatively and incrementally build for social
change. I also am aware of Foucault’s (1978) assertion that resistance is never
external to power and that there needs to be nuanced understandings of how
resistance works in relation to structures of power.
Weedon (1987) posits that everything we do is either in compliance or
resistance to dominant discourses and, consequently, how we perceive spirituality
is an important form of resistance. Through connectedness we resist the Western
liberal discourse of individualism that posits science and Western rationality as
primary. In choosing an indigenous spirituality of connectedness, we are creating
space for multiple ways of knowing, for a renewed understanding of the common
relationships that we share, and opportunities to interrogate why we see the world
as we do. Dei (2002b) states that spiritual knowledge “simultaneously upholds
‘objectivity’ to the subjective experience and similarly some ‘subjectivity’ to the
objective reality” (p. 7). It breaks down binaries and begs for more nuanced and
multi-faceted approaches to reality. Gearon (2001) clearly states, “A spirituality of
dissent resists easy assimilation into the systems of cultural representation … and
always presents a challenge to the systems which control such representations” (p.


How can a spirituality of resistance be brought into a setting such as the academic
classroom where knowledge is closely controlled and validated through dominant
Western discourses? How can a spirituality that is rooted in activity and experience
make the transition to the classroom where learning is normally passive? Finally,
how can a spirituality that is connected to a wide range of forces move to the
Academy where knowledge is divorced from its connections and where knowledge
is commodified and individualized? These are the questions that arise when
resistance happens both ‘within and against’ dominant discourse and institutions
such as the Western academy.
Indigenous knowledges and spiritualities resist being labelled, reified and
corralled into a curriculum. The goal is not to learn about indigenous spiritualities
but to learn through them, to use them, and to embody them. Dei (2000) states,
“indigenous knowledges do not ‘sit in pristine fashion’ outside of the effects of
other knowledges” (p. 111); they are meant to be used as methodology rather than
be subject-ed to a book, lesson plan or discipline. The separation of spirituality
from practical application, schooling and other forms of knowledge only furthers


the problematic beliefs that spirituality can be sequestered or ignored as part of the
whole person. Through methods of indigenous spirituality, community and
connections can be encouraged and fostered, collaborative forms of knowledge can
be affirmed, space can be created for individuals to feel connected, and a greater
understanding of how spirituality can exist outside of the private sphere can be
By talking about integrating indigenous spirituality in the classroom there is the
recognition that this resistance is still within the dominant discourses and systems
of education and is, in this way, limiting (Foucault, 1978). This has been a popular
topic among anti-colonial and anti-oppression scholars, can the ‘master’s tools’
dismantle the ‘master’s house’? Anti-colonial writers such as Fanon (1963) have
recognized the implications of setting up colonized/colonizer binaries that ignore
the complexities within them and to separate spirituality and indigenous
knowledges from the academy does the same. Dei (2000) calls the academy one of
the most important starting places for decolonization work, a place to lodge a
sustained critique of Western domination. I agree that to create spirituality and
indigenous knowledges as outside of the academy only serves to create rather than
dismantle binaries, yet this does not mean accepting the system as flawless; as Dei
(2000) poignantly puts it, it is not about “opening the ‘club’ to new members, but
rather, examining the whole idea/structure of the club” (p. 119). It involves looking
for ways to create a framework where knowledge can be created collaboratively,
multiple groups and individuals centered, and mutual inter-dependence affirmed.
I will put forward three ways in which I believe indigenous spirituality can be
mobilized and affirmed in a classroom setting to resist dominant classroom norms,
whether it be at the primary schooling level, secondary schooling or in institutes of
higher education.

Recognizing and Affirming Difference

Connected spirituality is not a homogenizing, essentializing, Western liberal
‘multicultural’ project and its goal is not to integrate spiritualities or philosophies
to create a “world-culture” (Nakagawa, 2000) nor to posit a sort of spiritual
universalism (Beck, 1999). It resists a Eurocentric dominance that masquerades as
unity or tolerance of diversity; the kind of token multiculturalism that Rushdie
(1992) calls “teaching kids a few bongo rhythms” (p. 137). In a connected
spirituality, instead of being ignored, hidden, essentialized, romanticised or
reduced to stereotypes, difference is valued and appreciated. Dei (2002) states that
it is the teacher’s role to “candidly explore all the emerging contestations,
contradictions and ambiguities in peoples’ lives” (p. 7). The multiplicity of
identities in a classroom cannot be ignored because the student’s lived experiences
and their spiritual journey affect how they will create knowledge in the classroom.
The power of difference needs to be embraced and explored.
Students can be challenged to interrogate how their identity is formed by
relationships, how they are spiritually connected to a wide range of relationships,
and how these concepts affect how they perceive and learn. Not only must we
openly accept the interrogation of identity but, as educators, we must illuminate the


connections and relationships that ground the learner to the larger historical,
political, and spiritual contexts (Dei, 2002). This interrogation needs to go beyond
superficial difference, that is often currently paraded, and towards examining
individual particularities. This is not to promote a fragmentation around
individualism or to succumb to relativism but to understand that individualism can
be explored within the context of connectedness and community. It is through
relationships that individuals are shaped and formed; we need to learn how to
explore these relationships in new ways that go beyond what we have done to this

Affirming Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning begins when the teacher/student dichotomy is broken down
in a positive way that allows for everyone to contribute their lived experiences to
the process of knowledge building, regardless of position or credentials. It
recognizes that each student brings their unique spirituality to the classroom and
recognizes the dynamic and fluid qualities of knowledge production. In
recognizing student’s individual spirituality, the classroom becomes a space to
learn about individual stories and daily resistances, showing us the complexities of
daily changing power structures (Abu-Lughod, 1990). The classroom is
deconstructed as a space of abstraction, objectivity and rationality, as something
removed from the messy realities of domination. This begins with self-
investigation on the part of the teacher or educator. Dei (2000) calls the
decolonization project one of self-implication and Howard (2006) emphasizes the
importance for educators of voicing one’s story of implication in colonial
processes; decolonization begins with decolonization of the self, which as Wane
(2006) describes, is much more of a process than an isolated event. Educators need
to reflect on their own connections to colonialism and resistance and to place
themselves within the webs of relationships and spirituality.
This collaborative process can even extend beyond the walls of the classroom to
include the community in the process of knowledge production, demonstrating
again that knowledge is not contained within the academy or controlled by a
certain group; as Dei (2002) states, collaborative processes “present communities
as active, spiritual subjects, resistors and creators” (p. 8). This does not imply the
need for “service learning” models, as McNally (2004) suggests, that thrust
students into communities without examining the power dynamics. Projects such as
these only posit communities as something to observe or to use as a step on the
journey to personal fulfillment instead of recognizing the value of the knowledge
that they have to offer or viewing them as co-creators and an integral part of
knowledge production. Indigenous learning and spiritualities are embodied and
active, they do not sit pristinely in the classroom nor flow in the unidirectional
teacher to student flow – they are alive and multi-directional. Collaborative
learning illustrates this to students and deconstructs the power of the teacher as a
holder and dispenser of knowledge.


In this process of deconstructing the learned/learner dichotomy, collaborative

learning also becomes a process where questions become as important as answers.
There is recognition that there can be multiple answers to a single question,
multiple questions to be asked, multiple ways of asking the same question and the
definitive answer to these questions does not always come from those in positions
of power. Again, this is not a relativist approach but one that opens the doors for
students to see possibilities and gives them a chance to find value for themselves.
In affirming the connected aspect of spirituality and learning, questions can be the
door to allowing students to explore how these connections affect and shape who
they are as spiritual beings.

Creating a Space of Openness and Belonging

Spirituality cannot simply be introduced to a classroom as a subject or something
to be learned from a book. Groen (2008) notes that classes on spirituality are
increasingly being offered in professional faculties such as nursing, business or
education but spirituality needs space to be active beyond a specific curriculum, a
space to allow for an embodied learning experience. One way to do this is to create
what Kessler (1999) calls “an authentic community”, a space of openness where
students feel comfortable exploring their relationships and connections. It is also a
space that allows for different experiences and is open to new possibilities in
exploring spirituality, such as through play, creative learning such as art or drama,
story sharing, or even silence. Dei (2005) calls for schooling that allows an open
space for each student to be able to connect with their past, their present
environment, their history, and to which I add, their spirituality and possibilities.
Spirituality cannot be forced into a curriculum or onto students, spiritual
experiences cannot be manufactured through certain techniques or exercises, and
awareness of connections cannot simply be shown. What educators who are
interested in bringing spirituality into classroom spaces can do is provide
possibilities and spaces which are safe for students to explore for themselves.
In creating such a space, spiritual characteristics such as compassion, respect,
and contemplation can be encouraged and explored in the context of connection.
Instead of presenting learning as a competitive, individual pursuit leading to
personal gain, education needs to be viewed as an endeavor to uncover and
understand our connections, to understand how they shape who we are, and how
we can create resistance through connectedness. As hooks (2003) argues,
“conventional education teaches us that disconnection is organic to being” (p. 180).
A connected spirituality ruptures the conventional. Spirituality creates community
and shared experiences through humility, empowerment and dialogue, opening up
a space for learners to belong to knowledge production.

Creating Space for Active, Embodied Learning

As Cajete (1994) argues, students are often ‘refitted’ to the system that caused the
problem in the first place rather than looking at refitting the system to the students.
In integrating spirituality into the education system, spaces need to be created for


active, embodied learning which will challenge the system in place and allow space
for each student to ‘fit’ in their own way. Cajete (1994) looks at an indigenous
centered curriculum “Creative Process: The Centering Place,” that takes students
out of the traditional classroom and engages them with nature, history, philosophy,
community, mythology, and the whole self in ways that make the knowledge active
and alive. The students interact within the community and within nature in ways
that allow them to explore spiritual connections. Thinking of an active, embodied
spiritual learning will sometimes entail thinking outside of the box of the
educational system, of the classroom, and the assigned curriculum in an effort to
provide an inclusive education that centers each student and allows them to explore
their spiritual and whole selves.
Within the classroom, games can bring students together and help them grow
connections, art can help them encounter processes steeped in meaning and
mystery, and having students bring in objects that have spiritual meaning for them
to discuss with the class can be positive ways of promoting a connected spirituality
through embodied learning (Kessler, 1999). Stories and songs, both the process of
creating them and performing them, can help to convey the connections between
the spiritual and the physical. Collaborative projects of creation can show how
individuals work within the frameworks of community. These activities should not
be confined to ‘fine arts’ or ‘drama’ but can inform dialogue across the disciplines;
as David Hanlon (2003) argues, “History it seems to me can be sung, danced,
chanted, spoken, carved, woven, painted, sculpted and rapped as well as written
…” (p. 30). Wane (2006) describes a group activity that she does with her class
that involves collaboration and tangible examples of how colonial violence severed
and distorted tradition knowledges and realities. Cajete (1994) describes a process
where art, biology and mythology are brought together to allow students to explore
their connections to Mother Earth and the interplay of the elements through
painting, sculpting, journal writing, storying and other art forms. Active spiritual
learning cuts across the disciplines and refuses to be subject-ed.


The spiritual resurgence that we are seeing in the academy is important in being
able to produce an education system that allows for the participation of the whole
self but without the proper emphasis placed on connectedness this spirituality loses
its power of resistance and reproduces dominant Western liberal discourses of
individualism. Not only are we connected to individuals around us but we are
connected to history through those who have gone before, connected to larger
frameworks beyond what we can empirically prove, and connected to our whole
self. The beauty of bringing spirituality into the classroom is that there is no
formula or set method but an infinite amount of possibilities that are dependent on
the connections of the individuals within the class. There is no amount of reading
or learning on the topic of spirituality that can ensure students will emerge with a
greater understanding of their spiritual connections; when spirituality is used as a


methodology what can be given to students is a space and the tools to use, if they
so choose.
Bringing a connected spirituality into the classroom is never simple as it
necessarily interacts with the messy world of reality; as Battiste (2000) states,
“Indigenous knowledge is the way of living within contexts of flux, paradox, and
tension, respecting the pull of dualism and reconciling opposing forces” (p. 42).
Spirituality is not intended to be separated from reality or to sit in “pristine
fashion” outside of other forms of knowing, it is meant to be used and to be
constantly created and re-created in context of each individual’s connections with
each other (Dei, 2000). ‘Working definitions’ and fluid boundaries become vital as
spiritualities interact and constantly create and re-create knowledges. It is in the
understanding of our mutual inter-dependence and our enactment of it that
resistance gains power.
A spirituality of resistance also moves away from the language of victimization
and negative criticism towards something constructive and creative; as Wane
(2008) recognizes, “It is imperative that I stop spending my time critiquing the
totalizing forms of western historicism and engage in the discourse of possibility,
where the missing voices and knowledges can be heard and validated” (p. 194). If
resistance is to be meaningful and sustainable it needs to stop constantly
responding to criticisms and critiques and to engage in positive ways with other
voices who seek constructive resistance, strengthening and building up alternative
systems of education, ways of viewing spirituality, and ways of knowing. This
involves sometime being quiet and listening to the multiplicity of voices and
experiences in each classroom. This approach is not asking educators to don the
proverbial rose-colored lens but to work toward empowerment through positive
construction, moving towards hope, and embracing possibility.
This chapter presents no definitive answers or strategies but, hopefully, rather
connections and possibilities to be explored further by teachers, administrators, and
educators. A connected spirituality encourages the spirit of exploration as we seek
to uncover the relationships that shape who we are and how we can positively work
within these relationships, resisting those that seek to dominate and encouraging
those that seek to promote peace and openness. The classroom is a vital space in
working toward spiritual understanding and in giving individuals a place to safely
explore the many connections that they bring to the community. We need to
embrace the complexity of these connections and struggle to create safe spaces for
exploring these complexities; this is the journey of a connected spirituality.

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Spirituality encompasses all that we are. It is an internal force that helps to guide
our lives. It incorporates our upbringing, values, traditions, beliefs and unique
experiences. It gives meaning and fullness to our lives when we are able to embody
the spirit and be our authentic self. Our existence on earth is based on our ability to
breathe the air around us. This breath that we all share is a powerful force. It
represents our shared existence as one people. It helps us to see that in our
difference, we all share a common thread. Our spiritual journey allows us to
achieve wholeness. According to Zulu Latifa, our spirituality is a gift where each
one of us has the power to develop our inner force throughout life’s journey
(Wane, 2007). However, our current approach to schooling suppresses this gift
which lives inside each one of us. It silences an important part of who we are,
preventing us from truly becoming our authentic self. Therefore, we must
transform. This chapter will examine why it is essential for educators to nurture the
soul and it will provide strategies in order to promote wholeness and authenticity in
the lives of students. It will offer innovative teaching approaches in order to create
spaces of mutual trust and respect within the classroom. It will examine the issues
of spirituality and wholeness in a student’s live through a transformative and anti-
oppressive framework. Through the process of deconstructing our traditional ways
of knowing and teaching, this chapter offers practical strategies that educators can
implement in their classroom in order to offer their students hope for a brighter
tomorrow, by nurturing the souls and becoming their authentic self.


Transformative education empowers each student to find his or her inner voice and
power (Gardner & Kelly, 2008). It provides students with the tools and strategies to
critically deconstruct the information that is being taught and to offer alternative
ways of knowing. The primary goal is to empower students to affect social change
through self empowerment and actualization (Gardner & Kelly, 2008). This notion
of empowerment and actualization suggests that when a learner truly knows
themselves and their history, they will not blindly accept information that is being

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 37–48.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

presented. Learners will feel empowered to want to understand the why, rather than
simply reproducing knowledge they will desire to be part of the knowledge
production. Interdependent learning allows both the teacher and the student to
engage in a mutual exchange of knowledge (Freire, 1994). Consequently, the
teacher can inhabit the role of the student and the student can act as an educator
(Freire, 1994). It provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their ideas,
assumptions and beliefs which raise their consciousness while increasing their
awareness of biases, prejudices and stereotypes which in turn inform their actions
(Gardner & Kelly, 2008). This leads to a shift in consciousness that permanently
alters their way of being. Yet, in order for transformative education to make a
difference, it is essential that educators challenge their existing patterns of thought
because one cannot facilitate transformative learning unless they are conscious of
their own perspective. Based on the work of bell hooks (1994), she discusses the
importance of educators recognizing their social location and how that impacts the
dynamics of a classroom. Transformative education provides an integrated
approach to learning through shared experiences between both teacher and students
through reflective writing, listening and sharing which enriches the learning
experience of all participants. Transformative education allows us to teach students
to become critical thinkers in order to help them form their own opinions and
beliefs (Mezirow, 2003). It helps us to nurture the whole student. It gives students
the opportunity to speak from a place of authenticity. This authentic space comes
from their heart where they feel empowered to raise ideas that are relevant and
important in their own lives where they are not be afraid to offer an alternative way
of thinking and knowing. Therefore, when we connect with the heart and spirit,
change is truly possible in the lives of our students.
Currently in our educational system, every day children arrive at school afraid to
be themselves, to share their beliefs, to challenge the existing norms because
school has silenced an important part of who they are and want to be. Students’
voices have been silenced through the teaching and practices that are deemed valid
by the educational system and policy makers. The curriculum is a prescriptive
document based on Eurocentric knowledge that we expect all students to embrace
as truth, while devaluing their own truths and lived experiences. Therefore, how do
we begin to place our students at the center in a quest for holistic education? This
can be achieved through a shift in spiritual capital in order to socially transform the
educational system we encounter on a day to day basis where spirituality fuses the
gap for students between schooling and their individual ways of knowing


In contemporary society, our classrooms dynamics have changed to meet the

diverse needs of students but many educators are still entering classrooms
unprepared to meet the needs of culturally diverse learners. Accordingly, anti-racist
education allows us to provide explicit training to educators in the true meaning of
equality and justice through a critical teaching lens (Dei, 1993). It allows us to
address issues of social inequality, racial oppression and sex discrimination. A


critical aspect of anti-racist education is the focus on alternative ways of knowing

(Dei, 1993). It does not allow students to blindly accept the information that is
written in their textbooks; rather, it allows students to challenge the existing norms
in order to discover their own truths. Yet, educators who want to adopt an anti-
racist framework to teaching have to be ready to transform. They must be willing
to examine their own biases, stereotypes and prejudices. They must willingly
engage in uncomfortable conversations for meaningful growth and transformation
to truly occur in their own lives (Dei, 1993). The anti-racist journey must first
begin with the teacher before the students. It is important for an educator to be
invested in their own identity because we teach who we are. We impart our own
experiences through the material we teach, bringing in assumptions and biases that
are honest; yet, can be damaging to our students if they are unable to critically
deconstruct the meaning in their lives.



Transformative Education and Anti-racist education allow us the opportunity to

teach critically. It offers us the opportunity to challenge the social inequities that
exist within our society in order for genuine and authentic change to take place
(Dei, 2002). Anti-racist education uncovers a transformative journey that each
educator must establish before they begin to teach critically in their own classroom.
Therefore, this journey towards self-discovery and critical reflection touches our
inner self, awakening our spiritual being.
According to Dei (2002), spiritual education embraces humility, respect,
compassion and gentleness which strengthen the self and the collective human
spirit of the learner. Therefore, a journey towards wholeness and awakening of the
self is attainable. It is attainable through the creation of new knowledge that
describes and explains concrete examples of holistic learning. It allows those
outside of academia to integrate these strategies into their practice because it can
easily relate and connect to their existing knowledge base and experience. Based
on Dei’s research (2002), it is important that we provide students with the
opportunity to learn from the knowledge that exists from diverse communities
outside of North America. It is essential that we acknowledge our differences and
we recognize that our identity is linked to our schooling experience. We must work
towards sharing indigenous knowledges that are anchored in local people’s
experiences, rather than the Eurocentric knowledge that we have been accustomed
to. As educators, we must collaborate and dialogue amongst each other, as well as
students among educators. But, most importantly we need to focus on our
accomplishments because change is often difficult and uncomfortable. We must
celebrate in both the big and small successes because anti-racist work, which hopes
to be transformative and holistic, is a daunting task which must be acknowledged.



As a woman and minority educator, I have struggled to find my place within the
education system. It is often difficult to witness the spirit injury that takes places
within the educational system. The Eurocentric principles that are taught in the
classroom often do not coincide or relate to many of my students. However, I have
used my journey as a tool of empowerment for those around me. I share with my
students about my parent’s sacrifice in immigrating to a new country and now their
educational experiences were not seen as valid. I explain to my students how my
parents sacrifice in giving their children a better life at the sake of their own
professional success is a source of strength for me to rise above the challenges that
exist for minority students. I openly discuss with my students that I was publically
criticized for my accent in front of my peers because I did not speak ‘Canadian’
enough. My cultural upbringing was not valued in my educational experience;
instead, learning about my culture involved bringing in food dishes. I share with
them that I never saw myself actively involved in my educational experience;
rather, I simply had to reproduce knowledge without question in order to be
successful. I desire for my students to understand that we share the same history
and the power that education has as a tool of oppression.
I have worked with diverse groups of students of varying ages. Each year is a
new opportunity for me to empower my students to learn about who they are as an
individual and their responsibility to affect social change. My pedagogy is based on
an anti-racist approach to education where my role is to present multiple ways of
knowing (Dei, 1993) for my students, where we challenge the existing norms and
structures that have been put in place by those who are in positions of power. I
share with my students the importance of working collectively. I create a positive
space where my students can openly discuss, reflect and share ideas about topics
that matter to them.
My goal as an educator is to nurture the whole student. Yet, the concept of
spirituality means different things to each one of my students; it is unique to each
one of them – it is difficult to define butit is an essential often forgotten element of
the classroom. The spiritual being of each one of my students is an important part
of who they are, what they value, their understanding and interpretation of the
world around them. However, in the public education system, we do not provide a
forum for open discussion. This form of knowledge is not viewed to be legitimate
because it is not tangible. Thus, it cannot be quantified, making it useless within
the world of science which is the arbiter of information. Spirituality is ignored
because we do not want to influence our students or challenge their ideas. We have
created a curriculum on the basis of a “one size fits all” philosophy. Adversely, the
Ministry of Education’s secular ideas and teachings do not provide the tools to
nurture the spiritual expressions of students. Spirituality and schooling is a notion
that is marginalized. My spirit breaks when I think about the number of students
who have experienced spirit injury because we have not valued the innermost part
of themselves; the sacredness of their everyday experiences. In my classroom, my
students and I engage in a variety of class rituals in order to create a bond and a


connectedness to one another which is a spiritual experience. We recognize the

importance of community and sharing because learning is more than just what is
written in curriculum documents. Learning encompasses that which cannot be
I am a strong believer in the grass root movement of Transformative Holistic
Education because we cannot wait on others to create change for us; rather we need
to stand up for the ideas that we believe in and do what is right for our students. It
is not enough to simply talk about honouring the soul – we need to take action.
This journey of honouring the soul is possible through holistic education.


The heart, the body and the soul – each three areas must be nurtured and valued
within our educational system. Each area is dependent on the other in order to
create a spiritually sound person. When an area is being ignored, it searches for
ways to fill that void because an important link is missing. According to Miller
(2007), he defines the soul as a deep and vital energy that gives meaning and
direction in our lives. Yet, in our school system, the area which is often ignored
and forgotten is the soul. Thus, it leaves many students searching to find meaning
and purpose in life, yet, often comeing up empty. In our schools, students are
searching to connect with what they are learning. They are trying to position
themselves in the knowledge that is being taught to them, but are not finding their
place. Many students are left feeling a void in their educational experience.
Therefore, if our desire is for student’s learning to be transformative, it must
incorporate one’s whole self (Tolliver & Tisdell, 2006). We need to look beyond
student’s educational needs and focus on the heart. We can focus on the heart by
taking time to get to know our students through simple conversations and
understanding their likes and dislikes. We can provide a space where they feel
comfortable to share about their lives and their stories through activities, such as
journaling and community conversations, where all students meet to share their
ideas about a particular topic. Nevertheless, it is important that we continue to set
high standards for academic success. However, we cannot be governed by
curriculum expectations and standardized tests, we need to teach the child to be
spiritually grounded and allow them to develop and achieve their goals. As
educators, we must transform in order to meet the needs of diverse and ever-
changing students. We cannot be satisfied with the way we have been doing things,
because it has only been working for a small percentage of our students. We need
to make the curriculum relevant and meaningful for students. This process of
transformation helps children to make the curriculum their own and interpret the
meaning of the material being presented based on their own ideas and beliefs
(Miller, 2007). Nurturing the soul can be achieved through co-operative learning,
creative thinking and personal reflection. As students integrate their personal
experiences and become socially aware of who they are, learning becomes a
meaningful and engaging experience.
As educators who are teaching with a social justice lens, we need to allow
students the opportunity to evaluate the inequities that exist in society. A teaching


strategy that could allow for critical evaluation of inequities could be

deconstructing images that are presented in the media of particular groups of
people, then examining alternative ways of knowing about particular groups based
on student’s own knowledge, leading to a critical discussion about the biases,
assumptions and truths in order to identify how this information has impacted a
particular group of people and their success in society. It allows for a reflective
consideration of one’s own identity and ways of knowing in the context of their
own local and global surroundings (Dei, 2002). This helps to give voice to the
spirit because it allows each learner to speak from a place of genuineness and
sincerity. We also need to create spaces of mutual respect and trust where we teach
students how to disagree agreeably without devaluing another students’ opinions
and beliefs. Furthermore, a student’s honest opinions may be expressed through
anger and frustration. We need to be ready to support and value this student’s
feelings while ensuring that we have created a safe and supportive community.
Teaching for social justice embodies a transformative agenda which nurtures the
Reflection and education are inter-changeable words. If one desires to become a
great educator, one must become an honest reflector who is constantly
interrogating their belief system, practices and ways of knowing. We have to be
willing to reflect on our students’ history and life stories and recognize how we can
learn and grow from their knowledge in order to transform how we view groups of
people. According to Kessler (1999), students desire to have a genuine source of
spiritual fulfilment. They want the void to be filled and, through the actions of each
educator, we can work to fill this void.
We can teach from our soul when we allow ourselves to be real with our
students and let our guard down. We can listen to what our students have to say,
not because we have to, but rather because we care. We want to learn about them
and what matters in their lives. We can listen to the messages between the words
and the things they want to tell us, but do not always say. We can concentrate on
the things that have heart and meaning in order to honour our students’ thoughts
and ideas. We can work towards creating an authentic community where we work
together for a common purpose with a common vision. When we allow the soul to
enter into our classrooms, we allow students to become their authentic selves, no
longer constricted by the impositions of Eurocentricity. They feel comfortable and
free to express their ideas, opinions and beliefs because a community of mutual
trust and respect has been established. We often spend too much time focusing on
the details of the curriculum rather than the questions that are most relevant and
important to a person’s life. We need to provide authentic experiences for students
where they are able to make sense of their world through their own lens without
guidelines and constraints. We need to give voice to our students, where we allow
them to share their life experiences and the teachings that have shaped their
understanding. Our primary goal should be knowledge creation rather than
reproduction. We fail our students if we do not educate their mind and spirit
because they will always be searching to fill that void.


According to Palmer (2003), when an educator teaches as a whole person, in

order to nurture the spirit and soul of their students, they do not lose their
professionalism as a teacher because transformation begins to happen when we
allow our students to see our inner self. When we enter the classroom, we take our
spirituality with us; the question is what we do with this inner force. Do we allow
our students to express their beliefs? Do we avoid discussions on spirituality or do
we work to nurture the spirit of all of our students through open dialogue and
discussion? The most important step toward evoking the spirit in public education
is to bring teachers together to talk about the deepest questions of our teaching
lives (Palmer, 2003). If we are able to have these conversations with our colleagues
and honour and value the importance of each person’s belief systems without
judging, then we will be able to do this for our students who are searching to fill
this void in their lives.
When I immigrated to Canada, I felt disconnected from my educational
experience. I came from the West Indies where religion was an integral part of our
lives. It was expressed through songs, prayers, rituals and ceremonies. We were
free to tap into our spiritual self without fear of being judged or looked down upon
by those around us. I felt that the ideas and experiences that were important in my
life as a child, I was not able to freely express in my new classroom. It was not a
space where being my authentic self was possible. I felt that I had to conform to
my country’s norms if I was to fit in at my new school. It was only much later in
my school career where I felt comfortable to say a prayer when the spirit moved
me, without being concerned about what others thought about me. But this change
occurred not because my classrooms were nurturing the spirit, but rather because I
no longer wanted to silence this important part of me. This is a discouraging
journey for many students who cannot connect their spiritual self with the secular
world. They are often forced to hide behind the secular mask where spirituality is
not discussed or practiced in order to fit in with society. My experience coincides
with the experience of other’s where the secular ideas that exist in the world do not
affirm their way of life, rather it negates an individual’s history and story
(Shahjahan, 2005). However, we can no longer allow our classrooms to violate the
spirit and cause injury to students who are seeking greater meaning and purpose in
their lives. We cannot conform to the expectations or guidelines that are placed on
us by those in positions of power who view the world through a Eurocentric lens
and do not value or validate alternative ways of knowing.
Holistic Education is possible when we recognize and value the breath, the
shared journey. It involves creating spaces for open and honest discussions where
students can be their authentic self. This authentic self can be discovered through
play, the arts, reflection, interrogation of oppressive systems, through dialogue and
philanthropy (Kessler, 1999). Students are given a space to grapple with life
questions and discuss important issues that they face because they are not blank
slates (Kessler, 1999). They cannot enter a classroom and void themselves of their
identity and cultural upbringing. We have to be willing to accept feedback and
constructive criticism from those whom we educate in order to effectively meet all
of their learning needs. It is essential that we do not use our lens to interpret the
learning experience of those who we educate; rather, we take time not simply to


listen, but to truly hear what those around us are saying. And, most importantly, we
have to recognize and acknowledge that education can lead to a stripping away of
the spirit. We must identify our own privilege and status simply by being the
person of power within the classroom and acknowledge how that position impacts
the relationships and connections that we form with those around us.
Transformation can only occur, if we are constantly interrogating and reflecting on
the myriad of factors that are at play within the education system, and how our
actions can act as a perpetuating force.
Sincere and honest transformation can nourish the heart and soul of students. It
can evoke the humanness in individuals. It can lead to spirit repair where joy is
restored. However, it is hard for us to become transformative when most of what
we do is traditional. Our traditional approaches continue to engage students in rote
learning and knowledge reproduction, rather than critical inquiry and discovery.
Do we silence the spirit in our own learning? Transformation can only occur when
we challenge the existing norms and the status quo in order to allow for the
contemplative self to arise where we can make sense of our world.


Each day educators enter the classroom grappling with questions about how to
meet the needs of diverse learners. They struggle to identify and develop ways in
which they can nurture the whole student within the many constraints of the
curriculum. However, we often spend a great deal of time trying to identify our
differences instead of recognizing the power that exists within our similarities. This
power is the Breath. The Breath which we all share is our common thread that
unites us. It provides students with the opportunity to recognize our connectedness
by simply discussing a simple but complex act that we all share which gives us life.
It is an opportunity to talk about the same pain and emotions that we each
experience when the breath is gone. It is a powerful strategy when students engage
in simple breathing activities in order to center their energy and share that common
breath. In our lives, we often get so busy and caught up with what is before us,
instead of focusing on what is happening in the present. It gives our students the
opportunity to reflect, be quiet and to slow things down and simply breathe
together – an action that has great power in all of our lives.
On a daily basis, we need to consistently ask ourselves, what is our purpose? Is
it simply to teach material or is it to teach the whole person. We need to ask
ourselves how we can help our students to deepen their understanding of the world
around them. It is not enough to blame the lack of spirituality and holistic learning
on the curriculum. Rather, we need to take ownership and create opportunities to
nurture the soul in the classroom. We need to be willing to listen wholeheartedly to
the needs and desires of our students. We have to recognize that there are multiples
ways of knowing (Dei, 1993). Spirituality embodies difference and multiple ways
of knowing. It allows each individual to grow, develop and learn at their own pace
based on their individual needs. It is not a prescriptive experience involving
routines and rules; rather, it is a life-long quest of learning, growing and personal


fulfilment. It allows individuals to bring in their own experiences and ways of

knowing in order to allow their internal force to guide them throughout lives
journey. It is important for students, as they mature, to discover that their way is
not the only right way, that inner fulfilment can be achieved through various
pathways, and your truth is what you feel in your heart, not what you have been
taught by those around you. Furthermore, we need to provide diverse resources
which provide insight and perspectives on a variety of topics centered outside of
Eurocentric discourses. We need to find experts from local communities to come
into our classroom to share their native country’s stories, histories and traditions.
We need to allow our students to locate themselves in the material and lessons that
are being taught.
In a classroom community, it is essential that a set of shared activities are
implemented that foster mutual trust and respect. For example, a simple act such as
a community circle where each person shares their ideas about a particular topic
empowers students to speak from the heart. Another example is a weekly ritual
where students have the opportunity to reflect on the week through a written
response or group sharing where they share their successes and short-falls. Another
example is a monthly lunch where students are able to bond together over a shared
meal that they all took part in creating. We need to think outside the box and create
opportunities where students can access their inner self. Spirituality cannot be
taught. However, I do believe it can be nurtured. For a long time, our existing
practices have silenced our spiritual self and additive programs, such as Character
Education may seem to unite us, but are simply short-term solutions. But nurturing
the spirit involves giving voice to an area of our life which has been voiceless
because of the education system. It needs to be awakened and interrogated by
allowing students to express who they are without fear that it would be considered
right or wrong. It is just honest and real without fear of having to be something that
we are not.
This awakened spirit will allow us to bring learning alive for our students. It will
allow them to form meaningful connections because they will recognize that their
life stories and histories are being honoured because they are allowed to question
and challenge existing patterns of thought. This opportunity for students to ask
questions is equally important as the answers (Kessler, 1999). As students uncover
their own truths, they are able to integrate various ways of knowing in order to help
form a truer belief system.
As an educator who is currently involved in a gender-based pilot project with 29
young ladies. I cannot be afraid to step outside of my comfort zone in order to
provide experiences that will help to nurture the whole child. It is imperative that
we as educators begin each day believing that we can make a difference in the lives
of our students through our actions and behaviors. We cannot be satisfied with the
current education system. The existing framework continues to reinforce the
normalcy of whiteness. We cannot continue to ignore the destruction that is taking
place in the classroom. We have to be willing to shake things up, if we desire to
truly effect change. We have to desire that our students experience joy at school
and that we give them reasons to be happy. Each day in my classroom, my girls
share something that they are thankful for in their lives. There are days when I


sometimes forget to do this but my girls quickly remind me. They look forward to
this activity and value this ritual that we share each day. Even though, I have not
told the girls that what we are doing is a spiritual act, it evokes a sense of
wholeness and spirituality that can be felt by each one of us. We do not need to say
that what we are doing is spiritual, even though it is. Rather, the act transforms the
learning environment by giving students the opportunity to challenge the structural
norms and exclusionary practices (Tolliver & Tisdell, 2006).
Introspection is an important aspect of nurturing the soul. Students have to be
given quiet time to reflect on what is most important to them. They have to be
given opportunities to share about the things that are most sacred in their lives
(Kessler, 1999). Many students desire to share about their belief in a higher power
and how it influences their lives. We have to be willing to provide an open forum
in order to facilitate these discussions. Transformation is possible when we provide
students with the opportunity to reflect discuss and internalize new information
based on their lived experiences.
The creative arts provide a backdrop towards unifying each one of us. It allows
students to tap into their inner self through interaction with the written word,
spoken word, a creative act or a piece of art. I often witness students embodying
spirituality as they enter into a particular art form because it connects with them on
a deeper level. It is a sacred part of our classrooms which unfortunately is not
valued enough within our curriculum. However, it is a powerful tool that can be
used to nurture the spirit and unify us as learners.

How to Create Systemic Change

Change is possible. However, it needs to not only exist in individual teachers
classrooms. A reconstruction of our educational system needs to occur in order to
address the needs of all learners. We need to involve teachers that are
representative of diverse communities in the curriculum and programming
discussions. We need to genuinely listen to their feedback and ideas. The policy
makers have to recognize that the role of the teacher is complex. Decisions cannot
be made because it suits a specific political agenda. Rather, decisions have to be
based on pedagogy of change, where we desire to do what is best for students.
Educators need to be able to explore and incorporate life questions during their
own professional development learning opportunities (Kessler, 1999). They have to
understand that teaching goes beyond the types of lessons plans that can be
developed, but rather involves a myriad of factors in order to nurture the whole
student. Educators have to be able to speak and share their innermost fears without
being judged or worried about getting a job or a promotion. This opportunity to ask
questions allows our teachers to be prepared to deal with the challenges that will
naturally occur when entering the classroom. However, both educators and policy
makers have to be willing to connect with their heart. They have to reflect on their
actions and constantly interrogate whether or not their actions are beneficial for all
kids, rather than a small population of children.

46 4

This approach to incorporating spirituality will be problematic if it does not

come from a place of authenticity and a genuine desire to transform our existing
practices. It is critical that it is not approached through an additive model. It cannot
simply be a band-aid solution requiring less energy and time; a genuine overhaul of
our curriculum material, teaching training programs and teaching resources
isessential. We have to continually examine our educational policies, practices and
pedagogies to ensure that they do not serve the interests of some while excluding
others and thus perpetuating social inequities (Norton, 2008).


Many of the ideas that have been presented in this chapter come from the heart. It
comes from a place of concern because I have seen too many students feel
disconnected and devalued within our education system. I have witnessed student’s
attempts to challenge the existing norms in order to allow their authentic self to
shine through and have it be disregarded and unnoticed because it challenges the
Eurocentric framework. However, if as teachers we teach because we want to make
a difference, then transformation is essential. We must be concerned about the
heart and soul of our students. Our inner self should be our compass in order to
achieve fullness and happiness in our lives. If we teach our students using this
model, then we can repair and restore the spirit injury that has occurred when
students begin school. We can begin to put the joy and creative energy back into
the educational system. We need to move away from deficit models of thinking
and work within inclusive models of learning that centre the students in the act of
learning, this way students will feel nourished and fulfilled.
In conclusion, there is hope. Holistic learning provides an opportunity for the
spirit to be healed and revived through practices that nurture and strengthen the
authentic self. It allows students to freely tap into their inner self without fear or
discomfort. It validates each person’s life stories and works to find commonality
amidst our differences. As future leaders, we need to begin to re-write the stories
that have been written for our students. We have to transform if we desire to effect
change in our society. It is possible through the commitment of a collective who
believe that nourishing the heart and soul in our students is a necessary and
worthwhile venture.

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Ethniques au Canada, 25(2), 36-51.
Dei, G.J.S. (2002). Spiritual knowing and transformative learning. The Research Network for New
Approaches to Lifelong Learning, 4-16.
Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope : Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Gardner, M. & Kelly, U. (2008). Narrating transformative learning in education. Toronto: Palgrave
hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York: Routledge.
hooks, b.(1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.
Kessler, R. (1999). Nourishing students in secular schools. Educational Leadership, 56(4), 49-52.
Mezirow, J. (2003). Transformative learning as discourse. Journal of Transformative Education, 1(1),


Miller, J. P. (2007). The holistic curriculum (2nd Ed.) Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Norton, N. (2008). Singing in the Spirit Spiritual Practices Inside Public School System. Education and
Urban Society, 40(3), 342-360.
Palmer, P. J. (2003). Teaching with heart and soul: Reflections on spirituality in teacher education.
Journal of Teacher Education, 54(5), 376-385.
Shahjahan, R. A. (2005). Spirituality in the academy: Reclaiming from the margins and evoking a
transformative way of knowing the world. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education,
18(6), 685-711.
Tolliver, D. E., & Tisdell, E. J. (2006). Engaging spirituality in the transformative higher education
classroom. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 109, 37-95.
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inanna Publications and Education.



Insights into the Discourse of Spirituality in Education and
Sociological Implications


Spirituality is a difficult word to define, conceptualize and sometimes to discern.

Given the enormity of the nature of spirituality, I realized that I could not possibly
do justice to encapsulate all the relearning of the new while unlearning of the old in
an attempt to augment my intuitive and academic understanding of spirituality. In
the first two sections of this chapter I will attempt to highlight what I believe to be
some of the salient conceptualizations of spirituality as a discourse and its
sociological implications. I will begin by reviewing some of the more recent
literature from two basic perspectives, one being religious and the other being
academic. I will also make reference to some controversies in academia in defining
the term spirituality. As well, I will point to some of the controversies surrounding
the epistemology and ontology of spirituality in academic discourse. Following this
I will attempt to define spirituality and its relevance for the contemplative educator.
I will then share a short narrative of my meditation practice and how I use it to
bring spiritual awareness to my teaching and my life in general.


The notion of spirituality has existed for thousands of years in the global
community at large and in religious institutions. Over the last decade there seems
to be a noticeable interest in the contemporary notion of spirituality in the
academy. In particular, North American academics (such as Speck, 2005; York,
2001; Estanek, 2006; Wuthnow, 2007; Mazama, 2002) speak to the recent changes
in attitudes around spirituality in a variety of contexts. Among those there are some
who suggest that current curriculum and teaching practices need to be revised to
include spirituality in academia (Hart 2004; Groen, 2008; Kessler, 1999). As well,
there appears to be a sense that there is something substantially lacking in our
contemporary conceptualizations of our lives, in spite of our advances in science,
technology, economics and politics (O’Sullivan; 2001; York, 2001). Scholars like
Cajete (1994), Palmer (2003), and Tolliver & Tisdell (2006) see education as a

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 49–65.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

medium to re-vitalize our spirituality and enable us to become fully integrated

individuals who will support a more caring and better world for all.
Some academics who attempt to separate spiritual discourse from theocracy
highlight the objections of keeping spirituality synonymous with religion and talk
of the tension endured in the need to keep their spiritual and personal identities
separate (Love, Bock, Jannarone & Richardson 2005; Yarbourough, Cashwell &
Cashwell, 2007). While others like Leela Fernandes (2003) and Alleyn Diesel
(2002) who examine the nature of spirituality through a post-colonial lens argue
that in spite of the tensions that confront individual identities, spirituality does play
a pivotal role in social transformation.1 The following quote from Fernandes’
(2003) book, Transforming Feminist Practice Non-violence, Social Justice and the
Possibilities of a Spiritualized Feminism elucidates this position. Although
Fernandes’ posits her argument through a critical feminist perspective focusing on
gender inequities along with the social, political and economic oppression of many
women in India, I believe the last sentence of her quote has universal merit in
considering the academic discourse of spirituality and its sociological implications.

Given that public and politicized forms of spirituality have in recent decades
come to be associated with conservative, patriarchal religious organizations
and movement, the relevance, of spirituality for social transformation has
increasingly been rendered invisible. For instance, the significance of the
deeper linkages between spirituality and social justice, linkages which were a
cornerstone of the views of leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King
Jr., have for the most part not been given a central role in public historical
memory and in the discourses practices of new social movements. The loss of
their original transformative understandings of the links between spirituality
and social transformation has been accelerated due to two factors. On the one
hand, nation-states have stepped in to iconize and appropriate the struggles of
such leaders within state-oriented narratives of national progress. On the
other hand, critics who have rightly sought to examine the limits and effect of
the gender or class-based boundaries used by these movement leaders have
paid less attention to the spiritual meaning of their practices. (p. 9)

Similarly and of equal importance to the current discussion about the nature of
spirituality are the cultural beliefs and practices of our indigenous brothers and
sisters. Most indigenous peoples see their lives interwoven with the sun, moon,
stars and earth, including all the creatures that they share the land with. Their
stories which have been passed on through oral tradition speak to a mix of many

Transformation involves transformative learning as defined by Edmund O’Sullivan (2001) where
learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought feelings, and
actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and permanently alters our way of being in the
world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships
with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking
structures of class, race and gender; our body-awareness our visions of alternative approaches to living;
and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.


things, the great Gods, the lives of their ancestors, knowledge of their day, prayers,
rituals, poetry and much more. “In its most holistic sense, this work has been the
foundational aspects of education in all human cultures” (Cajete, 1994, p. 187).
Like Cajete, a number of sociological researchers see all education including
spirituality grounded in an indigenous past (Wane, 2007; Mazama, 2002; Diesel,
Last but not least, Nakagawa (2000), looks at the influence of four Japanese Zen
philosophers and how their eastern ways of thinking about the nature of existence
and spirituality can be shared by western scholars to support their theoretical
foundation of holistic education. Nakagawa speaks to the merits of an eastern
perspective that is based on Zen Buddhism2 as a compliment to Western ideology
which is founded in Christian theocracy and scientific rationale thought. While
there are many elements to holistic education (Miller, 2007; Kessler, 1999; Hart,
2004; Palmer, 2003) this chapter will speak specifically to the connections related
to its spiritual attributes with special emphasis on inter and intra-personal
relationships of the contemplative educator.
Having said this and given the range that the discourse of spirituality invites, the
next section of this chapter will describe some of the paradoxes in the academic
literature defining spirituality, followed by my understanding of spirituality.
Following that, the section Telling Tales will describe practices I use to bring a
sense of spiritual awareness into the classroom and in my teaching. Additionally I
will share some accounts of personal and pedagogical conflicts that have
confronted me and how my spirit help, me deal with them. In the section entitled
Sitting on the Cushion, I will talk about my meditation and share some personal
reflections about the process. The chapter will conclude with summarizing remarks
on the nature of spirituality and its implications for discourse in the academy.


The term spirituality is elusive and at times difficult to define in the sociological
discourse of education. Some of the complications that arise seem to evolve around
semantics of the terms spirit, spiritual and spirituality itself and the context in
which these terms are used. Given that the term spiritual is an old English word
implying whole or perfect in goodness seems ironic for many of us given our
diverse cultural and ethnic heritages and the ways in which we have chosen to
understand, practice and embody our spiritual nature.
In religious circles and some ancient indigenous cultures the word spirit
(implying supernatural or transcendent) has often been used to describe the nature
of a person or ritual or God which can be regarded as both ‘good’ and or ‘bad/evil’

Zen Buddhism which is practiced predominantly in Japan and China falls under the umbrella of the
Mahayana School of Buddhism. This school is rooted in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who lived
approximately 500 BC. Although the Doctrine of Zen Buddhism is founded in the principles of the
teachings of Buddha Siddhartha there are some definite variations and interpretations in details as
evident in the Zen Buddhist Doctrine when compared to other Buddhist Doctrines as practiced by the
Therevada School of Buddhism the other branch stemming from the Buddha’s teachings. See Burtt


(Rose, 2001; Fernandes, 2003; Diesel, 2003; Groen, 2008). As well, grammatically
speaking, the word spirituality can take on a chameleon quality. For example, it
can be used as verb to describe a methodology (Hart, 2004) or a practice
(Robinson, 2004) or a ritual as indicated by Norton (2008). Other times, it is
metaphorically an adjective, synonymous with individuals we revere like Martin
Luther King, Gandhi, the Buddha Siddhartha, Mother Teresa, Wangari Maathai
and Vandana Shiva. When we talk about any one of these individuals there is a
common understanding of the being of that person not just by their name alone but
by the word spiritual. The term spiritual describes not only their essence or the
embodiment of their lifelong journey but also identifies the individual. Apart from
the loquacious contradictions to clearly defining spiritual and spirit other problems
appear to surface in the discussion on spirituality among academics.
Debates surrounding the epistemology and ontology of spirituality and spirit
further tensions in the dialogue. While controversies surrounding spirituality can be
often seen through philosophical and religious perspectives, I believe the
metaphysical features which simmer throughout the discourse keep spirituality on
the back burner in academia. For example, issues concerning the nature of reality
and its constitution vary tremendously between those who adhere to ideas and
doctrines based on ancient cultures of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and indigenous
peoples when compared to the Judaic, Islamic and Christian peoples’ ways of
knowing (Rose, 2001). Moreover, with the evolution of science, technology and
the self3 (Leary, 2004) the discourse on spirituality and spirit in the academy
becomes further complicated.
Speck (2005) made reference to three points of tension that emerge in North
American academic discourse. The first point was the decision to separate Church
and State in North American education. This was an attempt to be inclusive
towards new immigrants many of whom did not subscribe or belong to Christian
faiths. Secondly, because the reigning epistemology in educational institutions
ended up becoming the dominant hegemonic force in North American curriculum
development, academic institutions often ignored other worldly knowledge and
ways of knowing. The third point of contention involved constitutional policies
that were put into place to protect individual rights. Given that spirituality was
removed from North American public education to eliminate religious conflicts ,
there is some uncertainty about how to integrate it into academia without alienating
those who do not subscribe to a religious belief in spiritual matters.
While some academics like Rose (2001) and Tisdell (2003) agree that opinions
and conceptualizations on spirituality are replete and varied, there now seems to be
a general consensus that religion or belonging to a religious denomination is not a
requirement for an individual to be spiritual. Although it has been clearly stated by
many that spirituality and religion are not synonymous, it is also clear that for some
they are often interrelated. I would also add that this seems to be the case for

The self here refers to the physical person, the human animal. Leary (2004) suggests that humans are
one of the few animals who possess the cognitive ability to concentrate and think consciously about
themselves and what they are doing, react emotionally, observe and alter their behaviour.


indigenous cultures around the world. One last point worth mentioning here is that
Rose (2001) in his analysis of questionnaires on spiritual experiences amongst men
and women discovered that there were differences between the genders. Women
spoke more to the embodiment or visceral experience of spirituality, which was
similar to what Wane (2007) and Diesel (2002) discovered, whereas men spoke to
the philosophy or idea of the concept. I believe this is a particularly interesting
finding which needs further examination in a separate project.
Going back to Rose’s (2001) study, he learned that the significant features in the
dialogue of spirituality included the idea that love was present and a connection or
a movement towards the ‘Divine’ (theistically and non-theistically), along with
awareness was essential in a spiritual pursuit. However, he did note that some
Buddhists did not believe that love was essential which substantiates the earlier
comment that debates around epistemological, ontological and metaphysical
conceptualizations make it difficult to come up with a single definition of
spirituality. Rose also surmised that generally those who pursed a spiritual path had
a practice or committed service to others and followed particular precepts or
conventional prayer. In other words there was a particular discipline performed
either daily or weekly which spoke to the deeper commitment and connection to
the ‘Divine’ and included some form of altruistic behavior.
Earl (2001) discusses the “shadow side of spirituality” where the educator is
forced to confront his or her spirituality from within. Earl is less inclined to draw
attention to the theological nature of spirituality but brings forward the intra
psychological conflicts one faces when wrestling with his or her spiritual nature. It
seems that these types of tensions were present for some of the participants in
Love, Bock, Jannarone and Richardson’s (2005) study although the authors’ claim
that some of the participants were not aware of this inner turmoil. Nonetheless, I
believe that this corroborates Earl’s metaphor of the dark side of spirituality that
individuals have to contend with first before they become fully integrated.
I would further state that many of us wrestle with our inner demons regularly
and in some cases, this hampers our self-awareness and impedes our spirit from
flowing freely. Having said this and on further reflection of Earl’s article, I
couldn’t help but feel that her presentation of Jung’s analysis of the shadow side
spoke loudly to the influence of Christian archetypes, particularly those that make
one feel guilty and fearful.
I will complete this brief overview on the dilemmas and challenges that face
academics in their effort to bring spirituality into the academy by citing Lindholm
(2007). She argues that scholars who ignore their personal spiritual development
are not in the best position to support their students to become fully integrated
individuals. In support of this, I will speak to the spiritual awareness and practice
of the contemplative educator which will be discussed a little later in the paper
after my attempt to describe what spirituality means to me.


For me, spirituality is an organic, positive, personal, life-long journey which does
not have to be attached to or prefaced by religion or an external source of authority.


It is an inspiration, a knowing that flows freely from the heart with an intuitive
sensibility. It is not always best explained or understood cognitively but
encompasses all our senses, our very being, and is part of a larger pure force that
surrounds and aspires us towards good thought, action, love and wisdom.
Life provides us with the opportunities and privilege to embody our spirituality
and, as such, spiritually speaks to all our experiences, questions and revelations
about our purpose and the nature of the universe. I believe it can be embodied in a
collective, as I have experienced in different places around the world like I did
when I first stepped foot in Mumbai when I returned in 1980 after a 15 year
absence. I remember the moment, inhaling the smells, tasting the flavours, being
engulfed by the cacophony of sound, when I realized I was one with the sea of
brown faces peering at me. I have had a similar visceral encounter during silent
group meditations, realizing an equanimity and seamlessness which I have also
experienced in the classroom with my students when we have been ‘floating’,
while listening to Pachelbel’s Canon.
On several occasions during my silent yoga practice I have felt what I would
deem a spiritual realization where I was one with my breath and the air
surrounding me. It was a fleeting moment but nonetheless had a profound impact
on me. This experience of feeling totally interconnected I had again in a dance
class where I became the dance, where movement was seamless - a ubiquitous trail
of energy and sound.
I believe another spiritual awakening I had was a moment in time when I first
laid eyes on Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy. I was moved to tears. This
piece of marble was so very much alive. I could sense the breath inside David, I
could hear him speak. The sensations that overwhelmed me were so unexpected
and surprising. It was rather remarkable.
Last but not least, I believe had an epiphany recently which began with a dream
where my father (who has been deceased for 12 years now) came to talk to me.
Strangely enough, I did not fully understand the significance of the conversation
until I reflected upon it some days later. The power of these and other everyday
personal experiences speak to me metaphorically about the innate freedom the
individual has to realize his or her spirituality and life purpose.
There are other features to spirituality that are key in the discourse and
important for discussion in academia. Based on readings and my critical analysis of
the subject, I would argue that spirituality is liberating, set one free, and does not
promote fear, complacency and hatred. Spirituality is a total integration of one’s
senses and sensibilities. It is a wisdom that speaks to being aware and astute
promoting human decency, loving-kindness and compassion. Spirituality speaks to
the love I have for my family, my global brothers and sisters, the planet at large,
and for the love for life and all the opportunities it provides me for authentic
learning, receiving and giving.
I also believe that each and every one of us unequivocally has the potential to
embody our own spirituality. It is our intuitive sense of nurturing, what we know is
right in understanding, combining the head (intellect) with the heart, right in
intention and effort and virtuous in action. Our spirituality is often hidden and


surfaces when one becomes astutely aware and open to inevitable changes, it is not
tied to dualistic notions of good or evil, or absolutes. It is the ability to transcend
the moment and realize the interconnectedness of everything and beyond. It is
through this understanding of the nature of spirituality that I envision the promise
that spirituality can provide us, for true transformation where the individual no
longer sees herself as a separate entity but merges as one with the global family
and the universe.
Having said this I will now share some insights I have gained through my
meditation practice. Following this I will describe experiences I have had as an
educator teaching in a Grade One class in Toronto and how I attempted to bring a
sense of spiritual awareness to my teaching. It is my hope that through these brief
accounts some of the metaphysical features of spirituality become illuminated.


Personally, I have enjoyed a variety of experiences in education while working

with children from preschool through high school here in Ontario; I have observed
how historical, cultural, religious, social, political, economic and health factors
shape human thought, ideology and educational practices. It is not uncommon in
mainstream education to find many of us attempting to intellectualize everything,
using our minds to cognitively analyze all aspects of our thinking and behaviour.
The conceptualizations we form when we teach in turn govern our actions and
consequently, the reactions produced by children entrusted in our care. As we train
our children to be smart, efficient and logical, while encouraging their cognitive
development to maximize intelligence for facts and details, we fail to develop a
deeper personal critical awareness, intuitive knowledge, or foster the cultivation of
compassion and spirituality.
While I agree teaching to enhance students’ cognition is important and I
recognize the importance of being intelligent, I also understand that cognitive
development alone does not facilitate other aspects, like the student’s spiritual
nature which is equally important and often neglected in the teachings of many of
our classrooms today. The late Jiddu Krishnamurti (1953) challenged parents,
educators and policy makers to think about their human nature and how it shapes
educational philosophy, policy, pedagogy, and practice. I would argue that it is not
uncommon to see policy and practice in direct conflict with respect to what is in
the best interest for the individual student (Parker, 2003).
About ten years ago, one cold dark winter evening, while I walked home from
the West End YMCA Childcare with my son, I asked him about his day at school.
He replied, “Oh you know, the usual ABC’s, we sing it in French then we write it,
then we sing it again … we do this everyday … what am I going to with the
alphabets anyway?”
I was a kindergarten teacher at the time and his response triggered endless
questions for me. What was I trying to do when I work with the little children in
my class? What is the intention of my teaching? What is their understanding of
what I was teaching and what they are learning? I began to seriously think about
the knowledge I was imparting and intention of my teaching. I always considered


that I should teach with both my head and heart, combining intellect, critical
awareness and compassion. I also realized that I wanted to nurture the seed for
caring, respect, community and loving-kindness amongst my students who were
growing up in a rather rough and impoverished neighbourhood. The question
remained, was I successful in doing this?
That fall, with the start of a new school year and my grade one class, I began a
simple practice that took place weekly with a small rock I had found up north, in
Georgian Bay. It was my intention that members for the class to come together in a
space they could share as a community and a place where they felt safe and
comfortable to tell their personal stories if they felt the need to. Every Monday
morning, the start of the school week we began with our talking circle and every
Friday at the end of the week we closed with our talking circle.
The rock was our connection to the natural world outside. Whoever held the
rock in the palm of their hands had an opportunity to share something with the
group. If someone chose to hold the rock and not speak, the rest of the group
respected the silence by remaining quiet. The rock was passed around the circle
untill everyone had an opportunity to speak, myself included. A pattern seemed to
emerge. On Mondays we learned a lot about each others’ lives away from school
and on Fridays we heard stories that spoke of accomplishments, frustrations,
interesting and mundane events that took place in the school during the week.
The talking circle, as simple as it was, seemed to evolve and breathe a life of its
own with a sense of reverence. Needless to say it was a welcome addition to our
weekly routine. There was something more than special about it. I never asked the
children to talk about the practice itself, nor did I try to explain it. We just
participated by trying to be fully present for each other and ourselves. Like Kessler
(1999) noted, we were creating a space and an opportunity to nourish our spirits in
this circle.
We listened attentively and observed keenly. The silent pauses spoke volumes.
It was my hope that through this practice each of us gained a sense of belonging in
the classroom. Over time, it became apparent that the practice itself was not
important but rather the opportunity to share stories, develop more intimate
relationships and observe each other mindfully with care. We were becoming an
insightful group. This practice was a small transformation in itself as the quality of
the dialogue between and amongst the students in general became richer and the
sense of classroom community flourished.
Not all my teaching experiences have been pleasant or easy. Teaching at an
inner city school, in an impoverished neighbourhood in downtown Toronto can be
a paradox of the best of times. For example, I remember one year when I assisted
in coaching the girls senior soccer team it came to my attention that they needed
running shoes with cleats. Unfortunately, the school was not in a financial position
to purchase shoes for the girls and neither were many of their parents. In some
cases the children themselves came from families who could barely afford shoes
for their children let alone a pair of soccer shoes so asking the parents for support
was out of the question. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how one views


the end of this tale), a staff member managed to get shoes for the school team
through a donation by a leading shoe company.
I recall this company having an abysmal track record for exploiting female and
child labour in third world countries, particularly in the making of running
footwear. I was terribly troubled by the fact the students of our school would be
sporting this company’s soccer shoes on their feet at the public school matches.
During one of the soccer practices I shared my concern about this company’s
products and in particular running shoes. Following this I suggested that the
students go online and read about this company’s history in the sportswear
industry. I offered to meet with them after they read this information so we could
discuss the pros and cons about accepting the soccer shoes. The decision to wear or
not wear the soccer shoes was left up to the students. I have to say that my raising a
ruckus over this matter was not well received by the staff member who received
the shoes for the team.
For many of the students on the soccer team, who had never owned a pair of
soccer shoes (cleats being the bonus) along with the drive to be victorious, was a
far more powerful immediate reality than the ability to appreciate and understand
the plight of their brothers and sisters across the ocean on another continent.
Disheartened, I had to accept this at that time. Sid Brown (2008) states, “On one
level, there is no good teaching, there is no bad teaching, just teaching” (p.100). In
hindsight I see the opportunity allowed me to accept the things I cannot change
with humility and refrain from beating myself up for being unable to get the
students to see things from my perspective. I had to put my ego to rest. The
students did make their own individual decisions based on what they felt was the
appropriate thing to do at the time.
I share this anecdote with the reader as I empathetically smiled when I read
Robinson’s (2004) story in her attempt to bring social equity and awareness to
Cambodian nuns in their attempt to support female Cambodian refugees. Like
Robinson who wanted to share her critical theories of feminist emancipation and
oppression with older Cambodian nuns, I too wanted to share my critical
knowledge of the global market economy, child labour and oppression with the
grade 7-8 female soccer team. In hindsight this was somewhat elitist on my part
coming from a place of privilege, something many of these students had not yet
had the opportunity to experience.
Having said this, I do believe that too often public educational policy within
certain school boards, particularly at the elementary and junior levels do not
encourage or inspire teachers and their students to see the urgency and the need to
end the suffering of global exploitation. While I acknowledge there are many
teachers who recognize this need and who do make attempts to bring awareness of
world issues into their daily teaching, this type of education is often marginal or
extra- curricular at the best of times.
Due to our teaching pedagogy, along with the demands of teaching to a set of
curriculum expectations, we continue to educate in a manner that fails to truly
recognize the plight of many human beings throughout the impoverished parts of
the world. We train our children to be clever, aspire for wealth and fame and to
think first and foremost with their heads for personal benefits and mercenary gains.


We fail to educate them to use both their intellect and compassion for the mutual
benefit of all.
Similarly, we often frown upon our students when they use their intuitive
knowledge to make decisions. Last but not least, we rarely provide them the
opportunity to practice being compassionate with themselves because we are busy
stroking their egos so regularly with little regard to just how negatively that
stroking effects their ability to be self-compassionate (Leary &Tate, Adams, Allen,
& Hancock 2007). If they cannot be self compassionate it is no surprise that they
will not be compassionate towards others, especially those they do not know, hear
or see, ultimately sidelining the opportunities to become fully integrated
responsible global citizens.
The way in which we educate our children has a profound impact on their
personal future as well as the future of our world and planet at large. As
Fernandess (2003) aptly states, spirituality can play a role in helping stamp out
social injustices and oppression. Thus, for me as a teacher in the presence of my
students, I need to use the knowledge I have appropriately, with critical awareness,
sincerity and effort, if am to be authentic about my teaching. I need to avoid being
complacent and challenge the status quo even though the odds seem
Often educators have failed to recognize the importance of inner dialogue and
observation of their own thoughts and actions in a safe non-judgemental manner to
help inform their teaching. Additionally, many of us fail to see that we are all
interconnected in some way. As a contemplative educator,4 I feel it is very
important to examine my values, thoughts and actions that direct and influence the
types of relationships I have with my students, colleagues, family members and in
general, all those I encounter on a daily basis. Earl (2001) pointed out what we are
ourselves will be reflected through our teaching pedagogy, practice and ultimately
our understanding of our world. Our thoughts, actions and reactions produce a
ripple effect, much like one would see when one drops a pebble into a lake.
I will now speak more directly to my meditation practice as I attempt to make it
more of an integral part of my daily life. During the practice, I attempt to be
mindful,5 paying attention to and observing the mental and physical energies that
flow throughout my body. I endeavour to capture moments of pure awareness and
try to stay away from conceptualizing them. I have found that working in a primary
public school is often demanding and exhausting. The meditation as a practice
supports me in being more mindful when I am teaching, as well as in the
relationships I cultivate with people when I am working. The following narrative I
will now share with the reader comes from experiences outside the classroom. I
include them in this echapter because they provide insight into the shadow side of

Contemplative in this context refers to someone who is consciously thoughtful and reflective about a
particular idea or ideas and or occurrence or occurrences that have taken place. It is through
contemplation one gains insight into the nature of things.
Mindful here refers to being fully present and aware when one is engaging in an activity or with
another person.


me and how I use this knowledge to be more spiritually aware and contemplative
in my daily interactions with people.


As I consider my more recent meditation sittings and its impact on my daily life I
see how pain and fear chain me to negative patterns, habits and thinking and
inaction. I have come to see that I had not faced the fears and pain in several
uncomfortable personal relationships, one in particular involving two friends.
Leonard Cohen (1992) once sang, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the
light gets in”. I use this image to symbolize the fault line within myself. The
crevasse that has held and hidden the blunders, the oversights, the mistakes and the
denials which I have somehow managed to poly fill and smooth over. Recently I
have come to realize that I cannot pretend to be blind to the crack. I need to be
fearless and see it for what it is and then make my leap out of the crevasse into the
In her book, The Places That Scare You – A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult
Times, Pema Chödrön (2001) talks about becoming curious when one faces an
undesirable fearful situation. She talks about several signals that prevent
individuals from attaining bodhichitta – compassionate enlightenment with one’s
head and heart. I will relate my experience of finding tenderness in sorrow,
overcoming the fear of pain and anger that I had been hiding for some time, due to
the severing of longstanding ties with the two people aforementioned. I am far
from attaining bodhicitta – but I regularly make a conscious effort to walk the path
towards it.
Recently I had been disheartened by an event involving two friends in my life.
What I discovered is that, while I thought I had bravely moved on from this sad
experience, I was merely trapped with my delusions and beliefs in rights and
wrong, fair and unfair and a false sense of acceptance. To deal with the distressing
feelings and thoughts about these individuals and the experience I avoided
recognizing the presence of the crack which was preventing me from keeping my
heart and mind open to suffering and how to transform the suffering to empower
me towards its cessation.
This is the story. A recent event triggered a surprise reaction, with respect to
how easily my body tensed and the tone in my voice changed when a conversation
involving these two individuals came up unexpectedly. What was more surprising
was how it subsequently affected my meditation practices which became
preoccupied with thoughts and images about these individuals. Whenever I sensed
thoughts or images about the two people, I would hasten to consciously shift my
awareness to breath and breath watching. To avoid the uneasiness experienced in
the meditation I looked for refuge in another state of mind by deliberately not
wanting to see images and listen to the thoughts that were passing before me
because they made me feel sad, hurt and betrayed.


After several sittings, I realized what I was doing and I decided to begin the next
practice with a loving-kindness mantra6 for the people who I was having difficulty
with. I also made an effort to stay with the uneasy thoughts and feelings in the
meditation till they vanished on their own. I let the thoughts and feelings enter my
bodily space with my intake of breath and then let them exit with the exhaling
breath. After many meditative sittings over the course of about a month, I began to
discover that thoughts were merely ideas and images that are passing through the
open window of my mind and that there is an underlying energy that accompanies
it. This energy in turn manifested itself through bodily sensations such as tension in
my face or a breaking feeling my heart. I discovered breath by breath something
new would arise. I also noticed, when lingering thoughts about the relationships
arose, they did with a different kind of energy or force. Eventually something more
tranquil and ubiquitous began to carry me through the entire meditation with a
sense of peace and equanimity.
Over the course of further meditations, I noticed another shift to being less
preoccupied with my thoughts and began to experience a sense of ease within my
body in spite of what I was witnessing during the meditation sittings. I simply let
my breath take over and move easily in and out of my body, watching the changes
in synergy. I consciously made an effort to visualize something pleasurable I had
experienced with these individuals with my in breath and then with the out breath
let go of my ego along with any negative emotion.
Nothing lasts forever, as the Buddha Siddhartha has said in so many ways. As
luck would have it, unexpectedly, one of the people who I had been rather
distraught over went out of their way to greet and engage me in conversation when
we met in an unexpected, encounter not long ago. Although I have learned to
expect the unexpected I must say this came as a pleasant surprise to me. What was
interesting for me to note about our meeting was my reaction to the initial greeting.
I was so attuned to my physical self at that moment; my body was so relaxed, my
face seemed so soft and my mind remained calm when I spoke. A feeling of
affection overcame me. The Buddha’s precept that nothing is permanent flashed
through me and brought a smile across my face during this brief encounter. The
uneasiness of the recent past, which I had been wrestling with had instantly
vanished in the moment of this new time.
The revealing feature about this encounter was finding the freedom to let go of
all the angst. I was in a new moment in time and able to appreciate the fact that the
other party may be suffering to. As Jung aptly said,

The wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the
hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention
and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them
except possibly by a nervous breakdown. (as qtd in Earl, 2001, p. 286)

The term mantra here can be thought of as a positive aphorism rather than a prayer which it is
traditionally thought of in some religious circles.


Those who meditate would be quick to point out that the liberating feature of
karmic7 set up is that one has opportunities to change behaviours for the better.
Simply put, I would state that life offers us endless opportunities to change
behaviours, providing us valuable insight into the nature of our being. I seized the
opportunity to practice being compassionate with myself and the other and
subsequently altered my behaviour, which finally liberated me from the old drama.
This I would call a spiritual act.
Referring back to the process of my meditation and following Pema Chödrön’s
(2001) simple straightforward advice on how to awaken bodhichitta, I decided not
to set myself up as a target for the anger or the opportunity to behave aggressively
or think badly. By sitting with my restlessness, while facing the pain and anger
during my meditation, I was able to extinguish the fire burning within and reach a
place of calm and serenity. Practicing the meditations regularly provided me
numerous chances to witness and listen without judgement. Following these
sessions, I was able to analyze (contemplate) and pay attention to the five
aggregates8 – the physical and mental forces that play out when my ego is angry or
hurt. Since the aggregates are in constant flux and never static, I am reminded
about the impermanence of my feelings. Sitting in stillness provides me the
opportunity to sense and observe. The patience of this exercise allows the inner
spiritual strength which resides within to surface in kindness, compassion and
forgiveness. When I let go of my ego, my spirit stepped forward to carry me
through the discomfort experienced in the meditation.
Surprisingly, Jill Bolte Taylor (2009) a neuroanatomist who recently suffered a
stroke says something very similar in her book My Stroke of Insight. She speaks of
responsibility (response-ability) as the ability one has to choose how to respond to
stimuli that comes at our sensory system at any given time. Although there are
certain limbic system emotional programs that can be triggered automatically, it
takes less than ninety seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge
through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our bloodstream. My
anger response, for example is a programmed response that can be set of
automatically. Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through
my body and I have a physiological experience. Within ninety seconds from the
initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from
my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after
those ninety seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit
continue to run. Moment by moment, I make a choice to either hook into my
neurocircuitry or move back into the present moment, allowing that reaction to
melt away as fleeting physiology (Taylor, 2009).
I am also learning to let the energy of those who harm me, humble me and allow
me to practice compassion with a heightened sense of awareness. I see the
aggression or anger that one sends towards me as fuelling the fire for their anger

Karma here refers to the tenets of Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Jainism that explain the
cycle of cause and effect. Karmic effects of all deeds are believed to shape past, present and future
The Five Aggregates are: Matter, Sensations, Perceptions, Mental Formations and Consciousness. A
detailed explanation of the five can be found in W. Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught (pp. 20-23).


and aggressive behaviour, creating his or her own drama. This type of behaviour
only produces more disengagement and perpetuates suffering. I use this image to
make sense of the broader world around me, as I see how often anger and pain
pulls the egotistical self into a vicious cycle of endless suffering. Having the
meditation practice afforded me the opportunity to watch all that was happening
through the window of my mind without judgement or expectation. I looked at
anger and aggression as the object of the trouble and not my self or his self or her
self. By doing this I was able to break through my personal cycle of suffering.
I should also say that this experience gave me an insight on how to deal with
some minor conflicts that sometimes occurred between some of the students in a
Grade One or Two classroom. I brought forward, a ‘two-for-one rule and
procedure for dealing with problems that would arise on a day to day basis.
Anytime a child was subjected to any annoying behaviour by another student,
the recipient of the unpleasant behaviour had to let his or her classmate know that
the behaviour was inappropriate and not acceptable. I also made all the children
aware of their breathing by encouraging them to take two full breaths before they
spoke again. After a momentary pause to focus on two full breaths the same child
had to say two positive things about the other student. Surprisingly enough, the
student who was conducting the annoying action almost always apologized for the
inappropriate behaviour, which often disappeared. Moreover, this child would
sometimes continue the dialogue with a positive word or comment.
I had to model this myself for some time before the children caught onto the
two-for-one rule. Intentionally, I had hoped to eliminate two basic problems. One
was to prevent the inappropriate behaviour from escalating to something
unmanageable. The second was to prevent disrupting the class by me having to
intervene to resolve the problem. As well, I had hoped to encourage the children to
label the actions they did not like and express their feelings verbally, rather than
over-react physically or attach negative labels to one another. What I did not
expect was the insight realized from this practice, as we began to pay attention to
our emotional states when we were getting angry and annoyed, as well as when we
were being nice to each other, by talking to one another.
This practice proved to be difficult and challenging to get off the ground but,
ultimately, it was very rewarding for most of us in the room. There were times
some of us would break out in laughter especially when we got tongue tied
(searching for compliments) or caught up with our breath watching. This exercise
generated a lot of further discussion, strengthening the children’s oral language
debating and listening skills, another unexpected surprise for me. Coincidentally
enough, holistic teachable moments seem to burgeon out of nowhere from this
exercise. Opportunities to draw or write about our feelings and actions and how we
could nurture loving-kindness, forgiveness, caring and understanding for each
other began to crop up. I realized new teachable moments to design role plays and
numerous other lessons I could use in the future. Most importantly, this practice
afforded me, as the teacher, numerous occasions to practice being loving, kind,
patient and understanding in some rather difficult situations, as the ‘two-for-one’
rule applied to me as well. In a nutshell, these experiences allowed us to be


comfortable with not knowing what would happen when engaged in the practice. It
was a mystery which ultimately provided new insights to the types of nurturing and
respectful relationships we were cultivating for ourselves in the classroom.


In this chapter I attempted to highlight some of the tensions in the current discourse
on spirituality in the academy. Apart from problems that arise in semantics in the
attempt to define spirit and spirituality, contentious epistemological and
ontological debates continue in some circles. However, there seems to be a
consensus amongst most academics spirituality does not have to be tied to religion,
although the two can be interrelated. It is understood that there are very divergent
perspectives on the nature of reality. Conversely, there is mutual consensus that
there are some essential features that identify spirituality. These include, love,
compassion, understanding, connection with a ‘Divine’, altruistic behaviour and a
purposeful effort at a practice that cultivates these attributes. The awakening of
one’s spiritual nature is a personal journey and I would argue that controversies
surrounding spirituality often serve as distractions which obstruct the authentic
spirit from being liberated. In my humble opinion, in the grand scheme of things, I
see individuals having more similarities than differences with one another. Bearing
this in mind, I feel that the discourse on spirituality can play an important part in
higher education, as well as in elementary schools as I believe the significance of
education is to educate individuals to be active, intelligent, caring and responsible
people who will contribute towards the betterment of this world in a wise way.
Spirituality is an organic total integration of the individual, regardless of race,
gender, culture or religion. It is a lifelong endeavour. As a teacher in the classroom,
I can help encourage caring and supporting relationships to nourish the spirits of
the children entrusted in my care. As a contemplative person I have opportunities
to live my life with gratitude and care, allowing me the insight to use my intellect
and heart in wise manner, not just for my personal benefit but for the benefit of
those around me.
Spirituality has the potential to liberate, empower and educate and, as such, I see
it can play a pivotal role in the transformation of curriculum pedagogy and delivery
both in higher and elementary educational institutions. As a primary teacher who
has taught most of the curriculum in a holistic manner, using the arts as a medium
to bring out children’s spirituality, I see the potential for so much more in
education than what we currently subscribe to: “The important thing about art is
not what it gives us, but what we become through it” (Wilde, qtd in Beattie 2000,
p. 43).
If we do not make authentic changes based on universal wisdom, we will remain
trapped in educational samsara9. I believe as individuals we need to re-educate
ourselves. Educating our children to be cognitively intelligent alone is not enough.
We need to use our knowledge to tap into all our strengths, especially our intuitive

Educational Samsara is used metaphorically here. It is adapted from Samsara as understood by the
Buddha’s followers to be “a sample of endless suffering …”.


spiritual nature. We need to promote wholesome education that will benefit the
future generations in this world. I also recognize that change takes time but I am
optimistic that we can initiate making changes for the better. As an educator the re-
education began with me nurturing my spirituality moment by moment, breath by

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Spirituality has been a contentious topic in education, let alone as a philosophy or

research tool. In recent times, different authors have examined different ways that
spirituality may be incorporated in education (Elton-Chalcraft, 2002; Holzer, 2002;
Miller, 1994). Other authors have continued to voice their concern regarding the
silencing of spirituality in higher education and, in particular, its absence as a
research tool (Dillard et al., 2000; hooks, 2003). In this chapter, I argue that there is
need to create space for spirituality in our research projects. However, the type of
spiritual tools or methodology will depend on each person’s spiritual practices and
it is for that reason that I turn to the ancient wisdom of the Indigenous peoples of
Africa to explore spiritual practices and, in particular, how the philosophical
aspects of spirituality may be incorporated in research praxis. I emphasize the
relational dimensions of life and its quality, as signified in the laws of Maat and
expressed as one single philosophy – KARMA. Maat is the fundamental teaching
of Ancient African peoples. It is the Law of Interdependence, the Truth of the
intimate correlation between all matter in the Universe, the Law of Causes and
their Effects. In essence, the Laws of Maat demand our caution in thoughts,
actions, and words. The ancient African philosophies emphasized the essence of
physical, spiritual and moral heath. All these were expressed through the guiding
principles of truth, balance, harmony, order, righteousness, justice, and reciprocity
(see Karenga, 2008).
The chapter also examines the various African indigenous spiritual ways of
knowing for intellectual advancement, knowledge production, dissemination and
storage. I base my arguments on the following questions: What is the role of
spirituality in research and, in particular, how can the philosophy of Maat be
applied in research? What should research that embraces spirituality look like or
feel like? What knowledge would that research produce? How would you define a
research project that is spiritually driven? How should that knowledge be
disseminated? How then should I, as an academic, invoke spirituality as a
researcher, knowledge producer and disseminator? What has been the impact of
separating the spiritual aspect of our research from the intellectual development? If
one is able to identify a spiritually conceptualized research, then you are able to
come up with questions that take into account the essence, the beingness of the
research subjects.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 67–82.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

In this chapter, I hope to demonstrate the need for deeply spiritual, well thought
research tools that honor one’s ancestral spirituality. In my case, it will be African
Indigenous spirituality, centered on Maat, that honors the philosophical thought of
KARMA and which according to Karenga (2008) bring rightness and good in the
world. I began to see this as a necessity, not as an academic luxury. It is an
axiological standpoint from which my research methods have come to be based on.
It is however important to state from the outset that this is not the only research
methodology that is legitimate. No. Rather, my intention is to rupture the
hegemonic practice of carrying out academic or scholarly research with little
regard for spirituality.
As a starting place for this chapter I will share my personal transformative
research process and my reason for searching for ways of knowing that are
spiritually grounded. I engage in this work as a way of decolonizing myself and
locating my scholarship within the Indigenous knowledge of my ancestors. In
doing so, I will start to appreciate what has been destroyed in the name of
modernity, development, colonization and civilization. This process is critical in
resisting the hegemony of images and ideas that are imposed on other people
(Smith, 1999). The decolonizing process pushes me to yearn for that which makes
sense to me and to reclaim my own voice and subjectivity (Graveline, 1998)
through “rediscovering [my] history and recovering [my] culture, language,
identity etc.” (Laenui, 2000, p. 153). It is a way of freeing myself, which according
to Tisdell (2003), “is an ongoing process that often involves unlearning the ways
we have uncritically absorbed what others told us we should be ….” (p. 140).
Claiming and reclaiming my beliefs and values is a process of ongoing identity
development that many have described as a spiritual experience or spiritual
By honoring and working within my own Indigenous cultural traditions, I have
been able to reflect on my research methodologies in the last fifteen years as an
academic and scholar. Rather than avoiding or fearing the tensions embedded in
my everyday living as a person living two different cultures simultaneously, I view
the situation as a gift. By attending to myself as a whole being, I am able to pay
attention to my African Indigenous ways of living as well as my western life style.
This has proved to be a powerful and an enriching experience as I am able to go in
and out of each without losing sense of who I really am. Most striking is the way I
am able to ‘perform’ my dual roles without disrespecting any culture. What this
has taught me is that we live in a world occupied by humans who find themselves
in particular geographical spaces at particular times in their life time. One can
choose to forget their ancestral backgrounds and live for the moment or one can
decide to honor both. Many times, I have come to realize that each human
existence is characterized by deep cultural roots that many contemporary
Indigenous societies have come to acknowledge as their old ways of knowing, a
source that creates stability and continuity among and between their communities.
This process enables one to re-conceptualize and reconnect to their roots.
Without this sense of reconnection to their roots, one often experiences a sense of
alienation, dislocation and notion of learning in a vacuum. Churchill (2004) talks
about an elder who stated, “the reason you don’t know where you’re going is that


you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where your people have been,
you don’t know your history” (p. 2). In this era, Western imperialism and
colonization have been entrenched in our minds through our social systems,
including how we carry out research. We must reconnect with our past. Laenui
(2000) calls this “phase of rediscovery and recovery”, essential for decolonization.
Indeed, it forces colonized subjects to ask certain questions, such as: How did
colonial systems of thought disrupt the spiritual and cultural beliefs and traditional
ways of life of Indigenous people and, in this particular case, African peoples?
How do I reconstruct a theory that begins with the cosmology that will provide
historical analysis?
In higher education, we are trained to distance ourselves from our research
subjects and to avoid subjectivity. In this chapter, I emphasize the need for a new
framework that reconnects the intellect, that allows a researcher to bridge their
inner and outer knowing, and that honors their humanity while incorporating high
scholarly standards in their research project. This chapter therefore focuses on
spirituality as a methodological tool in research and how that is embedded in
African philosophical thought which embraces the “seven cardinal virtues of Maat
– truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity and order” (Karenga,
2008, p. 241).


African Indigenous Philosophical thought is unique and is one of the oldest

philosophies in the world. This philosophical thought which is centered on ethical,
spiritual and moral aspects of life was the way that Ancient Africans responded to
the universe. It provided the guidelines for communal behaviours, values, customs
and attitudes of African people. African philosophy was the essence of peoples
existence and that many societies in Africa shared that. Within the African
cosmology, there was no separation between philosophy and religion, these two
were the same phenomenon. As a result, to understand the social and moral fabric
of any African community, one had to examine the religion, proverbs, idioms, oral
traditions, ethics and morals. Philosophically, to be human within the African sense
was to belong to a community, to have a collective consciousness. There was very
little emphasis on individualism. Again, African philosophy was/is /had two
dimensions, the past and present.
The Africans believed that knowledge was a way of life that led directly to the
divine and, in particular, Maat was the personification of the fundamental order of
the universe, without which all of creation would perish. Maat, as a universal
principle of African people, was evident in how people lived their lives,
communicated, traded and governed themselves. Because of Maat, the Africans
knew that everything in the universe worked on a pattern. The universe and
everything in it was sacred. Maat, a Kemetic word, means balance and harmony.
This universal principle, when followed, provided KARMA or harmony as
summarized in the Maat principles of: 1) Creation; 2) Correspondence; 3)
Vibration, 4) Opposition; 5) Rhythm; 6) Cause and Effect; and 7) Gender. The
principles of Maat were developed in response to the needs of people in specific


places and periods in history. There were community councils to consult with both
living and non-living members of the community. The notion of KARMA was
always kept in check and, if there was an occurrence to indicate that there was no
equilibrium, the people revisited the Laws of Maat to find out what was not
followed or left out in their consultation. This mode of creation provided the
framework from which to work and could not be separated from the spirit of its
community (see Mancini, 2004; Amen, 2003). Despite this connection to location,
my research and my collaboration with educators and spirituality practitioners from
different cultural backgrounds have revealed that Maat can be found anywhere and
is applicable to various cultures or people.
The African intellectual (myself included) has failed to acknowledge the
limitations of our western training and intellectual molding. We have perpetuated
dualistic ways of learning and thinking on Africa or Africaness. We have
privileged individualistic benefits reaped from western ways of knowing over
collective responsibility and scholarship. We have prized theory over practice. We
have separated the path of reason from the path of African philosophical thought.
Maat is the Law of Interdependence, the Truth of the intimate correlation between
all matter in the Universe, the Law of Causes and their Effects. In essence, the
Laws of Maat demand our caution in thoughts, actions, and words. The ancient
African philosophies emphasized the essence of physical, spiritual and moral
heath. All these were expressed through the guiding principles of truth, balance,
harmony, order, righteousness, justice, reciprocity.
This chapter therefore sees Indigenous African spirituality as a good force and a
necessary philosophy to reclaim in our contemporary educational spaces where we
create and disseminate knowledge. I argue that a spiritually centered methodology
has the capacity to be applied for the advancement of research that is holistic. I am
quite aware that research has been viewed as dirty by many Indigenous scholars
(Smith, 1999) and that it fragments relationships and communities, creating
dissonance among the various research communities. It can also create dependence
and isolation as members start to rely on results carried out about them, not by
them but by outsiders who supposedly provide the research expertise. This is
particularly evident as cultural boundaries collapse and the Western imposed
cultural standards and attitudes became dominant. So, how can spirituality subvert
this trend through research? How can a spiritually infused research subvert a trend
that promotes loss of identity, the feelings of insecurity and the entrenchment of
Why is it necessary to situate research in spiritual thought? My spirituality is
rooted in the local ways of knowing of African cultural knowledges and
communities. It is informed by the teachings of elders. I could not therefore
articulate the notions of spiritually infused research methodology without centering
it to the African philosophical thought. The African philosophical thought is
derived from multiple sources, such as traditional teachings, histories, values and
norms of a community. It is conceptualized as a body of knowledge that lays the
foundation of people’s intellectual thought and it regulates and provides social as
well as spiritual governance of a community or society. The philosophical thought
is based on the process of learning the old, while new knowledge is discovered;


that is what makes Indigenous knowledge dynamic rather than static (Wane, 2000).
Philosophical thought becomes an essential element of Indigenous knowledge.
Employing African philosophical thought, I evoke an anti-colonial discourse in
order to theorize spirituality as a methodological tool. I conceptualize an anti-
colonial discursive framework as the absence of colonial imposition, as the agency
to govern one’s self and the practice of such agency based on Indigenous
foundational wisdoms (Dei, 2000; Fanon, 1965; Trask, 1991). Such a perspective
ruptures the predominant Euro-Western scientific paradigm which positions itself
as the only legitimate axiological, ontological and epistemological standpoint for
research and technological development. In invoking an anti-colonial perspective, I
broaden my understanding of imperialism to include that of the cognitive. Smith
(1999) articulated imperialism as that which draws everything back to its center
while distributing materials and ideas outward.
The underlying assumption of this framework is that groups are located
differently in the social hierarchy and it is from these unique locations that each
group produces knowledge about its understanding of the world. As subjugated and
differentiated social groups, Indigenous Peoples typically have been ignored or
discredited both in academia and in mainstream society (Smith, 1999). This chapter
intends to contribute to a growing body of literature on Indigenous knowledges and
spirituality in particular.


As an Indigenous African Canadian scholar and educator, my curricula and praxis

honors the teachings of Indigenous traditions. Prominent within Indigenous
knowledge traditions is the inclusion of spirituality as a legitimate epistemological
foundation. I view the bringing of spirituality to my research as one of the basic
foundations for meaningful, holistic ways of creating knowledge. A holistic
understanding of a meaningful research tool centers the physical, mental,
emotional and spiritual realities of the researcher as well as the research subjects.
In the section below, I will share with the reader how I apply the principles of Maat
to my research. The following paragraphs are an example of application of
spirituality as a methodological tool.
During my research among Embu women in Kenya or Black women in Canada
or herbal healers in Kenya, I embraced the principle of co-creation of knowledge
and I tried to honor and reciprocate the generosity of my participants by sharing
my stories as well. This last point was based on the Maat principle of
correspondence whose emphasis is on the notion of association or connectivity. In
essence, these principles made me reflect on my interactions with the participants
and think carefully of the wording to my questions or my responses to their
queries. The reflective mode of carrying out my research enabled me to think
through the multitude of causes and effects in my research. I was aware of how
dirty research can be (Smith, 1999) and the importance of producing knowledge
that does not cause unnecessary suffering or that does not reward me on the back of
others. I also knew, following the principle of vibration, that there was constant
energy flowing in and out of my words, thoughts and feelings. Although there was


no physical touching, there were invisible connections between the participants and
myself and these connections were causing a particular type of vibration because
according to one of the Maat principles, nothing rests, everything moves,
everything vibrates. I was therefore alert and very cautious to how I conducted my
interviews or any focus group discussion. If I felt there was no equilibrium, no
harmony and balance in the environment, I would turn to the owners of the home
and ask them for guidance. Many times, candles or essence would be burnt or we
would share food, drinks or stories not directly connected to research. I was very
cognizant of the Maat principles that create rhythm because everything flows in
and out and that; if words, movements or body language could not sit well in the
souls and minds of the participants, then the rhythm would be broken. I would be
reminded of the notion that everything we do, say or think has cause and effect.
I also kept in mind another principle of Maat, not losing sight of the notion that
everything has its opposition; the rhythm is not created because everything is in
agreement. Rhythm is created when we see sense in what does not make sense to
us but creates meaning in other people’s life. Another Maat principle that I had to
keep in mind was the gender principle. That is, within the African philosophical
thought, everything has its masculine and feminine aspects and gender manifests
itself on all levels. This was quite evident during my research among rural Embu
women. I was taught about modes of greetings for different genders, ages etc. I was
shown crops that were referred to as female crops and others as male crops. When I
asked what that meant in today’s context, the answer was that people have
disregarded these natural laws and, as a result of the violation, we have witnessed
the disintegration of social and cultural fabrics among many communities in
Kenya. The principles of Maat have very real consequences for the lived realities
of these people.
Keeping the Principles of Maat as the base line for my research ensured that I
constantly asked myself: What will be the effect of my product? How will the
people who are subjects in this research impact my work or how will their work
and their lives be impacted by my research? As researchers and educators who
study higher education, we carry a highly significant, if not sacred, life assignment.
As researchers we are charged with seeking the truth and disseminating that
truth. Our responsibility is to establish a learning path, research tools, and teaching
approaches that enrich our spirits and the spirits of our students, our subjects and
our community at large. I have to constantly ask myself, is intellectual training and
analysis alone enough to provide understanding of what our responsibilities are?
Western ways of knowing prize the intellect and not emotions, however, among
Indigenous Africans, this is not the case; while intellectual training is essential, it is
not by itself sufficient for deep understanding.
As researchers in higher education, some of our responsibilities are to carry out
research, produce and disseminate knowledge. The academy values knowledge that
is objective and that emphasizes abstract thinking and enrichment of the intellect.
However, this is not the case throughout the world. For example, during my data
collection among Black women in Canada, while the intellectual component of the
research was central to my work, it was quite clear to me that this type of training
was not by itself sufficient for deep understanding of how the women lived their


day to day lives. To many of these women, my research was all about theory and
speculation and had nothing about their children, marginalization, exclusion or
silencing. Many women wanted to discuss their traumatic experiences as Black
Canadians and how their spirituality had sustained them. In our discussions, many
indicated that this spirituality was unspoken; it was a feeling, a way of life and not
an academic project. Many times, I found myself going back and forth to ensure
that I did not participate in the popular project of pathologizing them or creating
and placing them falsely in a hierarchy in my research setting.
During the course of these interviews, I became aware of my weaknesses, my
strengths and my aspirations in life. The interviewing room became a space where
I made concerted effort to strive to become reflective and thoughtful, as well as
being aware of those around me. Also, I became aware of the importance of
ritualizing my life – this could be through singing, storytelling, humour and
making sure I do not forget who I am and where I have come from; that the spirit
lives in me, in us and in all nature’s creations. All this was inspired by the
participants and their being there at that moment and living for that moment of
rememberings, of retelling and sharing their stories with me. There was unspoken
energy that was present during these discussions and that was a reminder that
spirituality evolves from exploring and coming to know and experience the nature
of the living energy moving in each of us, through us, and around us.
Although spirituality as a subject was not central to my Black feminist project,
most women, as mentioned earlier, indicated that spirituality was very central in
their lives. I therefore find it fitting to share with the reader some examples of the
centrality of spirituality in my research. As a practice, I always provide food for
any gathering that I organize. I therefore made it a practice to have food during all
my focus groups or interview process. This is a tradition that I learnt while growing
up in the village. You cannot invite people to your gathering if you do not nourish
the physical as well as the spiritual. The sharing of food creates community and
facilitates sharing, the whole experience takes on more meaning than merely
holding a focus group for research purposes.
Additionally, research for most of the participants became a healing space. At
every meeting whether it was a focus group or a one-on-one meeting, I shared with
my participants the essence of carrying out this research. I mentioned to each one
of them that I was searching for theory, bodies of knowledge, discourses that spoke
to me and my lived experiences and, that by their agreeing to participate in my
research, they were contributing to my search. At the end of my short speech, I
would express my sincere hope that they would find something in the process of
sharing our lived experiences. Giving thanks before an interview was not an
unusual ritual, calling on our ancestors or our guides to give us the wisdom to share
that which is necessary, that which will enrich each other’s lifes and that which
will bring transformation in the world. I can still remember Marie, a participant,
declaring before the interview began:

This is such a spiritual experience for me … how many have come to ask me
to share my downtrodden experiences? … I know spirituality is an individual
thing, it could be a group thing – it creates sacred places like this …


unexpected…healing…yes, spirituality is a personal thing and it’s a way of

seeing the universe and our place in it. It is about my individual belief and
my experience of a higher power, but it could be this (pointing to the room
the focus group was conducted) … I see it as a way of life. For instance, you
have been here asking about my work, school and family experiences – this is
all spiritual to me, it is healing – I could have chosen not to share my
experiences with you, but I chose to spend this time with you, connecting
with you- it is about interconnections, relations, sharing etc; our day to day
lived experiences.

In order for me to connect with the women that participated in this research, I had
to center myself on my African spiritual discourse and focus not only on theory but
the practicality of my project and its meaning, not only in the lives of the
participants but to the community as a whole. In higher education, we are trained to
distance ourselves from our research subjects to avoid subjectivity. We have
ignored the spiritual connections embodied in our work or research as well as what
is outside the academy – we have ignored the inner voice, our spiritual guide,
cosmic order and peace. And we rarely mention the personal in the academy – yet
during the research process, the personal becomes political as the personal takes
the centre space. This is demonstrated by Veronica when she shares her family

When my mother migrated to Canada, she left us behind with our

grandmother. What was strange was, no one talked about the work she did –
but I used to love the barrels of clothes and other goodies that used to arrive
every now and then … It was years later that she talked to me about her
experiences of looking after other people’s children and how emotionally
drained she was by the experience … My mother did not want any other
person in her family or other black women to go through similar experiences.
Every Sunday on her day off, she used to meet with other domestic workers
and they would share their stories…their stories always started with
fellowship – giving thanks to God and asking God to get them out of this
predicament … it was from this sharing that, many of the women of my
mother’s generation, went back to school, fought for their rights … they
became political.

This lone voice becomes the collective voice that rings through the voices of the
many women seated around the coffee table. Women who have brought policy
changes and empowerment for many of the women that outside the room where the
interviewing is taking place. For example Solomon-Henry (2009), writing on the
political activism of Black women administrators and how their collective sharing
has enabled many of women to strategize on how to get promotions in the place of
work, empower Black youth through mentorship.
Spirituality by its very nature is a personal enterprise. It encompasses a holistic
epistemological understanding inclusive of mind, body and spirit and is not
something separate from each other or from the world around us. Spirituality is


about connection, relationship, belonging, and being as one within universal

systems of kinship ties. Spirituality is connected to natural ecology, to local
knowledges, and to the community-based social actions from where each one of us
is situated. We experience our spirituality as fundamentally experiential and
intuitive rather than conceptual. Hiatt (1986) stated that spirituality comprises
direct experiences of being rather than abstraction and reasoning, and is thus not an
aspect of thought. Spirituality may be understood as a determination that the mind
produces, that is the power of the will. For some people spirituality can be found in
small acts of kindness, the beauty of flowers, the blue sky, rivers, stars, music,
nature, dance, or singing of birds. Spirituality is therefore found everywhere.
Spirituality is therefore our way of being, of connecting with the land, the universe,
and creation.
Walsh (1998) argues that, in order to center one’s spiritual discourse in research
as a methodological tool, the mind must be given a multidimensional and
contemplative training that refines ethics, emotions, motivation and attention.
There is great imbalance in higher education that stems from a disconnected and
fragmented view of researching and writing. The purpose of critical research is to
unearth the hidden past and question the inherent biases, motives and ideologies of
researchers. There is a need to seek research methodologies which enable the
researcher to attune to their own spiritual reservoirs and draw from them the know-
how that is there, so that they can then in turn foster balance, unity, harmony and
growth in the work they are involved in. As a researcher, it is important to embody
and enact spiritually centered methodologies and maintain the centrality of
community as one’s collective consciousness.

Indigenous Knowledge
Indigenous knowledge is the epistemic saliency of cultural traditions, spiritual
values, belief systems and world views in any indigenous society that are imparted
to the young generation by community elders (Wane, 2000; Dei, 2000; Grenier,
1998). Such knowledge, the unique, traditional, local knowledge existing within
and developed around the specific conditions of an indigenous people within a
particular geographical area, constitutes an informed epistemology which is crucial
for the survival of society. Such knowledges are based on collective
understandings and interpretations of the social, physical, and spiritual worlds.
They include the concepts, beliefs, perceptions, and experiences of local peoples in
their natural and human-built environments. Knowledges cover all aspects of life,
such as the management of the natural environment, the way people relate to that
environment, and the way the local community deals with sickness or celebrates
the birth of a child (Semali & Kincheloe, 1999; Harding, 1998; Nandy, 1987; Dei,
2000; Wane, 2000). Indigenous knowledge reflects the dynamic ways in which the
residents of a community have come to understand themselves in relationship to
their environment and how they organize their traditional knowledge to enhance
their lives. Indigenous knowledge is accumulated by any “group of people, not
necessarily indigenous who, by virtue of centuries of unbroken residence, develop
an in-depth understanding of their particular place in their particular world”


(Roberts, 1998, p. 59). It is the “common sense ideas and cultural knowledge of
local peoples concerning the everyday realities of living” (Dei, 1999, p. 2).
Spirituality is embedded in these principles, facts, procedures and systems of the
traditional knowledges of a given group of people. While spirituality in this sense
is culture specific, I cannot say that these spiritual knowledges cannot be applicable
to other cultures or people, as I have come to find out myself, being a product of
two different worlds. However, my spirituality has become my entry point in all
that I do as a scholar


What I have tried to do is create a new framework that reconnects the intellect with
the spirit, that allows a researcher to bridge their inner and outer knowings, and
that honors their humanity while incorporating high standards in their research
projects. Also, to create an inclusive environment, which is a very crucial aspect if
any transformative learning is to take place. However, within the framework of
spiritual knowing, it is important for us, as academics and students, to acknowledge
our own limitations and possibilities: “One such limitation can be the intellectual
arrogance of thinking that we know it all” (Dei, 2002, p. 131). In other words,
humility and the negation of the ego are keys to a decolonizing pedagogy (Gandhi,
2002, qtd. in Shahjahan, Wagner, & Wane, 2009). The notions of uncertainty and
instability are also very important (Selby, 2002). The ideas of humility and
uncertainty act as a counter discourse to the academy’s near obsession with control.
Furthermore, such ideas pave the way for reconnecting with and respecting our
surrounding world of beings and non-beings and further appreciating the evolving
and unfolding nature of teaching and learning.
Spirituality is a way of living, an attitude, a motivation, recurrent integration,
and sustained conviction. It is a style, process and method by which one lives in
light of the goal. It is an awakening which starts with looking within ourselves for
self-discovery and continues on until one realizes that we are an integral part of the
natural world. For instance, when I evoke African Indigenous Spirituality, I create
an invisible space where I can connect with others at a deeper level that is more
meaningful than mere words can express. I connect from a space of sincerity and
honesty. This type of spiritual connection offers me a different entry point to
understand the world around me. It enables me to see the minute parts of the
cosmos and remind me that this is also a collective consciousness, rather than just
some form of individual consciousness. This type of spiritual rootedness also offers
us an emancipatory mode of knowledge production with the goal of empowerment,
rather than a condemnation of an ‘evil’ world which exists in a nebulous ‘out
there’. Spirituality offers a space to heal as we find hope in ourselves. It highlights
the interconnections we have with other beings.

Understanding Spirituality
Some scholars describe spirituality as an aspect that can be tied to religion but is
not exclusively a religious phenomenon; it is an aspect of life that is affirmed by


people of all faiths and indeed those without faith in a transcendent being (Ratcliff,
2001). Hay and Nye (1998) write that spiritual experience involves heightened
awareness and attentiveness. A person’s spirituality may be broadly defined as the
personal quest for meaning and purpose in life that goes beyond the material and
temporal dimensions of human existence and can include both beliefs and practices
(Atchley, 1997).
According to Zimmerman & Rappaport, (1988), spirituality in addition to other
aspects of hope is an important foundation for hope. If this is the case, what aspects
of spirituality do we bring to our research that gives hope, rejuvenation and
renewal? How do we view our participants? How do we relate to our participants?
In what ways does our research speak to their spiritual aspects? Centering research
on spirituality creates awareness and the notion that, the space is occupied by both
the researcher and the participants. Spirituality is relational, it is about social
justice, it is about making meaning of our teaching, researching, and learning.
Dirkx (1997) suggests that in our teaching, we must remember that we are dealing
with “souls”; how do we nurture them in a manner that will enable them achieve
their goals? It is the same thing with research. We are interacting with people,
people who are providing information that will enable us to rethink our way of
conducting business in the academy. Derise Tolliver (2003) notes an important part
of one’s being is spirit, which one sees as the scared and divine in one’s life. It is a
connection to something greater and grander than oneself, and through spirit one
can be connected to all that surrounds.
In my teaching, I usually invite students to use their spiritual eye to look deeply
into the nature of these relationships, because according to Cajete (1994), “Each
one of us has … special gifts, that we bring and we plant, and each of us collects
seeds to take on the next set of our journey … As we move through the inner and
outer landscapes, we also move towards a better understanding of ourselves (p.182)
As this consciousness grows within, one becomes more conscious of one’s
actions and their consequences. Eventually, this awareness leads to remarkable
positive change in one’s lifestyle and attitude towards other human beings and the
natural world. Sewak Saran, an Indian environmentalist states:

When we feel ourselves as part of the whole world, and think to ourselves
how this creation is working, how our own being is working within it and
who has created it and how; when we try to find the motive behind all this,
this is spirituality. Without this internal dimension we may have external
culture but we will use it for the wrong reasons – selfish ones – and we will
not benefit others by our actions. (As cited in Prime, 1992, p. 20)

When I centre my work on spiritual practices, it is because I view spirituality as a

shift in consciousness; it requires a fundamental change from deep within us. When
that happens, we do not simply alter how we do things but change the value
presupposition of why we do things. For example, if we are having a conversation
on the need for sustainable environmental practices, we cannot do this from a
superficial level; it must be predicated on a deep change of values and not a half-
hearted ‘patch-it-up’ enterprise. The expected outcome cannot be lodged in the


prevailing value system – the dominant way of thinking. It must come from a
deeper place.
This way of examining spirituality makes it more complex and tends to make
the meaning of spirituality more layered. However, in this chapter, I articulate
spirituality as I understand it from our individual standpoints, to describe those
aspects of human behaviour and experience that reflect an alleged transcendent
intelligence or process (Krippner & Welch, 1993). The spiritual dimension is that
part of the person concerned with meaning, truth, purpose, or reality, which is the
ultimate significance of things. The spiritual dimension is fundamentally
experiential and intuitive rather than conceptual. I take the position that being
spiritual is not synonymous with religious because a religion is an institutionalized
body of believers who accept a common set of belief, practices, and rituals
regarding spiritual concerns sand issues (Krippner & Welsh, 1993). It is important
to note that one can be religious and spiritual or spiritual and not religious or
religious and not spiritual.
Spirituality is understood to be the determination that the mind produces, known
as power of the will, to refine our human behaviours through our own positive
thoughts, words and actions. I understand that spirituality creates positive
productivity for self or others. Spirituality, in definition, is the goodness, the love
and the compassion for all of humanity in its various levels of both tragic and
optimistic circumstances. Spirituality is not a label or a separate compartment that
is brought out from time to time without intense thought. For some people,
spirituality is intuitive and can be found in small acts of kindness, in the beauty of
flowers, blue sky, rivers or the singing of birds. Spirituality is woven through all
life and is not just what happens occasionally. It is something that characterizes the
relationship of an individual to the universe and does necessarily require a formal
structure or ritual. Spirituality is found everywhere, not only in temples, churches,
synagogues, mosques, stars, music, song, dance, beauty of nature, in the intimacy
of an intimate relationship, but also in every moment of everyday life (Taylor,
2001). For many people, spirituality is a force that is dynamic and resides
everywhere and in everything and to be spiritual is to maintain an awareness of this
dynamism as it moves through around our being.
By its very nature, spirituality is a personal enterprise. My understanding of
spirituality encompasses a wholistic epistemological understanding inclusive of the
mind, body and spirit connection. Spirituality is about connection, relationship,
belonging and being one with a universal system of kinship ties. As stated earlier,
spirituality is all around us.
A spiritually conceptualized methodology requires a commitment to transform
one’s consciousness from ignorance, denial, or grandiosity into a harmonious
alignment with one’s divine nature. This can be done by attending to oneself as
well as their actions, whether scholarly or otherwise. As an African Indigenous
scholar, I do know that spirituality as an inner experience cannot be separated from
academic writing, researching, or teaching.
Elsewhere (Wane, 2000), my study on Embu rural women’s spirituality
revealed that spiritual ways of living were often associated with the natural
processes of life: the land, the universe, and creation. Two Trees (1993) captures


this dilemma when she writes about her experience of teaching based on non-
traditional pedagogical practices:

We are in a place of seeking/learning, able to pass on what? Information,

experience, knowledge, wisdom? Maybe we are locksmiths passing out the
keys we have found to remember. Part of this task is to remind students and
each other that this is a journey of mind and spirit. When the mind is
stimulated by information, that intellectual excitement is the sign that a key
has been found … The student is looking at the key to remembering ... It is
then the task of the student to take the key and look for the doorway or
window, which it fits. This fit is a resonance experienced at the centre of
being-insight, intuition, gut feeling, and heart. (p. 18)

We contend that Two-Trees account can easily be experienced by any educator

whose goal is to nurture the spirituality of our students and to respect her/his
relationship with nature.


Research is messy, complex and exhausting work. As scholars who have been
exposed to the western cannon, there are insurmountable barriers when we go to
the field and decide our research process will be different and that our aim is to
produce a different product. However, what I have witnessed with lots of
Indigenous researchers, the hardships or dual spaces that they occupy do not deter
them from the work they are supposed to carry out. For instance, my research
among various groups in Kenya and Canada has provided space for marginalized,
silenced and subjugated voices. The voices of participants demonstrate that
knowledge creation is not only an intellectual enterprise left for scholars in the
academy that has been contextualized within particular school of thought – the
Eurocentric paradigm. One of my recommendations then, is to reconceptualize
how research is conducted and its implications. There is a need to go beyond the
current structures of educational system where a research is equipped with a
standard questionnaire that can be duplicated and the outcomes of the research
What has been the impact of separating the spiritual aspect of our research from
the intellectual development? I believe that we have failed to see the error of our
ways, to perceive that there is indeed a shadow side of research. We have failed to
acknowledge the limitations of our western mode of training and intellectual
molding. We have perpetuated dualistic, research methodology and ways of
thinking. We have privileged individual research over collective scholarship. We
have prized theory over practice. We have separated the path of reason from the
path of faith and personal commitment. Most of the times we fail to acknowledge
our human side in our academic work. We have tended to disregard and disdain
ancient wisdom and diverse ways of knowing, as advanced by most Indigenous
peoples of the world. We have neglected the soul of research. Our responsibility is
to establish a learning path, research tools, teaching approaches that enrich our


spirits and the spirits of our students, our subjects and our community at large. I
have to constantly ask myself, is intellectual training and analysis alone enough to
provide understanding of what my responsibilities are. The common words in the
halls of academic are: I am so stressed out. Is this work I am doing meaningful at
all? Do I need to carry out this research? Most of the time the faculty, as well as
students, talk as if something is killing their spirit but they are not sure how to
name what is killing it or if they do know how, they are not willing to name the
thing killing the spirit. What is evident from our conversations is the yearning to
change something about our work, our approach to our research, or even our
approach to teaching.
There is need therefore to reject the notion that simply going out into the field
collecting data and analyzing it produces legitimate knowledge. Just because
scholars get clearance to carry out research does not necessarily mean that it is
well-meaning research. We need to look for the soul in our research methods,
procedures and outcomes. Due to the lack of foresight and preparation of
researchers using a spiritually conceptualized methodology, researchers are often
forced to rely on traditional paradigms of data collection, analysis and
The purpose of this chapter was to examine the role of spirituality as a
philosophy and a research tool. In order to make sense of what I wanted to write
on, I turned to my own research and reexamined it using the ancient wisdom of the
Indigenous peoples of Africa. I emphasized the notion of Maat which is a
philosophy crystallized in the philosophy of KARMA which is a fundamental order
of the universe without which all that is would perish as there would be no
harmony or balance in the universe. Maat is personified through particular guiding
principles that ancient African peoples following routinely to bring equilibrium at a
personal as well as community level. I am recommending that these principles may
assist researchers as they think through their research work and what they want out
of it.

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There is a need for research on indigenous education in order to identify

commonalities in the perspectives of indigenous communities, especially in regards
to the quality of mass, monolingual education for children, as well as to examine
community responses to perceptions of low quality which stem from inadequate
incorporation within schooling of the mother-tongue and of indigenous community
culture and spiritual perspectives. The two cases examined in this chapter are the
MƗori schools of Aotearoa/New Zealand and the case of Tibet. The aim of the
chapter is: 1) to define the role of spirituality in both Maori and Tibetan village
schools (Bosacki, 1998); 2) to determine in what ways and to what degree the two
cases resemble each other or differ; 3) to draw useful lessons for indigenous
Tibetan communities from the relative success of Maori community schools in
Aotearoa/New Zealand; 4) to make policy recommendations for village school
curriculum and organization in indigenous areas that can both meet policy makers
requirements and satisfy indigenous communities spiritual needs.
Education of indigenous groups cannot be considered quality education unless it
meets certain standards. One standard is that perspectives on the relation of
indigenous knowledge, culture, and spirituality to quality in education must be
incorporated in order to achieve educational quality in the eyes of users of the
education system: students, their families and communities (Fraser, 2004). Top-
down attempts to increase enrolment, attendance, achievement and attainment
blame the students, their families, communities, cultures and languages, without
considering the reasons indigenous students and communities have for
dissatisfaction with standard centralized education models. Improvements in
indigenous education require inclusion of community spiritual perspectives in the
curriculum and consultation with the community for the formation of school
policy. Contrary to Western perceptions, community-based involvement in
education may lead not only to increased maintenance of indigenous spiritual
worldviews and culture, but also to increases in enrolment, attendance,
achievement, and attainment that is so desired by policy makers. Attempting to
grasp the different understandings of spirituality within different indigenous
cultures and schoolings is one of the important components of this chapter.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 83–96.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.


Estanek (2006), in Redefining Spirituality: A New Discourse, takes a critical view

on spirituality studies and also mentions that many academic groups have been
embarking upon spirituality research. Although, spirituality is not a new word, only
religionists understood the concept of spirituality within their perspective. Estanek
(2006) also poses the important question, “What do we mean when we say
spirituality and why is it important?” (p. 271). His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2000)
points out that the spirituality has two levels: spirituality without religious faith and
spirituality with religious faith (p. 118). He emphasizes that secular spirituality is
more important because the majority of people are not religious. A few other
scholars are paying attention to the indigenous spirituality in village communities
and in their schools. Fraser (2004) discusses secular schools, spirituality, and
Maori values in New Zealand and argues that the school has the responsibility to
reflect indigenous values and suggests spirituality should challenge what we have
traditionally considered as learning in school (pp. 87-95). Graveline (1998) states
that “clearly, one cannot argue for the revitalization of Aboriginal Tradition in the
modern era if one believes that colonization as a force was successful in entirely
eliminating the consciousness of Aboriginal Nation” (p. 36). Schools have been set
up as a political tool, one whose goal was eliminating the role of indigenous
children’s spirituality from their daily village experience; an example of this is the
Chinese’s blind closure the village schools in Tibet which impacted villagers’ life
very much. Their moving of primary age indigenous students to boarding schools
is not a minor change, it is huge for age 6-7 children because they are having their
spiritual perspective distorted and lost, as well as losing physical care from their
The same situation has occurred in New Zealand where “MƗori culture has been
marginalized and a monoculture now prevails, driven by the determination of
government to eliminate all race-based programs from the government agenda”
(Hook, 2007, p. 1). Tisdell (2003) argues for “culturally relevant education” and “a
spiritually grounded approach to culturally relevant pedagogy,” which is applicable
within both the context of Maori and Tibetan village education. In indigenous
education, spirituality is one of the inseparable components for both Maori and
Tibetan village schooling. The notion of “culturally relevant education”, which
works to support the decolonization movements, is a significant concept to
reconcile the issues of cultural and spiritual alienation that is causing further
mental sufferings and social conflicts in indigenous students. Smith (2003) presents
that the indigenous struggle for the transformation of education and schooling
around the world is related in many ways. This chapter has several critical points to
empower indigenous education and communities and also emphasizes that the
indigenous topic needs more spaces within the academic fields.


This chapter is informed by the overall perspective that indigenous community

survival requires both spiritual and cultural maintenance and also adaptation to the
broader world, but that to achieve both of these goals requires negotiation among


educational stakeholders: educational administrators, teachers, parents, students

and the community in general. Thus, the need for transactional or transformative
rather than transmissive models of spiritual curriculum development and pedagogy
in which interaction and negotiation form a key component and empowerment of
participants in the educational process is assumed (Cummins, 1986, 2000, 2001).
The equal importance of indigenous spiritual perspectives and national curriculum
in quality education for minority students is also assumed (Baker, 2001; Lucas et
al., 1990; Skutnabb-Kangas, 1995). Subsequently, to the extent that schools for
indigenous children do not incorporate the above principles, we can expect that
student and parental dissatisfaction will occur. Whether or not it is expressed by
indigenous communities, where the above principles are not adhered to, it can be
expected that there will be a demand to change schools so that the above
supportive conditions can indeed exist. Where the indigenous perspectives are not
provided an avenue to influence school curriculum and language-in-education
policy, it is expected that students, often with family support, will opt out of
schooling or that those communities will seek alternative schooling for their
The most recent reform in China is “Education for Quality,” which includes the
decentralization of up to 20% of curriculum hours to the local level, as a means of
empowering educators and local students through school-based curriculum
development. Local and school-based curricula are intended to compensate for
inadequacies of the national curriculum in the local context (Huang, 2004; Su,
2002). Local educators are advised by the Ministry of Education to inform
themselves on the spiritual perspectives towards education of parents, students and
the local community (Yang & Zhou, 2002; Zhu, 1999, 2002); however, little is
known of the perspectives of indigenous parents towards quality in education and
what role indigenous spirituality actually takes in schooling and even less is known
of the responses by indigenous Tibetan communities in western China who seek to
develop their local schools as environments for the maintenance and revitalization
of their spirituality alongside their mandate to deliver national curriculum.
A well-documented response of an indigenous community to the challenges of
standard top-down, dominant-language education for the maintenance of its
knowledge, perspectives, culture and language is the case of the creation of Te
Kǀhanga Reo ‘language nests’ by MƗori communities in Aotearoa/New Zealand,
where grandparents with strong oral proficiency conducted preschool activities
with children entirely in the indigenous MƗori language. The success of the
language nest concept has led to the expansion of MƗori-medium education to the
primary level through ‘Kura Kaupapa MƗori’, private community-based MƗori-
medium mother tongue primary schools, initially without state funding (Cazden,
1989; Cummins, 2000, 2001). Similar programs have been attempted in various
communities under cultural and linguistic threat, for example, among the Navajo of
the US (McCarty & Watahomigie, 1999) and the Basques of southwestern Europe
(Cenoz, 2008; Indigenous communities desire to be consulted with and play a
direct role in determining the curriculum and pedagogies used in the education of
their children. This is in agreement with Fishman’s argument for the key role of the
local school in language endangerment or maintenance:


The family, the neighbourhood, the elementary school and the church [sic]
need to be urged, instructed, rewarded and guided to play their irreplaceable
roles in this connection. Endangered languages must assume control of the
former, intimate spheres of family and community, even though they may
never attain control of the latter, the status spheres of supra-local power and
authority. (1989, pp. 397-399)

The fact that a language shift is occurring alongside with spirituality among
indigenous communities is also documented elsewhere (Bradley, 2005; Moukala,
2003). Yet, there are few substantiated references to parental choice in changes of
local language-in-education policy in regards to Mandarin-only education (Ma,
1996, as cited in Ma, 2007). Scholars have argued that indigenous education in
western China faces major challenges in children’s attendance and in teaching
quality (Bass, 1998; Badeng, 2001; Postiglione et al., 2007). While community
responses, successful and unsuccessful, to implementations of spirituality into
schooling in other parts of the world are documented, indigenous communities in
Tibet feel that the topic of spirituality is not taught in depth and with
understanding. Unlike Tibetan communities in China, Maori indigenous
communities have been successful in bringing spiritual context into their
curriculum and schoolings through the language nest concept. This language nest is
not only the underpinning of language resources but it also provides a spiritual
context through song and word games (Norton, 2008; Fraser, 2009). In contrast,
Tibetan children can currently only experience spiritual meaning of life within their
village after the school day ends, as their spiritual knowledge is learned through
their community, family and in Tibetan monasteries. The fact that there is no
spiritual curriculum offered in the state schools could be reflective of an increase in
the dropout rate at those schools.
Many indigenous peoples cite the processes of colonization as the single
greatest contributor to the loss of language, culture, land, and tribal practices
(Fraser, 2009). As educators who critically and intellectually ponder how to
maintain indigenous spirituality, it is our responsibility to take steps towards
ensuring that the spiritual culture of the Tibetan people is taught to the younger
generation in the future. Tactically, to practice spirituality within indigenous
societies is not yet completely hopeless but the question remains, for how long will
this be the case?



Each of the world’s diverse societies has its own cultural ethos based on a variety
of epistemological approaches and the meaning of knowledge. The Tibetan ethos
has its own views on what knowledge is and how it is justified but, more
importantly, it does not take a neutral stand on how knowledge is used. Within the
Tibetan ethos, knowledge must be used to contribute to the six perfections of
Giving, Morality, Patience, Diligence, Meditation, Concentration and Wisdom.
Consequently, peace education depends on learning appropriate uses of the


knowledge we obtain in school and from other sources. The adage goes,
“Everything I know, I learned in Kindergarten” and to an extent this is true in the
Tibetan context. Primary school sets the tone for children’s subsequent learning,
their attitude towards knowledge and its uses. It is crucial to identify a plan for
developing a holistic curriculum that embodies real peace concepts. Although
peace education curriculum cannot teach all these Perfections, if the curriculum
touches children even a little, it is enough to establish a foundation for true peace.
In general, Buddhists believe that all life is suffering but, with Compassion and
Wisdom, we can reduce the suffering that arises from interpersonal conflict and
unsatisfied desires. Tibetan curriculum should then have the objective of effective
learning, through spirituality, of problem-solving and be applied to the
understanding of the self and others. However, a rigid curriculum that
transmissively teaches children inert information about morals and peace only
helps them reproduce facts about peace on tests and does not help to enact peace in
their lives. We do not need to transmit but to transform their understanding. Let me
give an example of this from my own research.
Tibetan villagers participate twice a year in traditional dramas that embody the
six perfections and all teenagers in the village select a character to perform in the
drama. This provides an opportunity for young people to mentally experience
perspectives of the characters they play. These characters represent a broad range
of personality and behaviour types that can be found in their own village, some of
whom act in negative ways. By experiencing the inner life of a character and the
effect that their behaviour has on themselves and others, they can reflect on the
characters, their motivations, their actions. This process helps the young person
move toward greater compassion and wisdom, without any direct instruction.
Inspired by the content and method of these traditional dramas, Tibetan stories
were made an integral part of a recent experimental Tibetan primary textbook in
China. The stories are given for pleasure and instruction and the students were not
assessed on their understanding of the language of the story. In this way, the
pedagogical process is inspired by village dramas. First, each student is assigned a
different story to read and discuss orally at home with their parents. Later in class,
each student tells the story to the class in their own words. Then, students in small
groups, through oral discussion, prepare their own drama that combines elements
of each student’s story into a harmonious whole. Students then practice together
and each group performs their drama for the whole class. Afterwards, students
divide into new groups to discuss their reactions to the plays. Students are
constantly engaged in creative thinking, reflection on motives, actions and
consequences, and are also immersed in a rich mental experience. The students
gain insight into the Perfections and how they are manifested in peoples’
behaviour. No external rewards are used.
In 2000, I did an investigation as follow-up action research in several schools
where I distributed this local curriculum and the accompanying textbook.
Surprisingly, many parents were borrowing and reading the book with their
children at home. In the school, the teachers and principals were seeing that
children were learning the stories but also being nourished in the moral sense and
in qualities of the heart. Children are highly interested in stories and often learn


best through them and role play. To this end, there are many more traditional
Tibetan stories that illustrate the six Perfections which can be used by teachers to
develop the peace curriculum further.
This approach of combining stories and role playing has great potential for
effective learning of peace in other contexts. Primary school textbooks in every
country are full of stories that contain morals and values. What is the difference
between these stories and those that really teach morality? Tibetan stories may
contain a moral but they do not state what the moral is. The moral is learned by
experiencing the story. Certainly, excellent teachers worldwide take this approach
to literature and stories. However, textbooks often do not trust children to make the
correct conclusions and they teach directly what should be believed. This type of
story leaves little to children’s intelligence and does not stimulate their thinking.
Further, by using such texts as the basis of reading and vocabulary lessons and
testing children on appropriate conclusions, children are led to think morals are
what we say in front of authorities, not what we live when the authorities are not
The village cultural environment is the nest in which children grow and are
deeply affected in their consciousnesses. Thus, primary school education should
continuously build on this environment where children absorb the surrounding
culture and gradually develop their own perspective. The primary curriculum
should be based on integrating a holistic village life perspective with the school
perspective. From grades 1-3, it may be enough for children to develop wisdom
and compassion through role playing; in later grades, or when children are
sufficiently mature, they can also participate in group discussions, taking turns
asking each other how they felt while playing the roles.


What kind of qualities does an effective teacher in primary school require to

integrate a spiritual perspective? How can they develop the necessary knowledge,
skills, attitudes and understanding? Ideally, a teacher using indigenous spirituality
requires a rich spiritual experience, a deep understanding of nature and a holistic
worldview.1 Furthermore, a Tibetan teacher using an indigenous spiritual
perspective should be someone who embodies the Tibetan ethos of spirituality and
someone who is able to reduce the three delusions through meditation and the
practice of the six perfections is evident within their daily life. From this point of
view, spiritually grounded teachers also need to be able to skillfully guide the
combination of role-play pedagogy and compassionate wisdom content within
drama activities in the classroom.
Primary teachers should have the qualities of selflessness, attention, compassion
and wisdom, the same qualities that children are developing through spirituality.
Our minds tend to be scattered and our attention is divided, like water running in
every direction at once. If we can channel our attention, this can have a powerful
effect on teachers’ teaching and students’ learning. It is crucial for a primary



school teacher to be able to restrain self-centeredness, practice patience, treat the

self and others equally, take pride not only in one’s own accomplishments, but also
those of others, and demonstrate focused concentration. Within the Tibetan
tradition, these abilities can be cultivated through two types of meditation that
contribute to teachers practice and pedagogical skill: stabilizing meditation and
analytical meditation. Both methods are beneficial and the choice of method
depends on the situation. Of course, the above-mentioned spiritual qualities can be
cultivated through other traditional spiritual practices.
Clearly, present models of teacher education in Tibet are not suitable to develop
teachers able to use a spiritual perspective. Spiritual perspective within a Tibetan
ethos considers individuals as part of an unbroken network of relationship with
others in their community, with other communities and nationalities, and with all
of nature. Yet current schools as part of a modern society take a narrow view of
education as having a specific competitive purpose in order to accomplish goals of
individual persons, companies and countries. Clearly, human beings have ignored
that we are a part of nature, the universe and all existence. His Holiness the Dalai
Lama (2000) gives us advice for this:

When we have a deeper understanding of the Buddhism teachings of

interdependence – that even a single event has multiple causes and conditions
that contribute to that event – then we will really have a deep philosophical
basis for the ecological perspective – respect for the natural laws of the
environment. The concept of interdependence helps to widen our perspective.
It automatically makes us aware of the importance of causality-relations,
which in turn brings forth a more holistic view. (p. 135)



Smith (2003), speaking in regards to Maori indigenous education, has not only
identified “six critical sites”2 for indigenous communities and peoples to transform

1. A need to understand and respond to the unhelpful divide between indigenous communities and the
Academy. This impacts in indigenous communities in feelings of distrust; lack of access, participation
and success at higher levels of education; an undermining of the capacity to educate beyond the self-
fulfilling cycle of educational underachievement and socio-economic marginalization )
2. A need to understand and respond to the new formations of colonization (the false consciousness of
‘watching the wrong door’, i.e. the traditional forms of colonization; the need to develop critical
consciousness of new economic formations and to get beyond hegemony that holds them in place).
3. A need to understand and respond to the ‘politics of distraction’; to move beyond being kept busy and
engaged with liberal strategies. This keeps indigenous people from engaging with the deeper structural
issues. Need to move to become proactive around our own aspirations; to take mover autonomous
4. A need to understand and respond to the construction of an ultimate vision of what it is that is being
struggled for; there is a need to develop the ‘end game’; to develop direction, purpose and impetus in
struggle and to recognize the incremental gains along the way to the realization of the ‘vision’.
5. A need to understand and respond to the struggle for the Academy; to reclaim the validity and
legitimacy of our own language, knowledge and culture; to position our own ways of knowing as being
relevant and significant in the ‘elite’ knowledge production and reproduction ‘factories’.


themselves but also suggests that the transformative theory must have five3 implicit
components. Moreover, he also emphasizes that indigenous space has to be created
in the academy in order to enhance indigenous development and furtherance. The
suggestion is not only directed to Maori indigenous communities and schooling but
is also suitable for Tibetan village education. Although the Maori in New Zealand
and the Tibetans in China, follow different cultural and political perspective they
are facing many of the same challenges. For the Maori in New Zealand:

It is also important to understand also that the Maori political context is

circumscribed by a single Treaty agreement signed in 1840 between Maori
tribes and Crown and also that Maori have a single language spoken across all
tribes with some minor tribal variances. Both of these elements enabled
tribes more easily to develop a unity that cut across individual tribal situations
and develop and ‘national front’ on these issues. (Smith, 2003)

For the Tibetans in China:

Seventeen points “Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of

Tibet. Signed and sealed in Beijing on 23 May 1951. The preamble to the
agreement stressed that Tibet had a “long history within the boundaries of
China,” outlined the aggressive imperialist forces in Tibet that needed to be
“successfully eliminated” and claimed that both parties (Tibetans and
Chinese People’s Government – CPG) reed to “establish the agreement and
ensure that it be carried into effect.” (Mullin, 1980)

The successful experience of Maori community integration through spiritual

development and ‘language nest’ networking can be a lesson for Tibetans to learn
from (Smith, 2003). On the other hand, the Maori also can learn a lesson from
Tibetan village drama activities, as a way to revisit and revitalize historical lessons
and integrate spiritual practices. At the same time, successful community and
village education models can also support state education to accomplish
educational goals. However, Tibetans must critically adapt from the Maori’s
model, as it comes from a specific collective, cultural and spiritual perspective.
The reality of Tibetan village education is that it has not yet implemented
spirituality in state schools, which still choose to teach irrelevant curriculum which

6. A need to understand and engage with the State to encourage the State apparatus to work for
indigenous interests as well.
1. A capacity to make ‘space’ for itself to be sustained in a context of unequal power relationships
with the colonizer and the critique that will inevitably be developed as such indigenous theorizing often
contradicts and challenges the existing and accepted ways of knowing, doing and understanding in the
2. A capacity to sustain the validity and legitimacy of the theory in the face of challenge both from the
colonizing imperatives and from internal (indigenous) hegemonic forces
3. A capacity to be ‘owned’ and to ‘make sense’ to the indigenous communities themselves
4. A capacity that has the potential to positively make a difference - to move indigenous people to a
better existence
5. A capacity to be continuously reviewed and revised by those for whom the theory is intended to


excludes village spiritual practices (Badeng, 2001; Postiglione, 1999). However,

villagers have been practicing drama over the last century in village by themselves.
As a multifunctional institution, the village needs to add one more function onto
the Manekang4 to be able to play more cultural roles within the village as a cultural
and language nest. Then, infants to school age children are able to gain knowledge
that connected their root of culture and spirituality. This is the logical order of
psychological growth.
In the last section of this chapter, I will compare these two examples, using
Smith’s (2003) six cultural principles to analyze both Maori communities and
Tibetan village education having great value in showing how Tibetans might
implement some aspects of Maori education into their own situations:

1. The principle of self determination or relative autonomy

This is a politically important principle for both Maori and Tibetan education. The
schooling decision-making of administration, curriculum, pedagogy and cultural
perspective is related to autonomous authority. Smith (2003) states that “Maori
people are in charge of the key decision-making, they are able to make choices and
decisions that reflect their cultural, political, economic and social preferences.
Furthermore, when Maori people make decisions for themselves, the ‘buy in’ and
commitment by Maori participants to making the ideas work is more certain and
assured.” This is not the case for Tibetan villagers who are not engaging in key
decision-making; they are not able to make choices and decisions in the
educational realm and are unable to speak their cultural, political, economic and
social predilections into the educational processes. Tibetan people do have several
different levels of autonomous government (for example, township, county,
prefectures and regions within Chinese provinces), so the decision-making
frameworks are in place but they are not used in the educational realm. With the
three levels of current curriculum reform movement in China, all levels of Tibetan
society need to be involved in the processes and have relative autonomy.

2. The principle of validating and legitimating cultural aspirations and identity

In suggesting this principle, Smith (2003) emphasizes that “in Kaupapa Maori
educational settings, Maori language, knowledge, culture and values are validated
and legitimated by themselves – this is a ‘given’, a ‘taken for granted’ base in
these schools. Maori cultural aspirations are more assured in these settings,
particularly in light of the wider societal context of the struggle for Maori language
and cultural survival”. On the other hand, Tibetan language, knowledge, culture
and values in villages are not officially validated and legitimated. Moreover,
Tibetan cultural aspirations are not assured in the Tibetan village’s fabrics,
especially with respect to Tibetan language and culture. This is because the very

Every Tibetan village has a centre for elders to pray and to do the religious activities with their
children (the Manekang).


survival of the villages has become a political struggle at all levels. Thus, the
Tibetan political issue is impacting both Tibetan villagers’ perspective and the
Chinese governmental policy makers’ perspective. In New Zealand, Smith (2003)
takes a critical view as an inside researcher to see the “inadequate attention paid to
the maintenance of Maori culture and identity. In incorporating these elements, a
strong emotional and spiritual factor is introduced to Kaupapa Maori settings,
which ‘locks in’ the commitment of Maori to the intervention. In particular many
Maori adults have been convinced that schooling might now have some relevance
and consequently, many Maori parents who were once ‘put off’ schooling by their
own negative experiences, have now become re-committed by the emotional and
cultural pull of the Kaupapa Maori approach.” The same needs to be done in Tibet.

3. The principle of applying culturally preferred pedagogy

Fraser (2009) argues that the “aboriginal knowledge is not a description of reality
but an understanding of the processes of ecological change and ever-changing
insights about diverse patterns or styles of flux.” The aboriginal knowledge,
including spirituality, has been passed on generation to generation by use of the
mother tongue, not other majority language. Smith (2003) also argues that the
“teaching and learning settings and practices are able to closely and effectively
‘connect’ with the cultural backgrounds and life circumstances (socio-economic) of
Maori communities. These teaching and learning choices are ‘selected’ as being
‘culturally preferred.” To connect what people value and how people behave in the
world is the crucial aspect of culturally relevant education and pedagogy. Tisdell
(2003) also discusses culturally relevant education which can provides space for
maintenance of indigenous spirituality: “spirituality may have relevance to critical
and culturally relevant approaches to education” (p. 42). Badeng (2001) claims that
the Tibetan education:

Since 1959, modern schools have gradually been set up in all the Tibetan
areas. Now the structure of the educational system in Tibet is sufficiently
developed to enable most Tibetan children to study. However, a great many
children do not attend school. Many students cannot write Tibetan, especially
in the eastern areas, and some students cannot even speak Tibetan. During the
years that Tibet has been influenced by the Chinese economy, the language
problem has steadily worsened. Development of an improved Tibetan
vocabulary in the areas of culture, education, economics, society, and politics
is a major goal for the future. (p. 1)

Tibetan schools must work towards implementing a culturally preferred pedagogy

that connects learners to their lived experiences and their spiritual knowledge.


4. The principle of mediating socio-economic and home difficulties

Smith (2003) recognizes that a powerful Maori philosophy contains emotional and
spiritual factors which commit Maori communities to take seriously the potential
for change in schooling. Education’s ability to mediate unequal societal contextual
power relations make schooling a priority consideration, despite debilitating social
and economic circumstances that seem to stand in the way. The ability of collective
cultural structures and practices of indigenous sub-tribes to alleviate the impact of
debilitating socio-economic circumstances can be learned and accomplished in
Tibetan contexts. Within the circumstances of Tibetan education, there are many
challenges to overcome, such as educational policy implementation and
overlapping socio-economic and home difficulties on primary students (poor
parents needs to support their age 6-7 children living in township boarding
schools). Local stakeholders are claiming that state village schools have been
ignoring their spirituality and the Bureau of Education is complaining about the
village schools’ low quality of education. As a result, village schools have closed
and children moved from village to boarding schools, causing not only more
social-economical problems for both parents and students but also disconnecting
them from their spiritual environment. The implementation of spiritually centered
education can help overcome the many socio-economic hurdles that face education
systems in Tibet.

5. The principle of incorporating cultural structures which emphasize the

‘collective’ rather than the individual
In New Zealand, the Maori have extended family structures which support the
ideological advancement of indigenous knowledges by offering a collective and
shared support structure to glue the tribe through difficult circumstances. This
basic social structure takes collective responsibility to help and intervene as a
social network. There is a reciprocal responsibility on every member to engage in
the community. All parents are culturally responsible to support and help in the
education for all of the children within their structured families groups (Smith,
2003; Tisdell, 2003). Similarly, in Tibetan villages, there is also an extended
family structure with reciprocal responsibilities for every member and family; for
example, when one member of the family has any important event, the extended
family members are the first to come to help their relatives. This structure has been
become a fundamental structure of the village and often collaborates with other
such groups in matters well beyond their traditional spheres. However, as basic
social groups in the village, they are not collaborating to support schooling (though
further research is needed here).

6. The principle of a shared and collective vision/philosophy

Much like the Maori in New Zealand who share guiding principles which shape
every member in society, Tibetan villages, tribes and sub- tribes share Tibetan
Buddhism as their guiding vision. This has penetrated into how Tibetans perceive


themselves and has been connecting Tibetan people all over the world in a
collective identity (Goldstein, & Kapstein, 1998; Thurman, 2008). This powerful
vision enables Tibetans to provide impetus and direction to their struggle (Smith,
2003). Tibetan centered education and research within monasteries are connecting
with Tibetan aspirations politically, socially, and culturally but not economically or
in the realm of education. Spirituality has been deeply rooted within villagers’
collective vision for a long time and this can be used for social, cultural educational
and political development; it is a powerful perspective.


Under the dual process of colonization and post-colonization, indigenous societies

have been facing similar challenges but within different locations, from Africa to
North America; from Asia to Oceania and Europe. These challenges are ongoing
and are pertinent to education, issues such as who controls the content of
textbooks, curriculum, media and so on. With the preface of their book, Bekerman
and Kopelowitz (2008), discuss “cultural sustainability” by composing two
questions: “Is it possible to transmit particular life ways from generation to
generation in contemporary society? If so, what are the ingredients for success,
what are the obstacles that lead to failure?” In combating the various challenges
that face them, indigenous groups the world over are having to answer these
questions in the search for sustainable methods that incorporate traditional ways of
learning and village spirituality This paper has analyzed some of the factors for
success, in two particular cases, and what are the leading obstacles to failure. For
both the Tibetan people in China and the Maori in New Zealand, the inclusion of
spirituality into a culturally relevant curriculum is vital to the maintenance of their
cultural ways of knowing.
The contributions of this chapter are several, both theoretical and practical. The
theoretical frameworks cited above for the inclusion of indigenous spiritual
perspectives in curriculum formation and school development are little known in
China and provide an alternative explanation for minority responses to education.
An explanation other than the circular narrative of low quality of rural and
indigenous populations as an explanation for their low participation and
achievement in state education, and their low participation in state education as an
explanation of their low quality. The second contribution is the linking of
international theory and experience concerning the primacy of the key role of
language maintenance and cultural transmission in minority and indigenous
community satisfaction with schooling. A third contribution is the comparative
analysis of an international case to an analogous Tibetan case in China.
Comparative education is a thriving field in China but the comparative study of
indigenous and minority education is only in its beginning stages. A final
contribution is the raising of the issue of Tibetan language endangerment. While
there are still millions of Tibetan-speakers, in individual villages and districts,
especially under the influence of boarding schools in Chinese language
environments, some children, rather than developing balanced additive Tibetan-
Chinese bilingualism, are instead beginning the process of shifting to Chinese as a


result of lack of sufficient mother-tongue instruction in boarding schools and

spiritual isolation from the community.
An indigenous research perspective and indigenous centred research access the
indigenous participants and give ways for them to share their life understanding,
epistemology, ontology and pedagogy to germinate their identity. Through analysis
of Smith’s (2003) six cultural principles we can find methods to maintain mother
tongue knowledge in Tibet and sustain spiritual knowledge, culture and other
culturally relevant pedagogy and education. In the future, the goal is not only to
remain stable but also develop the cultural identity and appropriately meet the need
to be able adapt and to fit identity within new changing social contexts (Fraser,
2009, p. 260). There are many challenges facing Tibetan students and the
introduction of spirituality into schooling can be an entry point to maintaining their
unique cultural identities while giving them the tools to successfully adapt to new

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The ability to acknowledge, understand and feel wholeness and connection within
oneself, as well as interconnectedness with other creatures, nature and the universe,
might be one of the abilities that we have forgotten over colonial history,
throughout which we have been compelled to focus enormously on our body and
mind. The human mind registers like and dislikes based on the information that we
receive from seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. I do not deny this characteristic
of the mind. In fact, through this process our minds can enjoy various pictures,
drawings, music and food, which can cause us to experience happiness and
relaxation. However, it is also the mind, an unbalanced mind, which labels likes or
dislikes based only on what it can perceive. For example, when we see a beautiful
flower (by own perception) that has an unpleasant smell (for us individuals), how
many of us understand that the object is a manifestation of the Creator before
judging whether we like or dislike it? Can we understand or even try to understand
the manifestation beyond what we can sense? This unbalanced mind also may
create the spaces which make discrimination justifiable based on race, ability, sex,
sexuality, and age. How many hours in a day do we usually focus on what we
cannot see, hear, smell, or taste? Have we even learned how to focus on something
that we cannot perceive? Ancestors in Japan maintained their balanced mind with
“cosmic consciousness“ which came through their understanding of the principle
of “Kototama” (Shimada, 1993, 1995).
Regarding “Kototama”, I refer to a study by a Japanese researcher, Emoto
Masaru,(2004a; 2004b; 2007) in order to explore the impact of vibrating energy on
oneself, others, and other creatures. I argue that Emoto’s experiments with water
crystal, which I will refer to later in this chapter, open up a possibility of making
the Indigenous knowledge of Kototama appealing to a wider audience, despite the
fact that it has been taken as illegitimate knowledge, as can be seen in the many
criticisms about it. I hope this chapter will be read as a possibility and a reflection
on ourselves and our society, rather than a claim to the “truth”. I write this in order
to avoid a discussion which would further create the space for any “colonization of
truth and the creation of an edifice of power, control and privilege” (Fernandes,
2003, p. 20).

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 97–110.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.


The Japanese Indigenous worldview is based on the idea that everything, including
animated and inanimate beings, has a soul or spirit, and emphasizes living with
oneself, others, other creatures, nature, and the universe in harmony. Japanese
ancestors understood that human beings are all part of and nurtured by nature.
Those ancestors knew that they could not control nature, rather they found
expressions of the creator in nature. The understanding that we are all part of and
nurtured by nature and that collective works by community members sustain our
lives are evoked in various practices in daily lives. For example, in Japanese
culture, before we start eating every meal, we say “Itadakimasu” (޿ߚߛ߈߹ߔ),
by which we give thanks for all the food,” and when we finish, we say
“Gochisousama” (ߏߜߘ߁ߐ߹), which in addition to the food we give thanks for
all the processes, and the work that we have done in the preparation for food, with
our hands in the prayer position. These gestures express the understanding that
what we eat is provided by nature and will be part of our bodies. We never forget
to give thanks for the connections among human beings and among nature. The
energy produced through each thanksgiving from the hearts to each other and
towards nature important components to sustain a community in harmony.
The worldview that is grounded in the idea that everything is alive is often
called “animism”. E. B. Tylor originally coined the term (as cited in Clammer,
2001). Tylor suggests that animism contains the essence of spiritualistic philosophy
and that this is the primitive form of religion. However, his naming, categorizing,
and defining of the belief is arguably problematic. His perspective ignores the
complexities and diversity within the worldview. It is not a primitive form of
“religion”. This Indigenous worldview has been embedded in our daily lives for
thousands of years as part of our understanding of ecology. In relation to Japanese
Indigenous worldview, “Shinto” (the way to the Creator) as a belief system is often
seen as a “religion” by many scholars today. Although “Shinto” is generally
categorized as a religion of Japanese origin, the word Shinto (␹㆏) itself means
“the way to the Creator” in Japanese.
Systematized and bureaucratized “State Shinto” was strategically brought in
during the Meiji period (since 1986). In the late nineteenth century, as the Meiji
restoration started, the Japanese government imposed it upon the localized and
diversified forms of Shinto known as “Ko-shinto” (old Shinto or folk Shinto) and
Shrine Shinto, expressed and seen, for example, in the various local festivals, arts,
forms of healings. According to Clammer (2001), the Japanese government sought
to unify people’s consciousness in order to aid their fight towards global
competitiveness, socially, politically and economically. Thus, a belief system was
used to create a national collective identity based on a common belief system and
everyday practices, and thereby colonize the minds of Japanese people, rather than
enrich their understanding of their lives (Clammer, 2001). It is important to keep in
mind that while the belief system has been used to construct the organized religion,
the belief systems with local diversities within it can be still found in communities.
Before I go into further discussion about Kototama, I would like to define my
understanding of the concept of spirituality, as the mechanisms of Kototama and


spirituality are intertwined. Defining spirituality is a complicated matter, with

many complexities and contradictions. Tisdell and Tolliver (2003) maintain that “it
is related to a connection to what many refer to as the life force, God, creator, a
higher self or purpose” (p. 374). Various definitions of spirituality have been
proposed by scholars, but defining it is tricky due to the fact that many definitions
may exclude the profound spiritual knowledge of marginalized local peoples rather
than including it. In fact, what should be questioned and challenged is to what
extent are we referring to the same reality when use the word “spirituality”. Dei
(2002) states:

Spirituality encourages the sharing of personal and collective experiences of

understanding and dealing with the self. Olson (2000) notes that the issues of
spirituality in learning and pedagogical situations are critical for
transformative teaching given that much of what is “universal” in spirituality
exists in its manifestations in the particulars of knowing and asserting who
we are, what our cultures are, and where we come from. (p. 10)

In other words, the definition of spirituality is implicated within the personal and
collective experiences. Should we even use the word to explain our own
understanding? What happens if or when one uses different words to explain the
same understanding? Is it acceptable in an academy where certain words are
legitimized, favored or even required in order to take part in certain formal and
informal conversations? In my background, I have not used the word “spirituality”,
but rather “cosmic consciousness”, or “the creator’s will”, words which have
always sounded more natural to me. It is expressed like a thoughtful heart of
caregivers that raise their children with their love and support, considering a human
being as a creator’s creature, and the universe as the beginning of life.
In relation to the concepts of spirituality and the Creator, the rituals within
shrines associated with “Shinto” and Japanese words are explored here. For
example, there is a mirror set in every shrine in Japan. The reflection of the
individual looking into the mirror is believed to represent the creator. In other
words, the creator is you. A creator is not something apart from you but it is
yourself. The mirror in Japanese is called a “ka-ga-mi”. When “ga” (translated as
“ego” in English) is taken away from the rest of the letters, “ka-mi” is left. “Kami”
translated into English means the “creator”.
A re-realization of our cosmic consciousness or spirituality is necessary to
regain a “balanced mind”. “Realization” in Japanese is “Sa-to-ru (ᖗࠆ). This
means that he/she becomes conscious of things of which he/she has not previously
realized. It also means removing one’s ego and realizing the “truth”. When it is
considered that “Sa” means ‘distance’, and “to-ru” means ‘to remove’, in this
context I think that in the realization of our cosmic consciousness, we remove the
distance between our spirituality and our sensing mind by ceasing to rely only on
the information that we can get from our senses. It suggests regaining a balanced
mind that listens to the voice of our spirituality. I believe the teaching from my
family, that this voice is always with us but it has been ignored as we have focused
too much on our mind and the senses. Thus, spirituality, as I understand it from my


own background, is a life-force, or the feeling of the creator which guides us,
within which no superiority and inferiority exists. This spirituality requires the
consciousness and realization of “our selves”. Only then can the creator in us be
heard in our own reflection in the mirror. With our understanding of spirituality’s
strength as a life-force, I believe that the decolonization of the mind in the school
system is a possibility.


The Japanese ancestors considered words as the Creator that produces life. In fact,
a bell in a Japanese shrine is often said to be the instrument that is used to call for
or get the attention of the Creator and any divine heroes. The other role of a bell
and the other reasons why the bell exists in shrines, however, are not often
explored in the academy. Shimada (1993) explains that the role of the bell is
related to Kototama. The shape of a bell is the shape people create when they open
their mouths. When a bell is shaken, the sound comes out of the “mouth” of the
bell. When people open their mouths and say something, they are like bells in the
sense that they produce a vibrating energy that in turn produces life. The ancestors
in Japan had a profound understanding of the power of words, which can be
expressed in the form of spoken/unspoken, written/unwritten, emotion, and
thoughts – “Kototama” – which is often understood as the spirit of words or power
of words. However, this knowledge is not just about the spirit of words: it is also a
cosmology. The belief is that Kototama, with its 50 rhythms (the vowels and their
combinations with consonants), produces life (Shimada, 1993, 1995). According to
a study of Kototama, the vibration of each rhythm produces a different energy
which affects reality. In other words, each word has meanings and an actual impact
on reality. Japanese ancestors applied this knowledge to their everyday lives. The
mechanisms of Kototama are also intertwined with “cosmic consciousness” or so-
called “spirituality”. However, it is not my aim to explain which sound has
particular impact in detail, following the study of Kototama. Rather, I would apply
the understanding that our words, our thoughts, our intention, and emotions have
an actual impact on ourselves, others, natures, and universe through the vibrations
they produce, so as to contribute to the creation of space in which to discuss and
explore inner transformation.
Different names can be applied to describe the vibrating energy. For example,
Ki (᳇), Hadou (ᵄേ) or in relation to one’s thoughts/idea/emotions, the energy
can be also called Sounen (ᗐᔨ). It has been a long held belief that Sounen has the
power to make an image that one has, happen in reality. Their words might not be
mentioned directly when people describe the ways in which they perceive and
utilize the energy in everyday lives. The fact that our ancestors believed that
everything is alive might imply they would recognize the energy from all beings.
In relation to the energy from words/thoughts, the term, Kototama, first appeared in
the ancient collection of the Japanese poetry, the Man’yoshu. It is said that the time
that the verses were made was from around 4th century to 8th century, and these
were sung/written by various social classes. In one of the verses, it says that Japan
is “⸒㔤ߩᐘ߁࿖”. This phrase is often translated into “Japan is a blessed country


where kototama is offered” (Ueshiba, 2004, p. 74) or “the land where the
mysterious workings of language bring bliss”. There are limitations in these
translations in that the notions of land and country at the point that the term was
written would be different from that of today. However, the point is that from the
earliest time, the Japanese ancestors paid attention to the energy from their
un/spoken words. According to Sasaki (2007), the Japanese people put value on a
verse in their daily life. They thought a verse which is sung/written with a certain
rhythm/pattern is a tool to make use of the power of the words.
Here, I would like to explore one of the experiments that show the impacts of
heard and unheard vibration, called Hado. As previously referred to, the
experiments were done by a Japanese man, named Masaru Emoto. He published
his first book in 1999 on the effect of words on the molecules in water. In his
experiments, water crystals were shown to change depending on what one said
towards the water. If the water received a thoughtful spoken and/or typed word
such as “beautiful”, its shape and color were well shaped. On the contrary, when
the water received a destructive word, its shape and color were unfavorable and
deformed. In another experiment, rice was put in three bottles. The rice in one
bottle was exposed to the kind words, such as “you are beautiful”, while the rice in
another bottle was exposed to disrespectful words,” you are a fool”, and the rice in
the final bottle was just ignored. After one month, the rice that was exposed to the
thoughtful words started to ferment, with a mellow smell. Interestingly, although
the rice that was exposed to destructive words or ignored rotted, the rice that was
ignored rotted before the rice that was exposed to the negative words. He explains
that “giving positive or energy attention to something is a way of giving energy,
and the most damaging form of behavior is withholding your attention” (Emoto,
2004b, p. 65). Moreover, Emoto’s experiments show how powerful our thoughts
are, even without words; in another experiment, water crystals with an unfavorable
color and shape from a lake in Japan changed when people prayed for the lake
using curing and respectful thoughts.
I would like to first provide a more in depth description of Kototama. According
to Emoto (2004b), “Kototama” is the sound and the energy we are always
producing, when we are speaking and thinking. As a consequence, the material
world is the manifestation of vibrating energies. Vibration is also called “Shindo”
in Japanese. Emoto (2004a) asserts that the original meaning of the word “Shindo”
(ᝄേ) is “Shinto” (␹㆏), the ways of a Creator; “Tou” (㆏) can be also called
“do” (േ) depending on its combination with other words. The Japanese ancestors
believed that everything begins with vibration; vibration is life itself. These
vibrations include both the heard and unheard sounds and energy we produce by
speaking and thinking. The ancestors knew the power of written and spoken words
with the dynamic relationship with our thoughts, intention and emotion.
Emoto (2004b) suggests that every creature is in a state of vibration, and as a
result every creature produces “sound”/energy. I believe, as part of my embodied
knowledges, that not only are human beings and other animate beings given a life
force, but also that all inanimate things are endowed with a life force, even
materials such as stone, sand, and metal. In fact, Emoto (2004a) notes that the
sound is not necessarily something that people can hear, although there are some


people who apparently hear the “voices” of trees and who can communicate with
plants. Those people, I would assert, can feel the vibration that comes from these
living things, and can “hear their energy” in human language or can communicate
in their own individual ways. Moreover, some people might “see” and “feel” these
Emoto’s experiments indicate some of the characteristics of “Kototama,” and
interconnectedness between human-beings and the natural world. Moreover, his
experiments show the differences among languages. For example, “Arigatou” in
Japanese can be translated into “thank you” in English. Each word creates
differently shaped crystals, however, and the shapes might show that the concept of
“Arigatou” or “thank you” is slightly different because of the diversities behind the
cultures. In my experience, some of the members of my generation call their
parents “Mama” (Mom) and “Papa” (Dad). Because of the impact of Western
culture on Japanese society, this usage has been considered “fashionable,” but my
parents never allowed me to refer to them in that way. I was taught to call them
“Okaasan” (mother), and “Otousan” (father) in Japanese because they knew that
the language and words could make a difference in terms of my relationship with
them. Adherence to this usage also might be seen as one form of my parents’
resistance to the imposition of European languages on the Japanese culture and
ways of knowing. Battiste and Henderson (2000) emphasize the importance of
language to Indigenous knowledge. The authors state that understanding a
language enables comprehension of a people’s worldview and consciousness
regarding their relationship with the ecosystem. In addition, the Eurocentric
worldview includes the assumption that any language can be translated to the
dominant language. According to the authors, however, this notion is a problematic
illusion. The question is not only whether a language is translatable, but also
whether it is translatable without damage or loss.
When it is considered that 55% to 70% of the human body is composed of
water, one can assume that the vibration of a spoken or typed word, thoughts and
intentions can influence an individual’s body, feelings, and ways of thinking, mind,
and soul. The connection between the importance of language and overall the well-
being of people also becomes apparent. This influence was seen in an experiment
that shows how much a word’s vibration changes water. Moreover, the notion of
vibrating energy is not limited to a human body or to water, but also can be
applicable to all animated or inanimate matters. How can this understanding
transform a classroom into a more inclusive space? What kind of internal and
external impact would this notion bring to the school system? More importantly,
how can one understand the impact of vibrating energy on marginalized students in


Students who are racialized and do not fit into the Eurocentric norms, often are
subjugated to hostile, negative energy, by themselves, their classmates and
teachers. Here, I do not limit the discussion to the Japanese context, but would like
to expand it broadly. As I highlighted above, negative energy or neglect affects


water and rice. How can the study of Emoto on neglected rice be relevant to
students and teachers interested in those who are silenced in a classroom? How can
it speak to teachers who blame family members for the students’ perceived
academic deficiency rather than acknowledging the impact of their thoughts,
intention, or neglect on these students? The learning process of students could be
affected by that destructive and disrespectful energy. It would be a limitation that
one could not evaluate or measure how much the energy from thought and
intensions affects students’ learning process and classroom environment. However,
it does not mean that we can devalue and ignore our responsibility in producing
energy that affects others. The impact of our producing energy on others’
behaviour should not be devalued because it cannot be measured or perceived. The
Indigenous understanding of vibrating energy that moves through matter could
transform learning space, whether it be inner transformation based on awareness
and reflection, or outer transformation such as changing a classroom environment.
In order to make inner and outer transformation happen, educators, should be
critically conscious about the ways in which oppression among students in the
classroom has been perpetuated. Moreover, the consciousness should be linked to
their practice.


As Emoto’s study implies, ignoring and treating racialized bodies and their
embodied knowledge as if they are invisible, is a form of violence. In this context,
there is not only perceivable physical violence, but also, violence as manifested in
the form of neglect, dismissal, and the emission of destructive and harmful energy
among students by instructors. Although directing violent thoughts has not been
seen as violence due to its unperceivability, such a form of violence has an impact
on students’ bodies just as physical violence does. In the current educational
system, teachers often lack familiarity with students’ cultural backgrounds. This
causes them to rely on stereotypical, homogenizing understandings of racial and
cultural groups (Wane, 2003). Wane writes:

Assumptions that Aboriginals are alcoholics, for example, or that Blacks are
criminals, which are justified by the rhetoric that “they have chosen to live
that way.” Such uninformed thinking demonstrates a lack of appreciation for
structural issues, which affect the way in which society operates. More
specifically, these belief systems fail to acknowledge that society does not
provide equal opportunities for all of its members. Ignoring these realities,
students from middle class backgrounds feel justified in asserting that “these
people need to work harder- I have always struggled to better myself.” And
hence the myth of a meritocratic society is perpetuated. (p. 6)

Considering the situation, in creating an inclusive space in a classroom of teacher

education program, Wane (2003) notes she, as an instructor, “challenges students
to examine their own biases and stereotypes that influence the ways in which they
interact with others” (p. 6). I would like to add to her strategy by asserting that, in


our efforts to create inclusive space in schooling, we should also consider the
effects of energy on students. We should go beyond perceivable and empirical
conception of violence, and at the same time interrogate why this kind of
Indigenous way of knowing is seen as “irrational”, “invalid” or “primitive”.
We should continue to ask ourselves and educators how much violence is
perpetuated through words, thoughts, and neglect within the school system and
how often children who have received damaging energy, are affected by it.
Racialized and minority students, who are facing intersecting oppression in terms
of race, class, gender, language, and religion, are often aware of the teacher’s
discouraging and hostile attitudes, and low expectation of them (Dei, 1997; Zine,
2001). While culturally relevant curriculums and anti-racism education are
recognized as being needed in such situations, we hardly talk about the impact of
destructive, hostile and disrespectful energy on those students by instructors and
peers. When it is considered from an Indigenous perspective, one can begin to
think about the impact of one’s attitudes and energy towards students, rather than
blaming those who are seen as “unsuccessful students”. I believe that the conscious
reflection on one’s energy could contribute to making an even small difference in
educational spaces.
What then does “positive” energy mean? How can we utilize these energies
throughout thinking, speaking and writing? I would like these questions to lead
teachers to reflect on their own thoughts, intension, and use of words towards
students in everyday practices in a classroom. I would assert that “positive” energy
could be expressed not only as being “respectful”, “thoughtful”, “kind”, “hopeful”,
“loving”, or inexpressible words, but also words or feelings which express
reciprocal relationship. In this context, the notion of community is important. I
acknowledge that there are always conflicts in the learning spaces and students
often can learn valuable lessons from these conflicts. My assertion about the
impact of “positive” energy does not negate conflict. I do not believe that conflicts
always manifest hostile and destructive energy. There are certain issues that
dominant bodies do not want to engage in, such as issues of white privileges, white
supremacy, racism, and colonialism. Rather I argue that conflicts should not
reproduce or reinforce feeling of negation and hatred towards each other within a
I argue that this reproduction of hatred, in relation to the resistance against
oppression, can be harmful. Oppressed students send hostile intension or energy
from hatred, as a resistance back to the students who are oppressing them. It can be
resistance and survival strategy to protect themselves from further emotional and
physical violence. However, I would like to address it by linking to Dei’s (2008)
argument about teaching method concerning oppression. He states:

It is also destructive to fight against one form of oppression while using

patterns of another to do so. An example would be a White male adult using
the strap on a White child to teach the child not to be racist against a Black
child. This tactic may punish racist behaviour, but it leaves physical violence
as a method of controlling others and adult authority over children solidly in
place. (p. 32)


He argues that punishment is not effective tin educating a dominant body about
oppression. Linking this notion to the vibrating energy, the question is how can one
resist and create the space to give oppressed students voices and sense of belonging
without reproducing and reinforcing hatred towards teachers or among students. It
is a challenging question.


The challenge to the implementation of a way of knowing that centres energy in

schooling, is the strength and pervasiveness of Eurocentric ways of knowing. Even
the study about vibrating energy and its impact on water by Emoto, that I
mentioned, requires an appeal to Eurocentric knowledge sources in order to be
taken seriously by many. And, although Emoto’s book could create the possibility
of talking about elements of Indigenous knowledge in schools, its use of visual
proof implies that is it unacceptable for one to believe what they cannot perceive
until it can actually be affirmed with at least one of the senses (seeing, hearing,
smelling, touching, or tasting). Science, which is basically inclusive of only
Western ways of knowing information, requires us to “see” the evidence with data
from experiments. I argue that this limitation is problematic in terms of attempting
to decolonize our minds. I do not dispute the scientific method itself, but the ways
in which perception and knowing are defined in specific and exclusive ways.
I have been brought up with Indigenous knowledge being deemed illegitimate in
public spaces since I was a child. Yet I have seen how, since Emoto’s book was
published and the idea of Kototama came out in public in Japan and other
countries, many people express amazement and interest in these ideas. I have
wondered why people became so excited about this “new” knowledge and why it is
only now being more broadly disseminated and legitimated. Furthermore, I
question why it has been ignored in the educational system for so long. While the
Indigenous knowledge that I was familiar with was excluded within the school
system, I also thought I should be silent regarding my beliefs with even my friends
so that I could avoid being bullied due to my “old-fashioned beliefs” or
“weirdness”. However, once the “experts”, defined by their privileged access to
power and “real knowledge”, transformed “illegitimate knowledge” into
“legitimate knowledge”, people came to more readily open themselves up to ideas
that were new to them. It has not been the people who live by their handed-down
ancestral wisdom but the “experts”, and those who have been granted “permission”
by the “experts”, who have had the power to claim and transform illegitimate
knowledge into legitimate knowledge – as if they themselves have just discovered
that knowledge. Is it impossible for us to become conscious about and re-connect
to an unseen mechanism without perceivable “scientific” evidence?
There are many ways in which science assumes things that can’t be proven
using ‘perception’. Similarly, there are plenty of claims that Kototama is “real”, but
people might choose not to notice them. The other question is which or whose
beliefs get noticed and legitimated in public. As stated above, this need for certain
types of “evidence” may come from the unbalanced mind which is divided from
spirituality, by giving priority to our senses over our cosmic consciousness. As


Chevez (2001) states, there is a great risk for an educator who openly encourages
students to utilize their intuition in the academy.
In the current school system globally, emphasis has been placed on competition,
development and progress, since the early stages of the students’ school life. These
emphases benefit national economic and political development and increase a
nation’s competitiveness in the global capitalist system. Emphasis has not been
placed on the development of a sense of interconnectedness by which students and
teachers create transformation through strong, local communities within the school
Irony and contradiction may be found in the reality. On one hand, many learners
in Japanese schools are regaining a sense of the need to live with others and nature
in balance, particularly since they have experienced wars, natural disasters,
environmental destruction, increased individualism, loss of respect for elders, and a
weakened sense of belonging to the wider community. On the other hand, these
learners are still caught up in a competition about knowledge. They are trying to
establish whose knowledge is “right” and “wrong” or “superior” and “inferior”
rather than questioning the process of knowledge production in a colonial system.
In fact, some schools in Japan currently are trying to use Emoto’s text in class so
that students can discuss the power of words and thoughts, and also reflect on their
use of language in everyday experience.
However, while some educators recognize the need for Indigenous knowledges
in the public sphere and in the academy, there are also critics who maintain that
those knowledges are not appropriate in the educational system due to the
“validatiy” of “scientific” ways of knowing.
Some Japanese scholars emphasize that the process of creating a crystal is a
merely physical phenomena (Samaki, 2007). Moreover, they critique the
introduction of “animistic thoughts” in the school system, such as the notions that
water can react to people’s words and thoughts. Their argument is that there is no
possibility that words, one’s thoughts, or one’s intention can change the shape of
water crystalization at all. These critics insist that water cannot read people’s words
and minds; the relationship and possible communication among peoples and
natural environment are denied. Recently, students in Miyazaki studied the power
of words by using oranges where they sent thoughtful intension and words to one
orange and sent destructive intension and words to the other. They found
differences in outcomes but the science scholars commented that “there is no way
that oranges could react to human’s words” (Ishida, 2010, p. 24). They conclude
that there is a danger to believing these things, that young people would be
scammed, should someone try to sell products such as cosmetics with “positive
words”. These scholars’ claim was that students should be critical of the “occult”.
This comment implies the rejection of our understanding of “mystery”.
The eradication of mystery is the goal of Eurocentric education. Aikenhead and
Ogawa (2007) state:

A fundamental presupposition in Eurocentric sciences points that nature is

knowable. This knowledge usually comprises generalized descriptions and
mechanistic explanation. Mechanistic explanations are models or series of


cause-effect events that operate like a well-ordered clock … Mystery in

nature creates the need to know nature, which leads to investigations aimed at
eradicating that mystery by generating scientific description and
explanations. Eradication of mystery is a key intellectual goal in Eurocentric
sciences. (p. 547)

This perspective misses the big picture by focusing only on scientific rationality.
These comments and negations should also be examined within the notions of
power. What is the impact on those students whose studies are negated in public
spaces by those who have power of validation by virtue of being academic
researchers? It is also not only about those who negate Indigenous ways of
knowing, but the system that strengthens the claim of validation from Eurocentric
perspectives and allows those scholars to negate others. I do not oppose their
disagreement and Eurocentric perspective. What I disagree with, however, are the
situations where differences are the target of negation rather than being seen as
The ancestors of those alive today knew and passed down their knowledges, that
words (spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten, heard and unheard, including
thoughts, intension and emotion) produce energy and that words themselves are
energy. They did so without any Eurocentric, “scientific” ways of affirming.
Scientists, who consider the Eurocentric way of knowing to be the only legitimate
way to operate, seem to reinforce the binary notion of us/them, legitimate/
illegitimate and valid/invalid. In this system, Indigenous knowledges are treated as
“primitive” and “illegitimate” and Eurocentric knowledge is considered
“advanced” and “valid.” I think that the creation of a space for discussion among
practitioners of the different ways of knowing is crucially important. However,
even in that space, as long as Eurocentric ways of knowing are considered the most
reliable and endowed with the power to silence other ways of knowing, the
discussion that occurs in the space will not be rooted in the decolonization project.
It would instead lead to change only on the surface. In settings where
decolonization and Indigenous knowledge is the stated focus, it is important to
consider the ways in which decolonization practices are applied in these spaces. If
the focus does not bring the practice, whether directly or indirectly, how can we
hope for change in the space beyond?
Regarding the argument that “thoughtful” or “harmful” intension, thoughts, and
words have impact on reality, I recognize the complexities of our feelings and
emotions and the various ways humans express themselves with spoken words. In
reality, many people, especially children, sometimes use negative words as a way
of showing our sincerity, shyness, or even closeness with others. I definitely avoid
the simplistic conclusion that has been drawn by teachers in some schools and that
has been subjected to criticism, that types of words are parallel to types of impacts.
For example, according to this view, the use of positive words leads automatically
to preferable outcomes, and the use of negative words leads automatically to
destructive outcomes.
Human behavior, including the use of words, is very dynamic and complex.
Particularly in schools, where there are students with different backgrounds,


instructors cannot simply teach students what a positive word or what a negative
word is, and cannot dismiss complexities in our use of language and in our overall
behavior. However, the point also needs to be made that a word embodies the long
history, knowledge, and memories of the ancestors. Each word carries this history,
along with everyone’s collective thoughts associated with the word. Each word
carries particular energy. This has been emphasized by various scholars such as
Fanon, who states that “every dialect is a way of thinking” (Fanon, 2007, p. 25; wa
Thiongo, 1986). In addition, intension behind the words cannot be dismissed.
Emoto (2007) argues that “everything in the energy realm begins with intention”
(p. 259).
A judgment about whether an instructor makes good use of his experiments or
not, depends on how he/she has a dialogue with this way of knowing and does not
just show pictures and “teach” students. The fact that the classroom is a political
space can be verified by an examination of some of the comments by parents who
favour the Eurocentric way of knowing without critically interrogating it. Such
comments constitute an example of how the power of Eurocentric ways of
knowing are reproduced in the school system. It is not so much that Emoto’s study
was criticized but that the space for dialogue about the power of energy through
intention, thinking, speaking and writing from the Indigenous perspectives is taken
away, with impunity.
It is also important to explore what constitutes those parents and scholars
concern about “animistic thought” being brought into classroom. What are the
fears behind their concerns? The concerns that scientists have are, for example, that
it blocks “logical” thinking and scientific ways of thinking. The statement implies
that Indigenous ways of knowing are not logical or scientific. The notion of logic
and science from the Eurocentric perspectives is important in determining what the
students’ “success,” “excellence,” and “accomplishment” are. These are
determined in a particular and exclusive way.
Simply being conscious about the energy that each person produces and gives to
others has actual impact. However, although the challenges are great, I believe that
differences can and will begin to occur for individuals when they are aware of the
impact of the vibration of their words and thoughts, as compared to when they are
not aware of the phenomenon. Even the suggestion that there exists other forms of
violence, such as those exhibited by the experiments with water crystals, can create
the awareness and reflection needed for a transformation. Educators should also be
aware and conscious of these notions. Along these lines, Emoto himself gave
seminars to students in some Japanese elementary schools in order to inform the
children of the power of their words and thoughts. He noted that after children have
actual experiences with the power of words and thoughts, they started reflecting on
their use of language and negative thoughts. His success, in this regard, shows that
it is adults who keep young students from being aware of this knowledge and
thereby ensure the continued advancement of the projects of the colonial
educational system.



In conclusion, exploring the notions of energy from Indigenous perspectives could

have implication for transforming learning spaces. We, as educators, should be
aware of the ways in which our energy impacts on students’ learning processes, as
well as their self-esteem and academic accomplishment. At the same time, it is also
important to explore this notion with students. Transformative spaces could not
only be created by teachers, but also with students. Colonial education has been
reproduced in the current school system which offers limited options to students in
getting to their own destination in the learning process. As the experiment on rice
and water shows, we also should consider that denying, dismissing or ignoring, in
particular, racialized students, is a form of violence in that these actions constitute
denying their humanity. From the study, it is also clear that disrespectful and
violent thoughts and words can affect not only ourselves but also others. Therefore,
we should go beyond the rational and empirical concepts of violence in any
evaluation of potential problems. Evidence from the experiments by Emoto and his
study of Kototama demonstrate the importance of exploring and reconnecting to
Indigenous knowledge. Through this approach we can regain the sense and
understanding of something considered illegitimate in the contemporary world.
Without it, the imposition of cultural colonialism will continue to affect children in
school systems based on rational and empirical ideology.

Aikenhead, G. S., & Ogawa, M. (2007). Indigenous knowledge and science revisited. Cultural Studies
of Science Education, 2(3), 539-620.
Battiste, M., & Henderson, J. Y. (2000). Protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage: A global
challenge. Saskatoon: Purich.
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The spirituality of the Acholi people of northern Uganda comprises practices such
as healings, sacrifices, morality and customary mores that give meaning and force
to everyday social relationships. With the expansion of globalization and its
pressure on the universal economy, many Acholi healers/spiritual practitioners are
concurrently engaged in formal and informal occupations as farmers, artisans,
merchants, instructors and traditional birth attendants, in addition to their spiritual
practices, to supplement their living. The missionaries and colonial administrators
have attempted to undermine the values of indigenous spirituality by presenting it
as heathen, uncivilized and savage, without appreciating its usefulness and
relevance to indigenous societies. Missionary schools and churches were means to
implement cultural imperialism through training native catechists to evangelize in
their communities. The missionary schools graduated Africans with a western-
centric outlook, often Christian who denigrated their own spiritualities. These
graduates became scientific and bureaucratic leaders in the new colonial
bureaucracies with often continued opposition to their own cultural traditions. Can
Acholi and Christian spiritualities share a mutually respectable status in the
globalizing era? How would that coexistence come about? To what extent can
syncretism be possible?
This chapter examines the dialectics of western Christianity and African
traditional spirituality in the formation of social identity of the Acholi community
of northern Uganda. It argues that Acholi traditional spirituality has made a positive
contribution to Acholi cosmology, civil coexistence and community wellbeing. The
attacks by western Christian ideology on its foundation reflect colonial
misunderstanding of its roles in social identity and the attacks of globalization on
its existence is a manifestation of the process began and intensified by
colonialism’s intrusive and unequal relationships of exchange and domination.
This study is significant because no systematic study of the impact of Christian
missionary education and globalization on Acholi traditional spirituality has been
done. The chapter hopes for an appreciation of the relevance and the realization of
the effective role of traditional spirituality in identity formation and organization of
community life. It will explore the possibility of syncretism between Christian and
Acholi spirituality in the educational system for holistic learning, with due
considerations for context specific Acholi spiritual benefits.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 111–124.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

Four main interests run throughout this chapter. The first locates myself in the
work and also provides literature reviews with focus on the definition of
spirituality from the perspectives of different theorists. The second part offers
theoretical frameworks with analysis of two major theories and how these theories
implicate spirituality in the decolonization process. The third section discusses the
dual spirituality of the Acholi people of northern Uganda as a tool for resistance
and the last part offers recommendations for the integration of spirituality in the
contemporary school curriculum for holistic learning.


I have chosen to critically examine western undermining of Acholi spirituality and

ways of knowing drawing from my family background, life experiences and
education in a western based school system. As a minority and a black student
from the continent of Africa in the doctoral degree program in education at the
University of Toronto, I struggle with astonishment and, also, approbation in
understanding the spirituality of the diverse student body on and off campus
spaces. I have since learned to acknowledge the fact that people have different
spiritual journeys and that these spiritual journeys either reflect an individual
cultural/family history, environment, materialism, class, religious attachment, or
are shaped by lived experiences in one’s life. Personally, I have an individual
family history that is deeply rooted in the values and principles of traditional
spirituality and Catholicism. My late grandfather, Antonino Adyanga, was amongst
the first native Acholi catechist teachers to be used by the White Fathers to spread
Catholicism to areas covering modern day northern Uganda and southern Sudan
between 1900 to the late 1920s. Grandfather Adyanga, according to his
autobiography, the original text which today is archived in Rome and has copies in
the Catholic Archdiocese of northern Uganda, was a carpenter who started his
missionary work as early as the late 1890s in his late teenage years, having been
born in 1880. After successfully evangelizing some of the Acholi people by non-
violent means and winning their souls, including that of many local chiefs to the
Christian faith, two young converts joined him to continue with evangelization.
Unfortunately, these two young men were assassinated in 1918, becoming the first
Catholic martyrs in northern Uganda. In 2002, the Catholic Church beatified them
as Saints (New Vision, June 2009). Based on this background, my grandfather,
until his death in 1980, groomed the family through ethics and teachings of the
Catholic faith with strong emphases on professing our faith in action in the real
world and connecting our actions to fellow human beings, Holy Mary and above
all, to the Trinity (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
However, outside my Catholic faith, my spiritual world view was also informed
by some practices of the Acholi spirituality. Although my late grandfather Adyanga
(RIP) was a strong advocate of Christianity and wanted the family to be strictly
cultivated along Christian principles, his wife, my grandmother (now 98 years old),
occasionally evoked some practices of African spirituality which she strongly
believed kept the family in balance by connecting the living family members with
those who had departed and/or the ancestral spirits. Consequently, rituals such as


‘tedo Abila’, which is the cooking of special meals and serving it in the family
shrine for the ancestral spirits and the living members to feast together; nyono tong
gweno, which is stepping on raw eggs to cleanse a member of the family who had
been away from home for a long time, of any misdemeanor; yubu jok, which is
responding to any natural disaster like strange illness in the family through
sacrifice to the deities; yube lyel, which means last funeral rites for the deceased
family members to keep their spirits in good terms with the living, among others,
were regularly conducted alongside the Catholic faith that we practiced. These two
different spiritual traditions and practices informed my spiritual duality in the
globalizing world and the world of my Acholi ancestors. My awakening to the
duality of my spirituality began during my education through primary, secondary
and Bachelor degree program in Makerere University, Uganda. It continues to this
day as a graduate student in Canada, precipitating some challenges to the principles
of organized religions and particularly towards the Catholic faith, which has been
the foundation of my early spirituality. Although my grandfather, a devout
missionary himself, would not approve of some native spiritual rituals, he never
stopped my grandmother from practicing them whenever need would arise and,
sometimes, he would get involved, as long as it was for the purpose of
family/community wellbeing. This however, conflicted with the teachings that I
used to get from Church services and missionary schools I attended during my
primary and secondary education and which were reinforced during vacation by
Sunday church sermons. I grew wary of western vilification of African spirituality,
having benefitted from both practices at home, Church and in schools.


In efforts to comprehend spirituality and schooling, different authors have given

varying definitions. These definitions give no specific meaning of spirituality,
other than the common thread that spirituality stems from one’s lived experiences.
The dilemma in finding a solid definition of spirituality points to the existence of
different world views about the subject, which then results into the corresponding
tensions that we experience today. Spirituality, according to Estanek (2006), is the
internal cohesion of the self which is common to all human beings and thus a field
of connection despite diverse cultural experience. Estanek’s definition signifies
that spirituality is that innate feeling in oneself which connects person to person
and also people to their environments. The interconnection with other being is what
nourishes man’s understanding of the true meaning of life, the self and spirituality.
In support of this taxonomy, Wane (2002) espouses that spirituality is something so
personal, unique and individualistic that it cannot be captured in any neat
definitions. Wane seems to suggest that spirituality is all about oneself and the
ability to achieve innermost potential and that spirituality should be contextualized
beyond everyday organized religion. According to Tolliver and Tisdell, (2006),
spirituality is about developing a more authentic identity. It is about making
meaning and a sense of wholeness, healing, and interconnectedness of all things (p.
38). To them, spirituality is an individual journey toward wholeness and realizing
self and inner most potential. From these literatures, we see that spirituality


encompasses our connectedness to the land, people, spiritual world, and to the
greater community, with deeper sense of responsibility for the values and norms. It
guides our thoughts to avoid evils and strengthens our social relations amongst
individuals, nature and supernatural beings.


The above awareness of spirituality, together with the analysis of relevant works of
anti-colonial theorists such as Wane (2002, 2009), Dei (2002, 2008), Kincheloe
(2006), and Semali and Kincheloe (1999), among others, should enable me to
overcome partisanship in order to present a critical perspective of the vilification of
Acholi spirituality in a more objective way. The works of these theorists on critical
analysis of the structure for teachings, learning, and governance of educational
institutions, and how these institutions can be a tool for generating inequalities that
are based on class, gender, and religious beliefs, will be instrumental in the
scrutiny of the problems presented in this chapter. I have chosen to make use of
anti-colonial and Indigenous knowledge discursive framework to locate my own
indigeneity within the Ugandan context, with linkages to the diasporic context
where I am currently being schooled formally. These frameworks offer clear
comprehension of how my African indigeneity and identity have been created and
continuously reproduced as hedonistic and pagan practices. Besides this, these
theories also empower my awareness of the denigration of my continental and
disaporic identity and how this vilification breeds disintegration to weaken any
possible social consciousness for resistance. In other words, these theories are tools
for the oppressed/colonized voices to reclaim their suppressed values and real
identities from the dark forces of colonization.
Accordingly, scholars such as Dei, Hall, and Rosenberg (2000) engage with an
anti-colonial discursive frame work as a dialogue, they posit that, “power and
discourse are not posessed solely by the ‘colonizer’. Discursive agency and power
of resistance reside in and among colonized and marginalized groups … Anti-
colonial theorizing arises out of alternative, oppositional paradigms, which are in
turn based on Indigenous concepts and analytical systems and cultural frames of
reference” (p. 7). In harmony with these scholars, I contend that anti-colonial
frameworks offer broad multifaceted interpretations of the inhuman seminal
processes that Indigenous people go through wherever colonization has stretched
its arms. I am convinced that one of the most damaging pieces of the colonized’s
struggle is the internalization and the acceptance of the dominant discourses that
pour scorn on the culture of the colonized and exalt the colonizers’ cultural values
as universal. In agreement, Wane (2006) espoused that the processes of
colonization involved re-writing history to denying the colonized’s existence,
devaluating their knowledge, and debasing their cultural beliefs and practices (p.
87). For any meaningful struggle towards decolonization, detailed understandings
of this colonization procedure is instrumental. Therefore, as a colonized minority
student in the Diaspora context, the deployment of the indigenous and anti colonial
frameworks is significant for me to interrogate not only my psyche but also the
spiritual part of myself.


These theories harmonize each other by equipping the colonized psyche with the
missiles to weaken and oppose colonial hegemonic dogma and, instead, view such
dogma as local, imposed, dominating and oppressive with selfish motives. This
should usher in the realization that indigenous peoples’ spirituality and ways of
understanding reality is vastly relevant to the people and their locale and it is the
bedrock on which their existence revolves. According to Semali and Kincheloe
(1999), local Indigenous wisdom encompasses embodied experiences of colonized
peoples. To me, this offers avenue for moving beyond the current fragmentation of
the spirits of the indigenous people and the continuous viewing of the colonizers
with lenses of cynicism. It also invites those engaged in the decolonization journey
to participate in knowledge production that empowers Indigenous intellectual
resources, for the continued existence of their society and their indigenous
spirituality. In a recent work centred on indigenous knowledge frameworks, Dei
(2008) observed that it:

Roots Indigenous identity within history outside Euro-American hegemonic

constructions of the other. It empowers us to reframe our Indigenous histories
as we navigate the current Diasporic context. This framework projects a
cultural rebirth and revival reflecting the integrity and pride in self, culture,
history and heritage, as a commitment to the collective good and well-being
of all peoples. The ideas and principles of Indigenous discursive frameworks
are rooted and actionable in local/grassroots political organising and a form
of intellectual activism. Discursively this framework affirms a local, national
and international consciousness and an understating of the politics of
“national cultural liberation” that is matched with political sophistication and
intricacies. (p. 9)

As a colonized body who struggles to understand the inner self - the spirit - the use
of these theories empowers me to evoke significant questions that should challenge
my readers to not only respond critically but also to explore ways of engaging with
the struggle to break loose from the bondage of colonization: How could one
engage with anti–colonial and indigenous knowledge discursive frameworks as
tools to repossess suppressed, inherited indigenous world views, to resist
domination and oppressions of the spirit?


The initiation of Christian missionary schools and, later on, the involvement of
colonial administration in African education significantly affected indigenous
schooling and spirituality. The education system they offered was in reality not
meant to empower the colonies but, rather, promote western exploitative interests
and dominations. Accordingly, Boateng (1990) argued that “In Africa, the
introduction of Western formal education has oftentimes served as an obstacle to
the process of cultural transmission and intergenerational communication …” (p.
109). At the conclusion of formal colonial rule, the receivers of this education
remained behind as subjects to be used by the colonial masters to maintain their


hold over the colonies. Formal education was geared towards the training of
learners to take on white-collar, junior administrative jobs, rejecting their
indigenous ways of life.
In Uganda, this sad trend hindered the rise of Ugandan nationalism and
contributed to civil wars that have been witnessed in the post independence era.
These violent armed conflicts have directly reflected the way the state was
constructed through British expansionist policies: exploitation of pre-existing
discrepancies, governmental strategies of divide and rule, social and economic
policies that further fractured the indigenous people and more. In particular, the
civil war in the northern part of the country, especially in Acholiland under the
current regime (1986-2008), has led to cultural as well as moral breakdown of the
affected communities. The traditional agricultural economic base has been
systematically undermined as a result of the instability and the government
response through the creation of Internally Displaced People’s Camps (IDPs) and
harsh military policy. It has created, in northern Uganda, generations in which
livelihoods have been squandered, cultural norms have weakened and indigenous
education/spirituality further alienated. This war, which I experienced firsthand
growing up as a child and throughout elementary, secondary and undergraduate
studies, has affected every sector of the economy and changed people’s ways of
life with far reaching consequences on the traditional values. However,
globalization of our society and the entrenchment of Christian religion,
compounded by the civil war, did not completely undermine indigenous Acholi
spirituality. Acholi spirituality is resilient and kept its place in the mix of imported
In Uganda, the postcolonial elite were educated in colonial schools or schools
whose curriculum was colonial. Even when some of the schools had an
independent base, the inspection of these schools and control over the syllabus tied
these independent schools to the British system of education. These schools
graduated scholars whose identity was formed in two different worlds: indigenous,
as a result of their birth and western, as a result of attending colonial modelled
schools. The dual identity of these professionals causes conflict when it comes to
the issues of indigenous education and knowledge systems. The conflict is often
apparent when it comes to ways of knowing and healing practices that are
predominantly western. In this conflict, indigenous spirituality has endured and
continues to be manifested through traditional healing systems, ceremonies,
sacrifices, dreams and their interpretation, among others. To bring these issues to
the spotlight, I will start by discussing the dual spirituality of the Acholi people and
by making personal reflections on the power of dreams in our everyday’s life. The
application of an indigenous discursive framework should awaken my conscience
to the realization that dream interpretations are central to my existence and in many
ways, my spirituality.


The study of spirituality is quite instrumental in widening my perspective to not

only the analysis of the curriculum or what takes place in the academy but it also


allows me to move beyond and into the community space outside of academia and
to consider such things like dreams, which appeared minor and of less significance
for years in my life. By looking back today and reconceptualizing the power and
meanings of dreams, I have come to recognize that dreams guide us in making
connection to our inner self by transcending our physical being into the spiritual
world where hidden meanings are revealed and we are guided into a process of self
discovery, which may be concealed from the everyday living. From childhood, I
grew up in a community devastated by the brunt of civil war, where life was a
nightmare, especially at night when it was difficult to determine if the antagonistic
armies would attack each other or soft targets, such as our family and others. Note
that, either way, the attacks carried high costs for these soft targets.
I wish to recollect how the power of dreams, guided by my grandmother’s
belief, led us to safety in one of these times. This section is a reflection on a
personal story with emphasis on the significance of dreams. I have come to believe
that reflection is critical to my everyday life because it empowers me to look back
and see how far I have come, where I am heading in my life passage and also
understand my inner potential in this journey. As mentioned earlier, growing up in
northern Uganda from childhood into adulthood was horrendous because the
warfare had its toll on both the social, economic and political spectrum of the
greater community, with the civilian populace (soft targets) bearing the brunt. For
children, youths, and young adults, abductions for forceful enlistment into the
armed forces was the order of the day. According to Save the Children (2009) more
than 60,000 children were abducted by the rebels during the last two decades and
conscripted into the rebel ranks as child soldiers, with the young girls used as sex
slaves. The abductions normally take place at night. However, as is well known in
my society and many others, it is also in the night that dreams with deeper
meanings are encountered. The dreams, if well interpreted and heeded, would avert
vulnerability or help innocent people to elude impending dangers.
In the year 1996, I was in senior two (S.2) of the secondary education cycle and
the conflict was at its peak. In my village, we would spend the nights in the bush
whenever rumors of rebel proximity were heard, to avoid being abducted. One
evening after my family had retired to bed, my grandmother suddenly leaped out of
bed and woke us from our sleep, saying we had to quickly take our blankets and
relocate to the bush for safety because there was a likely rebel attack at dawn. She
explained to us that she had a dream in which a departed family member urged her
to take the family to the bush for safety. In striving to live as a dependable spiritual
being, my grandma with sets of principles developed over time, took no chance.
She dashed us to safety in the bush amidst thick darkness with heavy clouds
hovering above – a clear sign of heavy rain about to touch the ground.
Grandmother strongly believed that respecting the voice of departed family
members as revealed in dreams was imperative in generating and sustaining the
family wellbeing.
To us the kids, relocating to spend the rest of the night in the bush was
impractical and we construed it as torment. However, given the situation of the
time and the need to obey the elders’ directives without question, we endured the
heavy storm in the thick dark foliage. We were trained at a very early age to take


the words and teachings of our parents and elders as wisdom; to challenge their
wisdom was sacrilegious. In agreement, Semali and Kincheloe (1999) state,
“Children are taught early that mothers and grandmothers are to be especially
honored and respected. Children are taught never to talk back to their parents, and
to respect their advice and suggestions” (p. 54). With these teachings deeply
rooted, the least we could do was to pick our blankets and follow in silence.
Indeed, as revealed in her dream, the rebel forces stormed in the morning at
about 5 am, leaving mayhem in a home already abandoned. They looted foodstuffs,
cooking utensils, beddings, goats, chickens etc and forced those abducted from
nearby villages to carry the loot to their camps. The confidence, esteem and
intimacy my grandmother had in the spirits of the ancestors enabled us to move to
safety without a scratch on our bodies. It is from this experience that I started
seeing my spirituality as not being limited to my catholic religious faith but, rather,
something broader; as Groen (2008) succinctly captured: “My spirituality is not
only internal to me but it involves a response to the world around me and is
directed toward a higher good. It is demonstrated in how I live my life and the
decisions I make as an individual, as a parent and as member of the broader
community” (p. 196). Based on this dream story and personal experience, I have
since realized my connectedness to the spiritual world and everything around me,
and my comprehension of spirituality as deeply rooted in my Acholi cultural
philosophy which has consciously been validated from generations to generations,
either through visions, dreams, orality and/or ceremonies.


I would like to draw attention to indigenous spirituality’s resilience from another

practical life experience. While in Uganda during the summer holiday of 2009, I
lived with my mother in our village called Pem, located 4 kilometers northwest of
Kitgum town, northern Uganda.
One such evening after our usual gathering and dinner, my mother decided to
brave the dark and spread out water harvesting utilities such as large saucepans,
buckets, basins, drums on the veranda to fetch rain water dropping from the iron
sheets roof. As my mother was getting back into the house, she noticed that a snake
had entered the house and was crawling towards the girls’ room which was open,
since the girls had just entered in. In panic, she engaged the serpent in a struggle to
force it out of the house. In the process, the poisonous serpent bit my mother on the
right thumb and disappeared in the dark.
Amongst the Acholi people, snakes are not enemies of mankind as the western
organized religion teaches. The fact that the snake had entered the house and was
crawling towards the girls’ room had many possible significances; it could have
brought a special message from the gods or ancestral spirits, it could also have
been that one of the departed family members had come back to visit those
members still in the physical world, or there could have been bad portent left in the
house by ill-intentioned neighbors and the serpent’s visit was for cleansing
purposes. All these were possible in the fact that the entry of the serpent into the
house was peaceful, but it only turned violent after confrontation.


With the hospital being 4 kilometres away and having no effective

transportation to rush her to the hospital that night, my mother directed us to tie her
elbow with a string to avert the flow of blood which would carry the venom into
her body. We then took her to a traditional healer in the nearby village who
released the tight string, rubbed the spot bitten by the snake and then gave my
mother a local herb to drink, which made her vomit. The native healer then said my
mother would be alright and that there was no need to take her to the hospital for
western medicine the following day because it would be a waste of money. One
week later after completing prescriptions from the traditional healer, we decided to
take her to the hospital for thorough medical examinations to ensure that the
serpent’s poison was cleared from her blood.
At the hospital, the medical doctor was furious with us for taking my mother to
a traditional healer. When we explained to him the reasons for our actions, he then
told us we should have brought her to the hospital the following day not wait a
week. He continued, and I quote verbatim, “how do you entrust the life of your
mother to scientifically untested traditional practices, what century are you living
in?” He even threatened not to examine my mother, since we showed more
confidence in the traditional healer; he later calmed down. When several laboratory
tests were later conducted on my mother, the results showed that there was no
venom in her blood. This surprised the doctor who eventually apologized for his
earlier comments but he maintained that local herbs are not good for our health
because they have no quantified dosages and hence, damage patient’s liver. With
this, I was astonished and left wondering why the professionals in the field of
western ways of healing and knowing do not want competition or coexistence with
the indigenous practices and knowledge systems that are constructive to society.
The colonial legacy has left the post-colonial society in mistrust and disunity, as
suggested by Wane (2009), “colonizers have applied different tools to accomplish
their colonizing agenda …. These divisive strategies led to fragmentation and
artificial hierarchies that generated discord and a crumbling of indigenous political
organization” (p. 163). Surprisingly however, for the traditional healer, he had no
problem with us going to see the western trained practitioner. The fact that he left
us with the liberty to visit the western trained medical doctors in case we had doubt
expresses willingness to have the indigenous healing systems coexist with other
multiple ways of healing on an equal ground, without demeaning the other. Their
focus is on restoration of good health to the individual facing imbalance and the
betterment of the society, in contrast to the western therapeutic approach that
focuses on monopoly, domination and, subjugation; as Shahjahan (2006)
acknowledges, “I have come to realize that I am surrounded by secular ideas that
do not affirm my way of life and instead they negate my history, spiritual world
views and ways of living. The so called ‘Western secular knowledge’ has been
threatening my history, upbringing and values” (p. 2).
With this life experience, I contend that, in the midst of the expansion of
Europeanization through economic globalization, which reached the most
periphery of the universe with brutal consequences for the native ways of knowing
and spirituality, there is urgent need to preserve the traditional practices, values and
beliefs systems. Among the Acholi, globalization has ushered in challenges, for


example, to the traditional healers who concentrate their time trying to make ends
meet in the modern world. Many traditional healers/spiritual practitioners in the
Acholi community are concurrently engaged in various paid and unpaid
occupations, combining roles as farmers, artisans, traders and traditional birth
attendants along with their healing specialties. I argue that, to compete on level
ground with Westernized healing practices and spiritual creed, the custodians of
Acholi indigenous healings and spirituality would greatly benefit from community
consciousness and acknowledgement of their work. This consciousness can be
raised through research in indigenous Acholi ways of life (Semali & Kincheloe
1999). Increased appreciation and, subsequently time, should increase their
competence and eliminate some of their exhaustion and toil due to unfair
competition from imposed foreign values. This is one way of promoting the
practice of spirituality in the community and academy, to embrace and help it
coexist with current dominant ways of beliefs and knowing, for the betterment of
Historically, traditional healers have controlled the world of the spirits in Acholi
community. These healers worked under the guidance of ancestral spirits. They
were specialized in divination and had the supremacy of custody. This supremacy
had three propositions: First, only individuals who belonged to families with
ancestral history of healings could work as healers. This was a very intellectual
way of combating quack healers from the real ones, since members of the
particular community knew families that had a history of healing. It was also on
this basis that we were able to quickly identify and take my mother to that
particular traditional healer whose specialty is on snake bites related accidents.
Second, during the healing of any affliction the patient did not have a voice. The
Acholi believe that by using the ancestral-spiritual guidance, the traditional healer
will disclose the cause of the ill-health or social problem and, with the devotion of
the patient/victims in question, the healer was capable of shifting the problem from
the body of the victim to either that of an animal or plant, before casting it out. This
lop-sided power relation between the healer and the client, reinforced by ancestral
spirits’ guidance, would enable the healer to disclose the concealed scope of the
problem at hand and define an intervention strategy to be followed.
However, the intervention strategy, or treatment plan as we may prefer to call it
in our contemporary time, cannot be discussed between the patient and healer. The
patient simply has to believe in whatever the healer is doing and not question how
the treatment works. Questioning the how, why, what, or when amounts to
doubting the authority and authenticity of the spirits or gods that evoke
healing/cleansing. Finally, these healing procedures concentrated a great deal of
power in the hands of the healers and their ancestral spirits, and the patient was
expected to take a submissive role. According to Dei (2002b), we cannot critically
comprehend the subject of spirituality without discussing the question of power
relations. Amongst the Acholi community, understanding of power-relations is
what subjects the patient to submissiveness during healing and/or cleansing
processes. However, we have to note that the objective of this power was primarily
for administration purpose and not for domination, subjugation or control. The
entire Acholi community understood it that way and never questioned or


challenged it. The power configurations were conceptualized in this way so that,
historically, even prominent political leaders such as ‘Rwot’, Acholi for chief,
would seek advice from the traditional healers on topical issues before consulting
his ministers/cabinet. These power relations are complex and not easily understood
from an outside perspective.


As seen in the earlier section of this chapter, even in our community today, the
balance of indigenous power relations and the true worth of indigenous spirituality
is threatened due to secularization and globalization of the society. Consequently,
producing objective knowledge with deep emphasis on student’s lived experiences,
as a starting point for holistic learning, has been highly problematic. Palmer (2003)
argues that, “students are taught long before they enter academe to resist any
questions concerning spiritual issues … our students are told from an early age that
school is no place to bring their question of meaning: take them home, to your
religious community, or to your therapist, but do not bring them to school. So
students learn, as a matter of survival, to keep their hearts hidden when in the
groves of academe” (p. 379). In my opinion, this is due to the inability of our
educational system to speak to our diversity and account for the complexity in the
world. Yet it is the role of the educational system to support and challenge the
diverse spiritual journeys of learners’ in order to foster their intellectual growth. In
most, if not all, communities in the contemporary times, individuals have different
views and belief systems regarding spirituality, although specific spiritual/religious
praxis connected to innate feelings do exist. These belief systems have not been
holistically reflected in our education system and it’s for this reason that I propose
the integration of elements of traditional values and spirituality, which have been
deliberately fragmented and left out of the education system. For this purpose, I
will focus my argument on what needs to be done in order to decolonize the
schooling system and make it inclusive to all learners without causing spirit injury.
To integrate spirituality in the education system, we need to acknowledge and
accept the influences of formal (colonial) education in causing spirit injury to
others. This is especially the case with regards to dominant organized religion
which has exploited the gaps in the education system. The influence of organized
religion, especially Western religion, contributed, to a large degree, to the
sinking/suppression of Indigenous spirituality. The spirit cannot be colonized but it
goes into dormant/inactive state whenever severely suppressed by negative forces,
thus the term “sinking”. Our ability to discuss spirituality in the education system
today is primarily due to the fact that the dormant/sunk spirits are slowly beginning
to wake up and reclaim their places. Education systems must work to foster and
nurture the spirit life, to allow for expression of various forms of spirituality.
I contend that a holistic approach towards the integration of spirituality in the
curriculum will involve every stake holder in the schooling system and use the
teachers as the entry point. Ethically, teaching practice is based on vital moral
principles such as confidentiality, justice, honesty, and humility among others. I
argue that the duty to respect privileged information about the learners’ inherent


core values and/or practices, which for my purpose is spirituality, and to have it co-
exist with the dominant organized faith, would be one way of reforming the
education system in a manner that reinforces spiritual growth of all learners,
without causing spirit injury for others. Language plays a very central role in the
inclusion and growth of spirituality in the education system. A people group whose
language is lost to negative foreign forces is at very high risk of losing their
cultural identity, which goes hand in hand with their spirituality. It is unfortunate
that the colonial type of education inherited by the colonized at independence still
disparages indigenous people’s language, culture and spiritual practices. Smith
(1999) argued that, by the nineteenth century, colonialism not only meant the
imposition of Western authority over indigenous lands, indigenous modes of
production, and indigenous law and governments, but the imposition of Western
authority over all aspects of indigenous knowledges, languages and cultures. A key
vehicle of this intellectual and cultural colonization was the education system,
which suppressed indigenous languages. Language is a powerful tool of cultural
and spiritual identity of a people and a way of relating with each other. Increasing
the awareness of teachers, through training and integration of indigenous languages
in the academy, is a vital development for learners to express themselves in ways
that make meaning to the self and translate their spirituality into actions.
Indigenous languages are an important way of integrating and maintaining
spirituality in education system.
For instance, Uganda, as a strategy to decolonize through the reclamation of
suppressed indigenous languages and spirituality, introduced thematic curriculum
as an educational reform in February 2007. Under this curriculum, pupils are
taught in their local languages from Primary one to Primary three and English,
which is the official language and a medium of instruction in education institutions
in Uganda, is taught as a single subject during this time. English then becomes the
medium of instruction from Primary four onwards. Superficially, one may be
misled to think that the new thematic curriculum is just about teaching learners
their native tongues. However, it’s also a holistic, innovative pedagogical approach
aimed at decolonizing students from the dominant colonial medium of instruction
that has suppressed their native language and spirituality since the colonial
encounter. As Wane (2009) succinctly argues, “Indigenous people know a large
part of the reason for the death of their languages lies in educational policies. There
were policies throughout the British and French colonies that prohibited the
colonized subjects from speaking their native language” (p. 164). This
decolonizing pedagogy provides room for teachers and the learners to get resources
from their immediate environment. The thematic curriculum is designed to reflect
the way young children identify with the world around them and the type of
knowledge and skills they need to acquire. Practically, this curriculum makes it
easier for learners to view the ways the knowledge they receive from educational
institutions is mirrored in their historical, cultural, and environmental settings. This
is part and parcel of spirituality.
Spirituality is not restricted to rituals or any form of worship but embodied in
everyone. “There is a form of local spiritual knowing that is connected to the land,
to the people, to ancestors, and to a community … individuals are traditionally


brought up to appreciate the community and to know that they live in land
bestowed unto them by their forbearer” (Dei, 2002a, p. 341). The integration of
spirituality in the education system, through the adoption of native language
curriculum, grounds the learners and aids them in linking the self to the
community, to his or her environment and to the ancestors who are believed to live
and guard their society.
For policy makers, catering the spiritual growth of the learners, teachers, parents
and the whole community would work towards de-Europeanizing the curriculum
and shift education away from the spiritual alienation that is deeply rooted in the
contemporary education system. In a recent work, Dei (2008) points out that “we
must indigenize our institutions” (p. 6). Education should integrate elements of
spirituality that have been fragmented and left out of the academy since
colonization, allowing them to reclaim their place for the transformation and
empowerment of learners in the current education system. Elsewhere, Dei (2002b)
supports this view with the assertions that, “my understanding of transformative
learning is that education should be able to resist oppression and domination by
strengthening the individual self and the collective souls to deal with continued
reproduction of colonial and re-colonial relations in the academy. It must also
assist the learner to deal with pervasive effects of imperial structures of the
academy on the processes of knowledge production and validation” (p. 1).


The above frameworks show that building a powerful decolonization tool through
the construction and maintenance of high-quality institutions that are pursuing the
common objectives of breaking loose from the chains of colonization, remains a
vital task for societies. Cultural value differences, religious difference, and
politico-ideological conflicts makes this task difficult though not impossible. Our
failure to admit that our knowledge is limited in regards to other societies has
hindered the goal of inclusive and transformative education, especially in places
like Uganda. We must also realize that the structures within societies and
educational systems propagate ideas that are subjective and benefit the dominant
groups that generate knowledge in that society. Anti-colonial theorists have
realized that the goals of Eurocentric ways of knowing are to dominate, disparage,
suppress and control the indigenous ways of knowing and, in the process, devalue
their spirituality. Unless we generate influential counter-forces that see this
domination, and the ensuing privileges, for what it actually is, indigenous
spirituality, as seen in the Acholi ways of knowing and healing, will be devalued to
the point of extinction.
For the integration of spirituality into the contemporary education system, the
concerted efforts of all educational stakeholders are vital. There must be a
commitment to overhaul the western educational structure in favour of holistic
learning. Ignoring spirituality and indigenous knowledge, which informs
indigenous people’s world view of flora and fauna, the environment and their
relationship to the spiritual world, is consequential. Integration of spirituality in the


academy is significant in addressing social differences both in the academy and

outside of it because spirituality is all encompassing.
Finally, we live in a world of complex realities and better education should
integrate this important aspect of our social identity, challenging the existing
binaries of civilized/uncivilized, colonizer/colonized, etc. As Fernandes (2003)
articulates, “if our politics and movements are to be able to fully challenge existing
structures of power and inequality they must also rest on a form of spiritual
transformation …. It requires a brutally honest, inward process of self-examination
to dispel the idealized self-images we carry around with us and provide the kind of
radical humility required to really manifest social justice in this world” (p.44). The
manifestation of social justice is possible with the recognition of spirituality in the
workplace, at home and in the academy.

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My spiritual journey was not just an ordinary journey. It was a challenging one
which I had wanted to take for a long time but, for reasons best known by the
spirits themselves, I have waited this long to undertake it. My ultimate goal in this
journey is to make a change in the way African spirituality is not only understood
but also respected by the education system. The education system in this case is not
only restricted to the school system but also includes universities and colleges,
which at the moment do not seem to appreciate the role of spirituality in the
academy. It is also important to note that any educational work which negates the
importance of family does a huge disservice to the intended recipients of that
effort. I will focus on the role played by my family unit in preparing me for this
important journey. Ignoring such a background will be truncating the whole
spiritual developmental process, which in most cases renders the whole concept of
spirituality either misunderstood or not appreciated at all. Before undertaking any
journey, let alone such an important journey encompassing all life sectors such as
spirituality one needs to acquire the tools of the trade. In the physical sense one
would need maps, food and water, basic medication, weather forecast and clear
expectations of the task at hand. During the spiritual journey, however, there is
need to create conducive intellectual and social environments where the different
stages of the journey are carefully parceled out in a nonthreatening and non
intimidating manner. There is nothing mystifying about spirituality.
In my journey I will be guided by the afrocentric theoretical framework because
I found that even if the temptation was great to use an anti-colonial framework, I
noticed that the concept of spirituality goes beyond anti-colonialism. While it
obviously builds on anti-colonialism, it is a notch higher than that. It is a
renaissance of cultural knowledge which needs a more determined approach than
just sentiments of colonial influence. Afrocenticity is not just a political agenda but
a survival means of the almost forgotten African culture
By the end of my journey, the following questions will have been covered: What
is spirituality? Why is it important to practice spirituality? When is it important to
introduce spirituality in the education system? How should it be introduced and by
whom? I will start with my own first steps in answering the first two questions;
what does spirituality mean to me and why is it important for me? I will be guided
by Afrocentric and indigenous knowledge approaches to my work.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 127–138.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.


Before embarking on this academic journey, it is necessary to outline my

discursive conceptual frameworks. Mazama (2002) asserts that Afrocentricity
cannot be reduced to an epistemological project and that it should not be
approached as an analytical tool. It is not just another academic discourse for the
academy, but a way of life for the African people. To be Afrocentric,
Mazama(2002) goes on to say is not a part-time affair but a serious undertaking.
Molefi Asante(1998) clarifies this further when he explains that Afrocentricity is
the recovery of African freedom and creativity. It must inform our approach to
everything. Afrocentricity’s goal is to liberate the African mind from oppression of
whatever kind. Oppression inflicted by colonialism, oppression introduced through
Christianity and Islam, oppression induced by poverty, oppression aimed at
obliterating African culture from the surface of the earth. It should, as Mazama
(2002) continues to describes it, be viewed as “an emancipator movement” and as a
tradition of African resistance to European oppression.
To justify using an Afrocentric framework and to situate oneself in indigenous
knowledge, we can again borrow from Mazama (2002, p. 219) when she says
“Afrocentricity is a perspective on the African experience that posits Africans as
subjects and agents, and which therefore demands grounding in African culture and
the worldview on which it rests.” It also presents a worldview that highlights
traditional African philosophical assumptions, which emphasize a holistic,
interdependent, and spiritual conception of people and their environment (Schiele,
2000). Spirituality is no doubt a part of African culture and I can comfortably say
the main pillar on which African culture derives its strength and there is no doubt
that an Afrocentric approach to spirituality can only amplify this point. Application
of an Afrocentric approach leads to a better understanding of African culture and,
more particularly, African philosophy which emphasizes the principle of the unity
of being (Mazama, 2002).
Waites (2009), in her article “Building on Strengths: Intergenerational Practice
with African American Families”, also states that

An Afrocentric, intergenerational solidarity approach that acknowledges the

family life cycle, as well as the values and traditions that have sustained
people of African descent, is a mechanism for promoting family closeness
and responsibility. Embracing the legacies and wisdom of past generations
and the hope and promise of the future is a framework for best practice. (pp.

This clearly demonstrates how the Afrocentric framework can bring to the surface
the sometimes forgotten or ignored African cultural practices, indigenous
knowledges, values and beliefs in the classroom. Thus, an Afrocentric paradigm
fits nicely with my take on spirituality because it affirms human capacities, family,
and cultural strengths and, at the same time, promotes intergenerational
connections which are the main concerns of spirituality.
It is common for scholars to appeal to an anti-colonial framework when
discussing any issues, which on the surface seem to have been caused by the


advent of colonialism in Africa. While it is not my wish or intention to under rate

the impact of colonialism on African culture, I am equally concerned that even
after so many years post-independence we still ‘cry’ for fair play from the former
colonial masters. For me, this is like a child crying for the moon to which the
parents assure the child that it will be coming tomorrow. We need to take the
responsibility of resuscitating our own culture into our own hands. It is not in the
slightest interest for former colonial powers to help the African people develop and
practice their own cultures. Through imperial mechanisms and world structures
like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, colonial practices
have continued albeit in a more sophisticated, more destructive and more deceiving
manner than it was during the actual colonizing era. Given this background it
makes more sense to concentrate on focusing our attention on indigenous
knowledge through the discursive tools of Afrocentric and indigenous frameworks.
Discussing the indigenous ecological knowledge in the Solomon Islands, Woodly
(2007) describes the Indigenous knowledge conceptual framework as incorporating
structural and organizational features of human ecosystem interaction and concepts
of space and time. She goes on to assert that:

Indigenous knowledge systems are manifold; there are thousands of

indigenous ways of knowing, all treasures and potentials of the survival of
humankind. But within this tremendous diversity of ways of knowing there
are commonalities of indigenous wisdoms – we love our land, we are not
separated from nature.14 (p. 7)

One big advantage of using this framework is that it forces one to be immersed in
this immense pool of indigenous culture without the distraction of colonial
considerations; important as they may be, they will not help in articulating
indigenous knowledges. It is unique to a particular culture and society. A World
Bank (1998) report on indigenous knowledge for development attributes the
knowledge as the “basis for local decision-making in agriculture, health, natural
resource management and other activities. Indigenous knowledge is embedded in
community practices, institutions, relationships and rituals. It is essentially tacit
knowledge that is not easily codifiable”. The aim of using these discursive
frameworks, is to increase the chances of tapping into this reservoir of cultural
knowledge. In my quest for finding my spirituality, I found the combination of
these two frameworks very handy.


I was raised up in a strictly Christian environment, baptized in the Dutch Reformed

Church run by colonial missionaries in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia following its
occupation by the Europeans led by Cecil John Rhodes). My early childhood was
with my maternal grandmother in the rural areas. This period from the age of three
to seven years was the period I was in contact with unadulterated indigenous

14 Retrieved March 14, 2010.


culture. Going back to my parents when I started school was disturbing to me. I
started practicing things I had never done before. My parents were strong believers
in Christian values and made sure that these values were passed on to all their
children. We prayed at every excusable occasion and during all meal times and
before we went to bed every member of the family had to say a prayer. I remember
once at a very tender age, we were made to pray for a sister to be born into the
family when my mother was pregnant, after having had four boys in a row. What
more could anchor the young mind’s belief system than the arrival of our little
sister after so much prayer? She arrived and provided vindication for the ‘boring’
prayer sessions our parents insisted on. She was baptized Evans (from the colonial
background) Nyaradzo (Shona name meaning the Lord has responded positively to
our cries). This Christian practice was not only restricted to the home environment.
My education was equally affected.
All my education up to high school was in the missionary environment and the
Christian values were the founding pillars of all activities and curricula in the
schools I attended. Little wonder when I raised my own family, I felt that my
children must embrace the same Christian values which I held. Christian
indoctrination was so deep that it was second nature to me. Even my choice of a
marriage partner was governed by my Christian values. Getting married by a
Catholic priest was the most I had aspired for in my Christian journey. But this
journey was not as rosy as it may sound. There was an obvious disconnect between
the Christian doctrine and the practices of those responsible for spreading it. The
settlers in Zimbabwe were so hard on the indigenous population and created
obvious barriers between the white population and the African communities.
This led to a bit of confusion for me during the war of liberation of my country.
This was the second attempt by the indigenous people of Zimbabwe to free
themselves from colonial domination. The guerilla war leaders (as they were
widely known), preached against the very foundation of my value and belief
system of Christianity. I was not sure if the new way of looking at life was meant
to replace the Christian religion. The guerilla leaders cited the Christian doctrine as
the sole factor responsible for perpetuating our continued suffering under the
colonial regime. Examples of this suffering were awash – from exploitation of our
labor to mental indoctrination of the unsuspecting mind, from denial of resources
to blatant racial discrimination. The leaders started appealing to our departed elders
as a source of power to free the nation from the white rule. I was forced to reorient
my belief system and got interested in knowing what African spirituality was all
about. Does it replace or does it complement my already grounded Christianity?


African spirituality is a difficult and sometimes misunderstood concept. Through

colonialism and through Christianity and Islam in particular, African spirituality
has been distorted, manipulated, misrepresented, discouraged and classified as
pagan. One wonders why the Creator allowed Africans to believe in their
understanding of spirituality for so many centuries only to be expected to discard it


upon foreign occupation. In trying to clarify his understanding of African

spirituality, van Binsbergen classifies it as:

time-honoured expressions of historical African religion such as prayers at

the village shrine; the wider conceptual context of such expression, including
African views of causality, sorcery, witchcraft, medicine, the order of the
visible and invisible world, and such concepts as the person, ancestors, gods,
spirits, nature, agency, guilt, responsibility, taboo, evil, not to forget the
ordering of time and space in terms of religious meaning; the expressions of
world religions in Africa, especially Islam and Christianity; the
accommodations between these various domains.15

All this however easily falls into the realm of African spirituality. The first major
step is to acknowledge and understand that African spirituality, unique in its own
way, complicated as it may seem, unappreciated even by its own people at times,
indeed exists and is as important a world view as any other type of spirituality. The
lessons from the freedom leaders helped to map my journey from this point
onwards. By appealing to our ancestral spirits, to my surprise things seemed to
work well for the struggle for freedom. It is from this point I started on a different
journey. I wanted to know more about our traditional way of worship and the role
of spirituality in my life and that of my children. That journey had to continue into
the academy. I needed informed information pertaining to spirituality and religion


To achieve this, I relied on the graduate course I took on spirituality and the vibrant
and sometimes overwhelming class discussions which were part of the course. The
careful selection of course materials provided sufficient ‘food’ for thought each
and every week. As has been noted above, spirituality is an elusive and sometimes
intimidating concept. It is not tangible nor can it be taken for granted in any
situation. Defining it does not make it any easier one has to fully experience it to
begin to understand and appreciate it. Bringing it into the academy has been taboo
especially for those academics who want to ritualize the concept under a
‘microscope’ to examine its merits for possible inclusion in the academic
repertoire. By extension, if it is not suitable as a university level discipline, how
can it fit in the high school curriculum? The academy is not quick to embrace
innovations, especially if they are construed as giving advantages to the usually
marginalized groups. Much like the way African Studies is trying to find its place
in the academic arena in North America, I foresee similar resistance for the
introduction of spirituality as part of its curriculum.
This chapter attempts to trace a spiritual journey for an aspiring academic who,
out of curiosity and possible wonder at some unexplainable happenings to him,
would like not just to demystify spirituality but also to render it comprehensible for
the school system. It is therefore both a reflection on my spiritual life and a

15 Retrieved March 14, 2010.


determined push for the introduction and maintenance of spiritual studies in the
school curriculum. Spirituality must stand out as a discipline of choice and help to
enhance afrocentricism.
This is my personal journey. It starts from early in my life when events and
happenings did not translate to spirituality for me up to this moment when I can
confidently discuss and explain spiritual phenomena. I will trace how I became
aware of my spiritual life; the distortions which were brought about by my
understanding of religion; the role played by religion in my understanding of
spirituality; and end up with its justification for inclusion both in the academy and
in school curricula.
Joining other fellow students in a Spirituality and Schooling course was not a
mean decision for me. I have often said to my fellow students that my aim of
joining a spirituality class was to reconcile with my belief system and learn to
understand spirituality as it impacts on my daily life. I had and, to some extent still,
have some unanswered questions regarding spirituality. But the spiritual radar is
now in place. My bearings are clear and my conviction and objectives are sound.
This spirituality course was more than an academic course for me. Itwas a roadmap
for tracing my spiritual life and redirecting it from an informed position to a truly
African perspective: A perspective one can be proud of; a perspective that makes
sense of my grandmother’s teachings; a perspective I can proudly share with
anybody; a perspective I would like the younger generations to benefit from.
The introductory lessons in this course were both exciting and frustrating for
me. Exciting because I was envisioning a well controlled environment where my
ignorance, or little knowledge I had, would be up for discussion and I could learn
from this. Exciting also because I was sure that at last my spiritual compass would
be pointing in the right direction and the confusion which had been haunting me
for the greater part of my life would be cleared. Frustrating because I felt that as a
class, we were taking too long to get to the crux of the matter. I wanted answers to
my questions ‘yesterday’ and they were not even forthcoming on the day!
Frustrating, because some of us initially seemed to view African spirituality in a
negative way.
I was however not aware that the introduction to spirituality needed careful
handling because rupturing a belief system which has been in place for a life time
is not easy. Fortunately the professor knew what she was doing and in no time I
bought into her program. The tentative and cautious approach to this subject, was
beginning to make sense. Spirituality is a concept which does not need to be rushed
into and I quickly realized it. Because of the inherent tension in the discussions on
spirituality, most lessons had the potential of being explosive and indeed there
were moments when some of us felt uncomfortable but we soon realized that it was
a price worth paying to understand the notion of spirituality. I soon realized that
my frustrations were baseless. The seemingly negative attitudes of some of my
fellow participants turned out to be their mode of frustration due to ignorance, the
same way I was. Soon the dust was cleared through our first reflections of the work
we had done that far.
This first reflection after about five weeks of classes was still full of unanswered
questions – the ones I had wanted to be answered very early in the course! The


only difference this time was that I was now more composed and had realized that
‘Rome was not built in a day.’ I still wanted to know what spirituality is; whether
spirituality is supernatural; how spirituality differs or relates to religion; whether
one can afford not to be spiritual; whether spirituality can be colonized or
decolonized for that matter; whether a spirit can go ‘under’ in times of problems
like during the time of slavery and colonialism and resurfaces when conditions are
conducive. These still remained obstacles in my quest for understanding
My spiritual journey had, however, started to gain momentum in our third week
of classes through class discussions and in particular through Portman & Garret’s
(2006) article on Native American Healing Traditions. This article showed me that
introspection and belief in oneself is important to understand the work of spiritual
powers. I had some knowledge of spiritual healing from my home village
(including experiences from my grandmother) where people with mental illnesses,
for example, were always referred for spiritual intervention as a remedy.
The only disturbing moment during this period was an article read in class about a
discussion in the British parliament on February 2, 1835 when Lord Macaulav
informed the ‘august’ house by saying:

I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one
person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this
country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we
would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this
nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose
that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the
Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their
own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will
become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.16

Their aim was to break the spirit of the Indian and that would make colonialism
easier. My reflections on these utterances in the British parliament about
‘conquering’ India were both nauseating and educational. How could a supposedly
civilized nation plot to destroy another nation in that manner? But this gave
momentum to my learning about the intentions of the colonizer to this present day.
Through this revelation, the rationale behind the treatment we got in my country
from the white settlers during colonial rule was clear. I began to realize that this
treatment was deliberate and aimed at ‘breaking’ our spirits. Undoubtedly, their
objective was met. Africa shies away from its own culture as a result of heavy and
spirited indoctrination. This information was an eye-opener and a source of
concern for what I was overlooking all along. I still needed to know more about
spirituality especially what my spiritual identity was.
Kiesling, Gwendolyn, Montgomery and Colwell (2006, p. 1269) gave me
theworking definition of spiritual identity I was dying for. They define spiritual
identity as “a persistent sense of self that addresses ultimate questions about the
Speech in the British parliament by Lord Macaulay in preparation of colonizing India.


nature, purpose and meaning of life resulting in behaviors that are consonant with
the individual’s core values.” This was reinforced by Cashwell, Bently and
Yarborough (2007, p. 140) who added that “spirituality is a way of life that affects
every moment of existence.” Cashwell, Bently and Yarborough’s article, resonated
well with me when I realized that, like what most people in Zimbabwe believe,
mental illness is best handled through spiritual healing. This is an exercise which
surprisingly has withstood the pressure of Christian teachings for the indigenous
people of Zimbabwe for instant and I want to believe in most parts of Africa as
well. Even the devout Christians believe that mental illness can only be treated
through appealing to the spiritual world. Cashwell, Bently and Yarborough (2007),
however, warn against the risk of over reliance on spirituality where counselors
may encourage what they term the bypass by “attending primarily to spiritual
issues rather than helping the client work more holistically to integrate spirituality
with work at the emotional, cognitive, physical and interpersonal levels” (p. 140).
Spiritual bypass, they go on to explain “occurs when a person attempts to heal
psychological wounds at the spirit level only, and avoids the important … work at
other levels” (p. 141). Healing, they argue only happens at five levels. Their model
suggests that to be wholly healed and holy, the healing work occurs at “the
spiritual, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and physical levels, with any one
domain receiving priority at any given time as the situation dictates” (p. 141).
Tisdell & Tolliver (2003, p. 368) go further in explaining spirituality by
discussing results of a study “examining the role of spirituality in developing a
positive cultural identity” among multicultural participants. Given the world as it is
today, with the emphasis on globalization, Tisdell and Tolliver’s article shows that
spirituality can be practiced even among multicultural settings. This piece of
literature has found a place in my tool kit and is now part of my spiritual repertoire.
In this article they cite David Abalos (1998) who argues that in order for social
transformation to occur “both individuals and cultural groups need to explore how
the mechanisms imposed by cultural hegemony and colonialism have affected their
faces: the personal face, the historical face, the political face, and the sacred face”
(p. 371). My ‘four faces’ have all been affected by my political, cultural, historical
and religious events in my life. I hope this journey is just but the beginning of a
rewarding transformation process for me.
African spiritual life is similar to what Turner (2000, p. 200) describes as the
spiritual life of Canadian Natives which is “founded on a belief in the fundamental
inter-connectedness of all natural things, all forms of life, with primary importance
being attached to the land, Mother Earth.” For these Canadian Natives, there is
always a basic sense of community or group which is in sharp contrast with most
other nations. For the African people, spirituality is a total way of life and, like the
Canadian Natives, it is also rooted in the direct experience of a Creator during
individual and group rituals (Turner, 2000). At this point my journey had been well
mapped out.
Mazama’s (2002) article in our tenth week of classes crowned it all for me. The
distinction between religion and spirituality became clearer and clearer.
Afrocentricity was well articulated and it left me with no doubt about where I stand
with my spirituality. I now understand the role of ancestors, other spirits and the


role of the Creator. Above all I now know my role in spirituality as well. I now
understand why Christianity was not good for Africa, especially the way it was
manipulated to support oppression of Africans. Christianity, per se, is just as good
as any other religion but it is unfortunate that the Christians allowed their religion
to be used as a tool for exploitation, as a reason for human massacre, as a vehicle
for forced occupations and as a brain washing doctrine for the unsuspecting
colonized people. For people who have experienced the negative impact of
Christianity the way I have, it feels good to condemn all that has to do with it even
if Christianity is just another religion like our own. In the case of the introduction
of Christianity in Africa, we must indeed blame the ‘messenger’. It was the
messenger who misrepresented Christianity and unfortunately the damage was
done beyond repair. Having said this, with the entire harsh environment imposed
by Christianity, we as Africans should not have compromised our spirituality as
well. It is important therefore to note that spirituality and religion are not
interchangeable terms, although for many people they appear inseparable. Shields
(2005) summarizes succinctly this distinction when she argues that:

Spirituality helps us to answer questions related to who we are and the

meaning of life – questions one might argue that are also at the heart of the
educational endeavor. Different religious traditions and other ways of seeking
“truth” (for example, through looking inward, looking to nature, or
meditation), are all expressions of our spirituality. For those who have chosen
to follow a particular religious tradition, the norms of that tradition will
inevitably represent the ways in which they have chosen to work out their
spirituality in the world. (p. 5)

The spiritual journey was rough and tough, exciting and challenging, intriguing and
eye-opening but, most importantly, very rewarding and worth taking. The fact that
it was happening at an academic institution, for me was very encouraging. Diverse
opinions from fellow classmates and faculty, together with their rich diverse
backgrounds, continue to make this journey bearable. The course was a better
indicator of more exciting events to follow. I look forward to the day when our
modern Africa will realize how spirituality and the religions of Africa can and
should only make life better for the African people. There is great work ahead for
those of us in the academy that are willing to make a difference in the way Africa
should and has to portray itself.
This journey allowed me to learn a number of things concerning spirituality. I
had to understand what a religion is first, so that I would appreciate its relationship
with spirituality, if any. I realized that African religions provide people with what
some scholars call a world-view. A world-view can be thought of as a system of
values, attitudes, and beliefs, which help people understand the world in which
they live and everyday events and occurrences. Unbeknown to me, my rural
upbringing had already installed this system in me. It is a system that an individual
learns from the time they are born, which provides a mechanism that influences
how they understand all that happens to them, their community and the world in
which they live. African indigenous religions also provide a system of morality that


establishes right from wrong, good and appropriate from bad or inappropriate
behavior – a system my grandmother instilled in me. I have also learnt that rituals
occupy an important role in keeping a community together. Rituals are cultural or
religious ceremonies that celebrate or commemorate specific events that have deep
religious significance. It is through these rituals that the community is kept in sync
with the Higher powers. Rituals are often associated with important human events:
birth, marriage, death, planting, and harvest.
I also learnt that, besides the Creator, there are also other gods in form of spirits.
There are good and bad spirits, there are human and nature spirits. Understanding
these differences is key to understanding spirituality. For spirituality to have the
desired impact on African lives, a well planned start has to be executed. Given the
degree to which most adult Africans have been detached from their natural belief
system, introducing African spirituality to children at a tender age can be both
counterproductive and meet determined resistance from parents and some religious
organizations. The natural starting point, given the degree of departure from
spiritual undertakings by the African people, should be the academy itself. I am
aware that these institutions of higher learning do not easily buy into innovative
suggestions, especially if these innovations are construed as possible threats to the
standing principles and practices of the institution. The fact that a course on
spirituality is offered as a credit course at a university is revolutionary in itself.
Academics, particularly those with the revival of African culture at heart, must
embrace this innovative venture and defend spirituality to be a course of choice at
any university in Africa or in the Diaspora. It is these institutions of higher learning
which are capable of conducting research work on African spirituality. Universities
have an advantage of being listened to by the public if they come up with
meaningful researched recommendations. They are also in a position of training
more people to help retrace, reclaim and rehabilitate this important piece of
indigenous knowledge called spirituality.
This way sufficient numbers of potential researchers and curriculum designers
will be trained in order to introduce spirituality in schools. There is need for good
research into African culture, of which spirituality is the main component, before
introducing it to younger generations. Besides the confusion which might arise if
spirituality is introduced in elementary schools, it could easily be introduced at a
more tender age in a more informal way through educating the parents and
guardians who will in turn pass this on to their children. Thus, my hard and long
journey does not allow me to recommend the introduction of formal spirituality
work at the elementary school level. Without proper civic education on the role of
spirituality and African spirituality in particular, the whole exercise could be
counterproductive. I recommend that it be introduced formally only from high
school onwards once the school system acquires a critical mass of educators who
understand spirituality and buy into the program. All teacher’s colleges should
however have a mandatory spirituality course in their curricula since all human life
is based on spirituality.



In conclusion I want to emphasize the importance of not only understanding

spirituality but also living it. It is in itself a mental energizer and a rewarding
practice. It is not a solitary journey because alone one is bound to miss some of the
turns and beacons on the road to full understanding and appreciating the value of
spiritual life. The road to the realization and practicing of African spirituality is,
however, full of cultural landmines and roadblocks, cultural landmines which were
planted through colonialism and still thrive to this day, courtesy of neo-colonial
attitudes, beliefs and practices by indigenous people themselves. Cultural
roadblocks which are in most cases, psychological and attitudinal, especially in the
case of the so called ‘enlightened’ Africans or people of African ancestry. The
indoctrination against African spirituality is so deep that today most African
people, particularly the so called educated, are nurturing and prompting the same
doctrines which destroyed our culture. We have become champions of foreign and
acquired doctrines at the expense of our natural and original way of life.
Now that I have arrived, I have to check out into the world of research and
education. In the processes I discover that I have lost some of my luggage.
Luggage of ignorance on what spirituality really is all about; luggage of the
confusion which I had about spirituality and religion; luggage of the suspicions I
had about advancing indigenous approaches to educational research and above all
the luggage of doubt, doubting whether I was pursuing a good trajectory in my
academic life.
To my surprise all this lost luggage was replaced by my discovery of priceless
treasures. Treasure of spiritual satisfaction; treasure of experiencing a sense of
connectedness with my departed, with nature, with my history, with family, with
other human beings; treasure of understanding that like a ball game you cannot
play alone – spirituality is teamwork not only with the living but also with what
Mazama (2002 ) calls the ‘living dead’ and the environment. For the team to play
well as a team member you have to be willing to participate meaningfully; you
have to develop trust with other members and also with the environment the game
is being played in; you have to love your teammates and love what you do and in
the process you have to be considerate and unselfish with everybody including
those in opposition to you. Fortunately this holds true in most cultures.
If African culture is to resurrect, it has to start with the academy. We need to
walk the talk. We need to practice what we research and recommend. Through
spirituality our culture falls into place but it is not a small task. The journey to
cultural freedom through spirituality can be a daunting task if not done properly. It
is a collective responsibility for the home, the school and the academy. Denying
our young generations the beauty of spirituality is tantamount to colonizing our
children’s minds and in the process making their spiritual journeys harder and
harder. Parents must start instilling a pride of indigenous culture into their children;
elementary teachers and administrators must introduce spirituality in an informal
way which makes it natural for the receptive mind to absorb; high schools must
provide formal spirituality teaching; and the universities, beside researching and
offering spirituality courses must ‘walk the talk’. With concerted effort and willing


open minds, African culture can be reborn and spirituality should be the vehicle of
choice on this journey, not only for individuals but for the whole of Africa as well.
In summary this is what this chapter is asking you the reader to do. Be a team
player in the education of our citizens. Be a ‘spirited’ researcher, informed teacher,
forward looking faculty member, pragmatic educational administrator, innovative
educational policy maker and be a student who is always willing to learn other
ways of knowing. The best start is for you to take the journey yourself because the
experience will equip you with the tool kit you will need in your spiritual life.
Welcome aboard. Aluta continua!

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The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white
man. A Negro behaves differently with a white man and with another Negro. That
this self division is a direct result of colonialist subjugation is beyond question.
(Fanon, 1967, p. 17)


Today, just as yesterday, we are forced to alter or abandon our Indigenous names.
We are told that they are residuals of the “old country” and it is now time to
embrace the Eurocentric cultural capital that accompanies Canadian life.
Why do we change our names upon arrival to Canada? How can we consider
renaming to be a process of de-spiritualization? If names are given to us through
ceremony and denote a distinctive spiritual character, then what is lost when we
change them? In answering these questions I will draw links between the pressures
on Indigenous peoples to assume Anglicized names today, and similar historical
accounts as experienced under residential schooling and African enslavement.
More broadly, this chapter will use both Anti-Racist and Indigenous Knowledges
frameworks to critically explore the naming crisis amongst Indigenous peoples in
Canadian classrooms and society; with the term “Indigenous” denoting not just
First Nations peoples, but other racialized bodies as well. In an effort to value the
knowledge gained through lived experience, I will make use of my own
experiences as an Indigenous body to shed light on the intersections of racism,
cultural assimilation, renaming, and spirit injury.
The next section will provide readers with my personal location, objectives, and
key questions in relation to the topic. The sections that follow will begin by
outlining the various pressures we encounter to change our names, and the spiritual
implications on the individual and community levels. To close the chapter I will
use the Tigrinya naming ceremony to exemplify the importance of naming
traditions in the African context.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 139–156.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.


Growing up in Toronto is a tough task for any black youth, in spite of class, faith,
sex or gender. We are all faced with the long walk of trying to make sense of our
place in Canadian society. My childhood was no different. I was raised on the
fringes of two opposing realities, being encouraged by my parents to both embrace
my Eritrean identity at home and fighting for my stake in the national identity
outside of it. Looking back, even as a child, I noticed the tensions between the two.
I felt it in the way white kids laughed at me for packing injera for lunch: a stew-
based dish indigenous to the Horn of Africa that is meant to be eaten by hand. Just
as I felt it when my mom dropped me off on the first day of my short-lived hockey
career, where I was called a “nigger” within half an hour of arriving. These
experiences made me feel small and devalued. They made me question my
heritage. They introduced me to feelings of embarrassment so sharp that my
stomach would turn with nausea.
In order to better cope with not fitting in, I allowed parts of my Eritreaness to
slip away – piece by piece. Often times, teachers and other students would ridicule
and bastardize my name until it morphed into “Armond”. I would not correct them
because I thought it sounded slightly more Anglo than my actual name. Instead I
felt complimented at the sound of it, relieved by their ease in pronouncing it. More
of these contradictions would follow until I developed two distinct Selves, one for
home and another for school. The two even had different aspirations, pleasures and
characteristics. One was expected to be funnier and more entertaining. The other
was more compassionate and generous. Over time my two Selves were perfected,
and I had the ability to transition in and out of characters when necessary.
By the time I reached junior high my double-life was starting to weigh heavily
on my notions of wholeness, integrity and truth. To the point where if I ran into
someone I did not remember, I would first figure out whether they knew me as
“Aman” or “Armond” before performing for them. W.E.B. Dubois (1994) was one
of the first people to speak of this duality of performance in his essay Of Our
Spiritual Strivings. In the essay, Dubois makes reference to his theory of “double
consciousness“, or the idea that blacks who live in the white world (in his case
America) are constantly negotiating two distinct selves. The first Self is informed
by a black experience that views blackness as a source of pride, history, and
ontological validity. Within this understanding, the black soul is able to view itself
for what it is. The point of conflict comes from a second more contradictory view
of the black Self. It is the curse of “second sight” that allows blacks the ability to
view themselves in and through the white world’s racist construction of them,
resulting in trauma and self loathing. Within this understanding, blacks take on the
racist stereotypes that position them as primitive objects in relation to white
modernity, rationality and subjecthood. This idea would later be expanded upon by
Fanon and, to some degree, Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow spirit.
In recent years, Dubois has provided me a language to make sense of my
previous experiences. When I transitioned in and out of my performative roles (as
represented by my two names), I lost touch with my authentic Self. I became
frightened of the pressures to perform these roles to perfection. Those feelings of


fright eventually evolved into more dangerous feelings of anxiety. As Dubois

(1994) explains it, for blacks who experience this, their quest becomes to settle
their spirit, and “to merge [their] double self into a better and truer self” (p.5).
Dubois analogized the process of settling our spirit as seeing beyond the veil; with
the veil representing the totalizing nature of European cultural hegemony, and the
historical attempt by whites to prevent us from seeing beyond it.
It would only be during my high school years that I cultivated a sense of pride in
my Eritreaness. Ironically enough, it was through the continued brunt of racism
that I found the strength to fight back, finally being able to see through the mirage
of Canadian integration that I had been chasing for so long. Today, I no longer
desire to take part in celebrating an identity that, on one hand, asks me to shed my
color for a Canadianess that professes to see beyond race and, on the other hand,
uses my color as a marker to detect and oppress me. Coming to this realization, I
now view my previous double consciousness as a sort of cultural schizophrenia, no
doubt caused by the pains of Canadian racism and “colonial subjugation” as Fanon
(1967) put it.
In recalling such painful memories, I also wonder how spirituality and
indigeneity fits into all of this. What kinds of spirit injuries were inflicted as a
result of my renamed and divided Self? How did my spirit recover from the
constant denials of my indigeneity? Or is it even possible to fully heal these
More than anything I now realize the significance of naming in regards to
spiritual identity. The ways in which we choose to name and identify ourselves
often require incredible courage, spiritual strength, and recognition of how these
identifications are politicized. Some may think that our authentic Self is something
that is guarded and personal but I have come to believe that it is not. As African
people, our spiritual core is under question and attack by imposing cultures that
seek to deny, omit and disfigure it, those who want us to believe in its ugliness.
Over the years I have met other racialized peoples who share in my experience,
who were also forced to shed their Indigenous names in the name of integration.
Although I have a particular interest in understanding the effects of renaming on
the African spirit, it is important to acknowledge the similar ways in which
racialized Canadians are told we do not belong.


For many Indigenous people like myself, whose families immigrated to Canada
within recent generations, the adoption of an Anglo-friendly name is the first step
in their submission to European cultural hegemony. Sometimes it is a matter of
simply translating one’s Biblical name to its Anglicized pronunciation. Other times
one selects an Anglo name with no relation or historical resonance with their own
culture. I have personally witnessed the abrupt transformation. Within months of
arriving “Davindra” becomes “David”, “Mengistu” becomes “Mike”, “Shilpy”
becomes “Sheila” and “Jien Shen” becomes “Jimmy”. In attempts to distance
ourselves from our Indigenous histories and cultures, we seek out names that hide
the obviousness of our Otherness.


The act of renaming should be regarded as a negation of our heritage, a decisive

denial of who we were up to that point of departure. In the words of Arnold Itwaru,
a Toronto-based critic of Canadian racism and national consciousness, when
Indigenous peoples immigrate to Canada they face extreme pressures to negate
their core values, moral codes, and cultural knowledges. As the foremost marker of
their indigeneity, it then becomes necessary to drop their names for new ones.
Ksonzek and Itwaru conclude that the Indigenous body’s renaming of itself is
symptomatic of:

hostility to yourself, a negation which works to negate you … The negation

of you is the destruction of you. It is where you disappear. The assimilated
immigrant. In the history of my experience this action of negation, the
making of the subordinate subject, was my being torn between love of self
and hatred of self, in which disliking me, disrespecting who I thought I was,
tended to be stronger. (Ksonzek & Itwaru, 1994, p. 15)

Itwaru’s reflections are heavily influenced by Fred Case’s groundbreaking work

around racism and national consciousness. Case studied the relationship between
Canadian assimilation practices and the de-indigenization of the immigrant or as
Case prefers to term it, “racialized“ body. Upon his own move to Canada in the
1960s the Afro-Guyanese scholar found that “prevailing attitudes force the
immigrant to seek acceptance at any price … Individuals change their names, give
themselves new origins and cultivate, in a caricatural manner, traits that they
associate with Canada” (Case, 1977, p. 57). Simply put, the racialized immigrant
transforms their being: mind, body and spirit.
At its core, our adoption of European names is an admission of our inferiority in
the face of “New World” whiteness, an embarrassed dismissal of our Indigenous
heritage as being backward in its difference. For many African newcomers in
particular, who are beaten down by the double oppression of anti-Black racism and
anti-immigrant sentiments, it is too hard to withstand the pressures to take a
“Canadian name”. In other cases, our embrace of European monikers may have
occurred in our former countries where we were born (or theologically reborn)
with titles of universal familiarity, thanks to centuries of European colonialism,
Christian “civilizing” missions and the imperial nature of North American popular
Needless to say, one’s renaming is symbolic of the broader assimilation process
at work. It is a rite of passage that seeks to alienate the Indigenous body from itself,
at the same time redressing it with Eurocentric thinking and aesthetic and setting
the course of assimilation towards the valorization of whiteness as the optimum
national identity. Whiteness becomes the focal point of national culture and
identity, serving as both its innovator and arbiter. Everyone else exists in a cultural
periphery. Meanwhile, government and much of white society tell us to be content
with our half-caste status; and so I remain not fully African and not quite Canadian,
but “African-Canadian”. As a result, we are prevented from laying claim to any
sense of wholeness (Case, 1977, p. 18). Frances Henry and Carol Tator elaborate


that “in the struggle over national identity, the dominant culture is reluctant to
include identities of ‘others’ that it has constructed, perpetuated, and used to its
advantage” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 29).
In many cases, the political and cultural reality facing Indigenous peoples once
they arrive contradicts the multicultural ideals that initially lured them to Canada. I
often witnessed this working in a Toronto not-for-profit organization as an
employment counselor. I can recount numerous instances where Indigenous clients
changed or Anglicized their name appeared on their resume. When I would ask
them why they changed it, they explained that appearing white on a resume is the
most effective way of securing employment. If they did not hide who they were
they would be discriminated against for having an “ethnic” name. When I
continued to ask if it was worth changing who they were for the sake of securing
employment, they would usually respond along the lines of, “It hurts to deny who I
am, but it hurts more to not have a job”.
It seems fitting to share a particularly memorable experience. Few years back I
was approached by a middle-aged client named Mohammad. Mohammad, who was
a foreign-trained engineer from Libya, was applying for survival jobs outside his
profession. As a newcomer from Africa, he had long been experiencing extreme
occupational racism and was having trouble finding work in his field. He took to
cleaning floors in libraries and other cash jobs to make ends meet. Remarkably,
just prior to our conversation, Mohammad had interviewed with a successful
company to work as an engineer. It was his first opportunity to do so in years. The
job paid well and desperately needed the services of a man of his qualification.
There was, however, a catch he was not prepared for. The company had cautioned
Mohammad that they wanted to avoid clashes in the workplace at all costs. It was
made obvious to him that by “clashes” they meant obvious cultural differences. In
order to make himself appear more willing to assimilate into the company’s
WASPy environment, Mohammed was preparing to legally change his name to
“John”. The problem, as he explained it to me, was that although he was likely to
land the job his spirit was becoming increasingly disjointed from his environment.
As a dedicated Muslim, Mohammad prided himself on the sanctity of his
naming. His name was a proud declaration of his faith. The name “Mohammad” is
a transliteration of an Arabic name from the root H-M-D (“praise”). It is likely the
most widely adopted name in the world and a means of connecting Muslims across
different geographies, languages and cultural practices. For Mohammad, it
provided a historical rootedness that coupled his spirit to those before him. On the
other hand, as an African newcomer struggling to succeed in a hostile environment,
he believed renaming to be a logical way to send the right message to employers: I
am prepared to hide my faith for work. In the end, Mohammad was not chosen for
the position, and although he never changed it legally, he continues to use the name
“John” on resumes.
Similar to Mohammad, many Indigenous clients have shared with me their fears
of being seen as a source of “clash”. Many of them specifically mention their
names as reasons for discrimination. Changing their names becomes appealing
because it can bring them that much closer to whiteness. The benefit of whiteness,
as we often see it, is that it is accustomed to feeling omnipotent through its


invisibility, to feeling entitled to choose who encircles it, and is privileged to move
in and out of those circles as it pleases. There is a “noticeability of the arrival of
some bodies more than others”, where by non-white bodies are seen as remarkably
more alien than white ones, who – even when alone in the room full of Others –
may still feel entitled to claim space (Ahmed, 2007, p.150). Just as whiteness
remains invisible through the normality of its naming (i.e. “Jack”, “Jill”, “Mark”,
“Mary”) we are constantly reminded that our names are awkward and hard to
pronounce. They are foreign. They are too long. They sound as dirty as we look.
They make us spit when we speak them. They make us too visible.
According to many committed multiculturalists – those naïve individuals who
stand by the failed policy even as it withers on its theoretical death bed –
Mohammad’s story is not reflective of the popular immigrant experience. They
religiously quote the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988) to prove their point,
claiming that in all its universal tolerance and progression, the historic act makes
ample room for inter-cultural differences in the Canadian mosaic. Let us take some
time to briefly explore and debunk the myth of multiculturalism. We can start by
outlining a clearer understanding of the policy.
Henry and Tator define multiculturalism as “an ideology that holds that racial,
cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity is an integral, beneficial, and necessary
part of Canadian society and identity” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 351). This
definition sums up how the policy is paraded by government. Ella Shohat provides
us with a more on-the-ground understanding. She explains that the ideology
“designates official, largely cosmetic government programs… designed to placate
the Quebecois, Native Canadians, Blacks, and Asians”(Shohat & Stam, 1994, p.
47). Consequently, multiculturalism becomes a cloak, abused by both government
and dominant society to hide the nation’s racist and exclusionary traditions.
Mackey points out that such “liberal principles are the very language and
conceptual framework through which intolerance and exclusion are enabled,
reinforced, defined and defended” (qtd. in Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 30). Canadian
neo-liberalism then seeks refuge from such criticisms in its rather utopian language
of “equity”, “tolerance” and “diversity”. It tells us that it is okay to keep the names,
languages and other cultural reminders of our former homelands. The obvious
problem here is that such positivist language focuses on the end rather than means
of racial and cultural cooperation. In an ironic cooptation of the language of
resistance, equity-focused policies become used to decorate the hallways of
institutions that are still racist. Meanwhile, no real structural changes are made to
Canadian institutions or social systems. Critical interrogations of white privilege,
Euro-Canadian cultural hegemony and other power imbalances are not pursued.
While multiculturalist rhetoric floats in an idealistic and largely uncontested
theoretical space, there remain very real political pressures on-the-ground for
Indigenous peoples to assimilate. Not the least of which being, the changing of our




Most of the literature on spirituality and schooling has been focused on creative
ways of integrating spiritual practices with curriculum (Shahjahan, 2006, p.3). It
also becomes important to recognize the Canadian school system as a primary site
and tool of de-spiritualization. Within our elementary, middle, and high schools,
Indigenous youth with non-Anglo names are targeted in humiliation rituals.
I can still remember mornings in my grade ten classroom as my teacher read the
attendance. Almost every day for the first few weeks of class my name was read
with a stutter, raised eyebrow, chuckle or wisecrack about how “exotic” it was. In
hindsight, these were clear instances of spirit injury. I was indeed made to feel de-
humanized, reduced to an object of curious observation. Of course, how can one be
recognized as having a human spirit if they are not first recognized as human?
I distinctly recall how my teacher would follow my name with a pause, silently
inviting the class to become spectators in my humiliation, isolating my name as the
one oddity on a list of Jacks and Jills. My isolation further worked to undermine
my citizenship of that space, since my “exotic” name made me a perpetual visitor
to the classroom instead of its rightful occupant. No matter how many times I
reminded people that I was born in Canada, they still asked, “Where’s that name
from?! Where do you really come from?” My name was only indicative of the
broader problem. It marked my difference. In this case, difference was seen as a
deficiency. Even in the eyes of my teacher I was perceived as coming from a
devalued language, culture and worldview. In turn, I was less capable of grasping
the ‘gift’ of Western knowledge. If our names are rooted in particular languages
and language itself is a host to distinct worldviews, then we must consider attacks
on our names as attacks on those same worldviews. As Phillipson (1997) puts it:

Education is a vital site for social and linguistic reproduction, the inculcation
of relevant knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and therefore particularly central
in processes of linguistic hierarchisation. (p. 238)

It was my placement at the bottom of the classroom hierarchy that paralysed my

sense of self, and detracted from my ability to perform in school. This problem
was, fundamentally, a question of spiritual well being. If a healthy spirit is
characterized by one’s confidence in their abilities then my spiritual health was
under duress. My sense of confidence was being displaced by feelings of anxiety,
embarrassment, helplessness and a general resentment toward the process of
learning. All of which caused me great stress. My stress was then compounded
each day by the fact that teachers did not seem to notice or care. Instead I suffered
in silence, trying hard to hide my wounded spirit from others. Not wanting to be a
burden. Not wanting to show my classmates that I too realized that I was different.
It is clear to me now that racism and spirit injury were interlocking with one
another. Black students and educators were grossly underrepresented in my school.
So when I was pushed to the margins of classroom learning, I found myself alone.
During these encounters of racism and spirit injury, when we cannot see ourselves
reflected in those around us, we become self aware of our being. The former


ultimately effects the latter. If racism was the cause of my problem then spirit
injury was its consequence.
And yet, the creative power of black spirituality is that it finds ways to prevent,
resist and overcome spiritual discomfort. We become trained through years of
growing up ‘behind enemy lines’ to cope with our discomfort, to smile and laugh
in the face of it, and to work and raise families within it. We make a friend out of
discomfort. It is a friendship that allows us to sit in a room full of whites and come
to terms with our isolation. It is not that we no longer feel its pain or resist it but,
rather, we have learned how to navigate it.
By high school I found the confidence to navigate my surroundings. I also found
the confidence to reaffirm the pronunciation of my name in the face of its
mutilation. I did, however, have to deal with a different problem. The constant
defending of my name made others view me as a resister. I became troped as the
“angry black man” who did not like to have his name mistaken. In the classroom in
particular, I faced accusations of being an “ungrateful immigrant” who stubbornly
resisted assimilation. The ways in which Indigenous students resist mutilations of
their name should not go unnoticed. The frustrated exhaustion of constantly
correcting the pronunciation of our names is captured in Katalin Szepesi’s poem,
Hello … My Name Is …

Longing for it
not to happen
And what’s your name?
Wrinkled nose, puzzled eyes.
I must repeat.
Spelling not helpful.
Nationality then requested
to excuse the unintended butchery.
Comparing my identity
to objects and places
for the sake of memory
Next, considered interesting, different
and sometimes pretty.
Last name not attempted.
Too difficult, not necessary. (Szepesi, 2001, p. 35)

The classroom is a location of hazing and trauma for many minoritized bodies.
Punjabi feminist Anurita Baines recalls her elementary school environment as the
site of her forced assimilation. As a child travelling to Canada from India, her
parents adapted her name to prepare her for school. Anurita recalls:

I am enrolled in school and registered as Anne, an anglicized version of my

name. This, I am told, will save me from embarrassment in the classroom
when my name is called during attendance-taking. (Baines, 1997, p. 28)


Again in Anurita’s case, we see attendance-taking as a ritualized, communal

humiliation tactic. One used by predominantly white educators to remind students
of who does and does not belong in public spaces of learning. It was only when she
adopted a “normal-sounding” name that Anurita made friends to play with and
became more tolerated in the classroom. She reflects on her renaming as a
necessary baptism conducted by the Canadian school system. Her experience is not
dissimilar from what I experienced in my balancing act between “Aman” and
“Armond”, during which time I experienced a severe spiritual stress, one that
prevented me from comfortably interacting with others for fear that they would
discover my secret. Luis M. Aguiar (2001) calls this the “imposter syndrome”, a
feeling of deep psychological anxiety often felt by African students when they are
made to feel disconnected from their communities in and outside of school (p.
According to Mambo Ama Mazama (2002), the comfort of feeling connected – or
the “fundamental unity of all that exists” – is the most important philosophical
principle of African spiritualities (p.219). It is necessary for the African spirit to
recognize and nurture its interconnectedness to the life forms around it; moving as
one cog in a universal whole. The question should then be asked, what happens
when the racism of our Canadian classrooms sever the African spirit from its
surroundings? Or as Dona Richards (1990) frames the question, “What happens
when a people are forced to live (survive) within a culture based on a world view
which is oppressive to their ethos?” (p. 209). In such cases we see that the African
spirit – much like the African body – becomes isolated. It becomes removed from
the common spirit of the school community. At the same time we are taught to feel
shame and judgment towards our Indigenous community leading to the “imposter
syndrome” that Aguiar speaks of.
It may be easier for us to understand the relationship between renaming and
spiritual disconnection through Jung’s concept of the shadow spirit. When we
assume different names and personas in different spaces our wholeness becomes
threatened. He believed our spirit’s shadow side to embody “everything that the
subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet (which) is always thrusting
itself upon him directly or indirectly” (Earl, 2001, p. 285). In cases of renaming we
are refusing to acknowledge our indigeneity as represented by our names. We are
chasing the mirage of Canadian integration through the becoming of “Armonds”
and “Jimmys”, trying hard to segregate or suppress our double-existence as
“Aman” and “Jien Shen” in other spaces.
What is the cost of splitting our spirit in two? “The inevitable cost … is that the
journey to the self involves us in being ‘crucified on the poles of the opposites’”
(Earl, 2001, p. 285). In other words, there is a necessary moment in which we need
to confront our contradictions en route to understanding our authentic Self. It
becomes necessary for us to deal with our shadow side or second sight, to confront
the divergence between whom we actually are and who we fantasize being.
Some say the shadow side of our spirit is a natural and inevitable existence in
oneself. I disagree. The shadow represents our tendency to live our lives
dishonestly. As a result, there is a need to constantly interrogate our fears, hatreds


and insecurities in our pursuit of living a whole, connected and honest life. As Jung
puts it, “one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by
making the darkness conscious” (qtd. In Earl, 2001, p. 285). Although notions of
the shadow are steeped in Christian notions of bright/good and dark/evil binaries,
the concept is still useful in exploring questions of spiritual dualism.
It should also be asked, how do white students experience these classroom
humiliation rituals? Do they gain or lose anything in becoming witnesses to the
teasing and Othering of our names? Fanonnian analysis becomes useful here: “the
feeling of inferiority of the colonized is the correlative to the European’s feeling of
superiority” (Fanon, 1967, p. 93). In other words, as we grasp to find ourselves in
the spiritual tug-of-war between our shadow and authentic Selves, the white bodies
around us are reified as being whole. If our identities and spirits are indeed
understood as relational entities, then it can be argued that, through the spiritual
confusion of the dominated, the dominant spirit is reaffirmed as being both central
and whole. Looking back, I see this relationship in my own experiences. While
baring injurious humiliation during attendance-taking, the white bodies around me
were reaffirmed as the cultural-spiritual norm. They were made to feel comfortable
and connected to the classroom space. In essence, they experienced the same
“unity of being” that Mazama speaks of – at my expense.
It is necessary to consider such issues of school-based assimilation, renaming
and spirit injury in historical terms. Cultural pressures on Indigenous students to
rename themselves today are no different than those experienced by First Nations
people during residential schooling.
Residential schools operated with government backing between the mid 1800s
and 1988, reaching a peak in 1931 with over eighty schools across Canada (Crey &
Fournier, 1997; Grant, 1996). In more than one hundred years of existence, the
schools were assimilation centers to over one third of the country’s First Nations
population. White school administrators realized the most effective way to do this
was through the de-spiritualization of the Indigenous body, or as Fournier and Crey
phrase it, “killing the Indian in the child” (Crey & Fournier, 1997, p. 47).
Government and Church united in a common vision for the schools. They were to
become factories of cultural transplantation. Resistant, godless “savages” were to
go in, and along the conveyer belt of European civilization they would emerge
obedient, Christian subjects. It was common practice that “as soon as children
entered school, their traditional long hair was shorn or shaved off; they were
assigned a number and an English name and warned not to let a word of their
language pass their lips” (Crey & Fournier, 1997, p. 57). The prohibiting of
Indigenous languages was especially painful for students, since it is through one’s
native language that they “come to know, represent, name, and act upon the world”
(Wane, 2009, p. 164). To take away one’s name, which has considerable meaning
associated with time, space and ancestorship in First Nations cultures, worked to
further injure the student’s spirit. Along with arbitrarily selected European names,
students were referred to as “six”, “nine”, “forty two” and so forth. The numbering
of students only accentuated their sub-human status, while also robbing them of
their distinctiveness.


Baptizing First Nations children with new Biblical names intended to create a
spiritual disorientation of sorts, to erase the foremost reminder of the child’s life
prior to residential schooling. However, receiving a Christian name did not exempt
children from continued tortures. In the eyes of school masters, to rename the
Indigenous body was to transform it from subject to object. As objects they were
deemed less than human, spiritless vessels that deserved the abuse they received.
For example, a clear correlation can be drawn between the renamings and rampant
sexual abuse that occurred in residential schools. Former Co-Chair of the B.C. First
Nations Summit, Danny Watts, recalls the sadistic combination of sexual
exploitation and religious evangelism that was “shoved down his throat” as a child:

Of course he began by praying to the Lord. Then he proceeded to take my

pants off, and then his own pants, and he would have an erection, and he’d
lay behind me. And simulate sex, and have a climax. It was bad enough that
this man was doing this to an eleven-year-old boy. What made it even worse
was he used to make me kneel and ask for forgiveness. We’d do this bullshit
about, oh Lord we’ve sinned, and please forgive us. What did I do? I was just
a young boy being manipulated by this old man. (qtd, in Fournier & Crey,
1997, p. 120)

More than anything Watts describes the blend of spiritual and sexual abuse as
“violence to your soul, to have this Christianity shit pushed down your throat, to
have to pray before you eat and pray before you go to bed. And pray after some
guy is trying to shove his prick up your ass” (Fournier & Crey, 1997, p. 120).
Although deeply disturbing, stories like Watts’ should not go unmentioned. Some
researchers estimate that roughly 85 percent of the victims, resisters and survivors
of residential schools experienced similar torture (Fournier & Crey, 1997). That
being said, the culture of spiritual and sexual abuse in residential schools was
widely known and resisted by the First Nations. This led many to break free from
or dodge school recruitment. As late as 1951, eight out of every twenty First
Nations people over the age of five possessed no formal schooling as a result
(Graveline, 1998).
Of importance here is the fact that it was first necessary to de-humanize and de-
spiritualize the Indigenous body before it could be recreated in the image of its
colonial creator. As mentioned before, the children’s renaming was central to this
de-spiritualization. They needed to first be distanced from the meaningful
associations of their Cree, Cayuga, Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Algonquin,
Mi’kmaq, Iroquois, Wyandot etc. names. Names gave them life and spiritual
meaning. They were chosen from ancestral places, stories, life forms or spiritual
principles representative of the newborn’s character. Amongst the Mi’kmaq in
particular – who originate from Canada’s Atlantic Provinces and Gaspe Peninsula
of Quebec – an individual’s name holds a sacred knowledge within it that is passed
down from the Creator. It is a peaceful knowledge that should not be desecrated or
replaced. The Mi’kmaq language as a whole is not to be used for cursing or
belligerence. Instead, English is used as the language of aggression and negativity
(Joe & Choyce, 1997). We see the same treatment of naming amongst the Tlingit


people of the Alaskan Pacific coast. The Tlingit naming ceremony is considered a
process of ancestral embodiment. Tlingit people choose names that indicate clan
affiliation but, more importantly, the chosen name must “represent the inalienable
spirit of an ancestor believed to be ‘reincarnate’ in the current owner of the name”
(Bunten, 2008, p. 391). In a ceremony that celebrates ancestral revitalization and
cultural continuity, the new owner takes on the spiritual personality of their
namesake. Much of the new owner’s social formation is developed around this
association. When a person abandons their birth name they likewise become
stripped of their point of reference. Their knowledge of self becomes blurred.
Perhaps most troubling, they are emptied of the distinct historical trajectory and
spiritual character that secures their place in relation to the rest of the community.


Outside of the classroom the historical roots of renaming the Other go back much
further than residential schooling. It was during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade that
African naming systems came under universal attack. It is worth taking some time
to briefly discuss the unprecedented nature of this attack.
For many African brothers and sisters, family names do not resonate with
ancestral traditions but are residuals of colonialism, or worse, brandings forced
upon them during enslavement. During the Slave Trade white owners would rarely
assign enslaved Africans their own family name, often naming them instead after
criteria as arbitrary as skin complexion. This is evidenced by a court document
recovered from the Salem Witch Trials in which three Africans stood trial as
“Tshituba Tony, John Indian, and Mary Black” (Mphande, 2006, p. 107). Each of
these names was meant to correlate to the person’s “race colour”. It should be
noted here that naming someone based on their aesthetic alone runs counter to most
Indigenous naming systems, in which the internal (spirit) character is believed to
be more revealing than the external (body).
In other instances, white owners used “slave names” to pay homage to the
political leaders of the day. This is why so many African-Americans are still
walking around with the markings of “Jefferson”, “Washington”, “Jackson” or
“Lincoln”, often oblivious to the fact that they are living tributes to the racist
forefathers who proposed, encouraged and legislated their enslavement. It was men
like Thomas Jefferson, for example, the so-called “deliverer” of American
independence who maintained that “… the blacks … are inferior to the white’s
endowments of both body and mind …” (Asante, 1990, p. 119).
In yet other instances there were Africans who secretly resisted renaming
through the remembrance and transgenerational passing down of Indigenous
names. However, they too were frequently forced to adopt Anglo-friendly
monikers. Many of whom feared being labeled rebellious because of their
resistance to European nomenclature and continued identification with Africa,
which was a place deeply feared in the racist white imaginary (Mphande, 2006, p.


Molefi Asante (2003) maintains that the renaming of the African body during
enslavement was an act of spiritual violence and disfiguration. No different than
the renamings that occurred in residential schools and, although remarkably less
violent, the pressures to rename ourselves in classrooms today.
The inhumane buying, selling and trading of African objects was justified
through American claims to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. For
many whites, owning, raping and torturing slaves were indeed moments of
happiness, moments of sadistic ecstasy that sought to consume the African body in
different ways. From the perspective of slave owners these things were not
happening to living, feeling people but mere objects void of human spirit. Thus, we
again see the relationship between renaming, racism and de-humanization.
We cannot simply engage the topic of African enslavement as a “removed
history” as many white scholars have tried. The fact of the matter is that history is
never as removed or static as some would have it, but continues to survive, mutate
and influence the present moment. For this reason we need to consider the
implications of “slave names” and how they continue to injure African spirits in the
present. Asante makes the necessary connection between the historical and present
moments. He argues that “slave named” Africans walking the streets today may be
physically free but remain in ontological and spiritual enslavement; they remain
complicit in the Hegelian myth that Africans had no history prior to enslavement
(Asante, 2003, p. 40). He prescribes formerly enslaved Africans of North America
to shed their “slave name” in order to reclaim their spirit:

Defined collectively by whites as ‘Negroes’ and identified individually by

white names, [the enslaved] were bodies without spirits… I see the choosing
of an African name as participatory, inasmuch as it contributes to the total
rise to consciousness, which, ultimately, is what real cultural naming and the
rise of the African spirit is all about. (Asante, 2003, pp. 38, 40; emphasis

I disagree with Asante in his claim that the spirit can be taken away. I prefer to
believe the spirit could never be completely transplanted or seized from its body,
and thus, we Africans were never “bodies without spirits”. For Africans in North
America that hold European names, the adoption of Indigenous names will not help
to reclaim something that was lost, but instead decolonize something that was
always there.
Many authors have taken seriously the notion that spaces have feelings (Kanneh,
1998). It is now time to extend this notion to include the geographies of cultural
memory; or those spiritual practices and symbols that can reconnect displaced
bodies to the spaces they were forcefully removed from. No symbol is more crucial
to cultural memory than one’s name. It is our names that connect us to physical
places, both real and imagined.




To properly understand the damage inflicted on the spirit upon its renaming, let us
briefly explore the nature of indigenous African naming practices. This way we can
make an informed consideration as to what is lost when we disfigure or reject our
indigenous names.
In traditional African worldviews to rename someone is to negate their
existence. It is to disconnect them from the very act of their creation. This tradition
is poetically captured in the ancient Kemetic creation story from the city of
Memphis, where the creator god Ptah is said to have khepered (created) the worlds
many creatures by speaking their names to life. The ancients applied the
philosophy of spoken truth to personal names as well. They believed that to speak
someone’s name in a respectful manner was to affirm the meaning behind it, and
with each affirmation that meaning was brought to life (Shafer, 1991).
The tradition of divine utterance and prophetic naming can be found throughout
the continent today. From Yoruba Land to Oromia, the Nuers of Sudan to the Zulu
Nation, a person’s name holds a spiritual significance often lost in the shallow
naming practices of the West (Shafer, 1991). Let me use the example of my own
“Aman” is a Tigrinya name with historical prevalence in contemporary Eritrea
and Ethiopia. It best translates to English as meaning “peace”. The name was given
to me to commemorate the unique timing of my birth. My parents brought me into
the world in the midst of a revolutionary struggle, during which Eritrean
nationalists were fighting to secede from Ethiopia. In the midst of such prolonged
violence my parents chose my name as a testament of hope; hope for both a
peaceful resolution to the war and the realization of an independent Eritrea.
Eritrean people as a whole use naming as a way to prophesize the future. This can
be seen in the number of children named “Awet” (victory) during the thirty year
revolutionary struggle.
According to Tigrinya tradition, when I allowed my name to be disfigured I
likewise disfigured the meaning alive within it. It is no wonder then that I was left
feeling torn, imbalanced and rather unsettled when people interacted with me as
“Armond”. I may have felt the name helped me blend in, but I also felt a certain
blankness and meaninglessness, as if my renaming made me devoid of history.
It was either coincidence or spiritual prophecy that when I defended the true
pronunciation and integrity of my name I once again found myself at peace. In this
way, African spiritual worldviews tend to see one’s name as a self-fulfilling
prophecy or core truth that needs to be nurtured and awoken. This is why so many
Indigenous societies place great emphasis on a child’s naming ceremony. The very
moment a child is named will reinvoke the past, commemorate the present, and
help define the future. Whether that child grows up to celebrate or deface that name
can also have profound implications on their lives.
The Tigrinya naming ceremony can span up to twelve days. It is known to
Tigrinya people as the Msigar, meaning “transition” or “renewal”. When a child is
conceived they are temporarily referred to as “Endu” for a boy and “Hintit” for a


girl. These are vague names that are used as equivalents for “baby”. For the first
twelve days after giving birth both mother and child do not leave the house. It is
believed that our names protect us from malicious spirits. If the newborn leaves the
house without a name s/he is vulnerable to attack by evil eyes and could die
prematurely. Thus, extra precautions are taken by family, friends and community
members to protect the newborn until they can collectively decide a name. Part of
the baby’s protection includes their continuous bathing and wrapping in blankets.
The emphasis on cleanliness is again related to ideas of purity and divine
Following days of all-women meetings on the subject and long discussions over
boon (coffee ceremony), a name is selected. It is crucial to point out the prominent
role that women play in the institution of naming. Prior to the Christianizing of the
Tigrinya highlands and the associated spread of patriarchy, women played an
exclusive role in the selection of names and mediation between the physical and
metaphysical worlds. More contemporarily, the child’s father will select a name
that is representative of the ancestor the child most clearly resembles or embodies.
Other times a name is chosen based on lands, totems, religious symbols, or in
relation to an event that marks the unique timing of their birth. For example, my
father’s brother is named Asmalash, meaning the “one who returned a member to
the family”. The name was chosen for him because, just prior to his birth, my
grandfather had arrived home alive after being conscripted by the colonial regime
to fight in Libya during WWII. Until his arrival his family feared he may have
perished in the war. Another example would be my friend Mereb, who was named
in tribute to the river that historically separated Tigrinya highlanders from their
neighbors to the west. At one point in history the river symbolized cross-cultural
transformation for those who crossed it. Regardless of which name is chosen, a
celebration is sure to follow. The newborn’s mother will be elegantly dressed in
her finest nitsella (traditional shawl) and gold crown to match. For the first time in
twelve days she will be ushered out of the house to jovial songs of renewal and
family continuity, as harmonized by community members. Our names, whatever
they may be, are believed to be co-produced by community members who are
bounded by principles of collective participation and collective good. During the
reemergence of the newborn’s mother after twelve days of rest, her friends and
enemies alike attend to celebrate the cycle of life.
Many components of the Tigrinya naming ceremonycan be found in the naming
practices of other African societies. Asante’s description of the Yoruba naming
ceremony is especially haunting in its similarity:

Upon birth, a newborn is sprinkled with water so that he will cry … Girls
receive their names six days after they are born and boys are named eight
days after birth. During the naming ceremony, the baby is bathed in water,
which is then set outside. When family and friends arrive, they … offer
suggestions for the infant’s new name. Babies are frequently named
according to the circumstances surrounding their birth, or else after a
particular deity the villagers worship. (Asante & Nwadiora, 2007, p. 32)


The common thread in many African naming ceremonies is the importance of

patience in selecting a thoughtful and sacred name. In some cases it is one week,
two weeks, or even one month before the child is named.
Over the years this common thread has been captured in popular fiction. In the
opening scene of Alex Haley’s epic novel, Roots, the birth of Kunta Kente is
described at length: “By ancient custom, for the next seven days, there was but a
single task with which Omoro would seriously occupy himself: the selection of a
name for his firstborn son” (Haley, 1974, p. 12). Haley elaborates that in Kunta’s
Mauritanian village it was a priority that his name was “rich with history”. It
needed to position him in a historical Mandinka narrative that linked his spirit with
those of his ancestors in the same Great Story.
When we rename ourselves in new environments today, we dislodge ourselves
from the Great Story of our ancestors; we lose the titles of familiarity and meaning
that connect us to the living, living dead, and the unborn. It is also through our
Indigenous names – whether given to us or assumed later in life – that our spirit
survives our physical existence. The ritual recital of an ancestor’s name in order to
ensure their wellbeing in the afterlife is found in many Indigenous communities
today. J.S. Mbiti has noted that, amongst many African peoples, one’s “recognition
by name is extremely important. The appearance of the departed, and his being
recognized by name, may continue for up to four or five generations, so long as
someone is alive who once knew the departed personally by name” (Mbiti, 1989,
p.25). When we rename ourselves, we leave this world only to be unrecognizable
in the next. We remain out of touch to the descendents that wish to speak our
names back to life. We die having turned our back on our authentic Self. Perhaps
worst of all, we empty ourselves of the rich philosophical meanings, geographies,
symbols, ancestors, and divine principles we were named after.


I chose to open this paper with a passage from Black Skin, White Masks because I
feel it speaks to my story. It is a passage that I keep on my wall to this day. It
serves as an artifact, a reminder of the former Selves who existed before me today,
a painful but necessary remembrance of those who were taught to be strangers to
As I mentioned before, my story is not unique. There are countless Indigenous
bodies sitting in our classrooms in silent disguise, walking the streets disconnected
from their surroundings, and performing their alter egos for the white world on cue.
The time has come for us to ask more critical questions, not only about how we
choose to name ourselves, but also how we resist assimilation in a Great White
North that refuses to make peace with our differences. Seeing that I opened with
the words of Frantz Fanon, one of the greatest scholars to delve into identity
politics, I thought it would be equally fitting to conclude with the guidance of
another giant in my life, my grandmother. Although I never had the opportunity to
develop a relationship with my mother’s mother, her teachings are gathered in my
mother’s memory. Over the years my mother’s stories of Mamma Biserat have


painted a picture that is starting to clear. It is a picture of a remarkable woman full

of wisdom and spiritual guidance, of a woman who had great pride in her heritage
and humbly accepted her place within the ancestral line. In discussing this chapter
with my mother, she was reminded of a proverb used by Mamma Biserat. She
shared it with me in the hopes that it would illuminate the importance of naming in
Tigrinya tradition, and now I am sharing it with the disguised bodies I speak of:

When you name a child, you are filling their cup with the water of life.

Aguiar, L. M. (2001). Whiteness in white academia. In C. James & A. Shadd (Eds.), Talking about
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Inquiry, 39(1), 159-178.





Many scholars have made an attempt to define spirituality with the intention of
grasping the essence of it and packaging it in such a way that everyone can
comprehend it. However, I firmly believe that spirituality can only be defined by
the individual. My spirituality has been informed through my life experiences as a
Black woman, my emotions and most of all the connection I have with my creator
and all beings. My spirituality cannot be separated from my everyday life and
encompasses how I live my life; it has been informed and continues to be informed
by both positive and negative events in my life. Zulu-Latifa explains this well in
Wane’s article when she states;

Most Black women sustain their spirituality after many years of learning
about themselves, after many hardships, trials and errors, after many
sacrifices. That is, they become aware of their inner life force, their deep
spirituality, when they realize that they would do more harm to themselves if
they continue to ignore it. (Wane, 2007, p. 51)

My spiritual growth has been influenced by many life events and interactions with
people. There has been a significant amount of spiritual growth based on
relationships I have had, which has influenced me to write this chapter. The main
focus of this chapter is to discuss one principle of spirituality that I believe is
required for spiritual growth and awareness. This principle is “holding
relationships as sacred responsibilities”. This chapter will be discussed in three
sections as follows: 1) what does it mean to hold relationships as sacred
responsibilities; 2) what are the challenges people face in holding relationships as
sacred responsibilities; and 3) how do we create a space to engage and guide
learners to embrace their authentic selves, to live a fulfilling life and ultimately
hold relationships as sacred responsibilities, which eventually leads to spiritual
growth? This third section will be described by using seven principles. My
intention is to utilize these three sections of this chapter to enhance formal and
informal education to engage learners in a way that they can obtain an awareness
of the authentic self and move towards finding this authentic self, in order to
facilitate learning and spiritual growth.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 157–168.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

What Does It Mean to “Hold Relationships as Sacred Responsibilities”?

One common aspect of life, that all human beings share, is interaction with other
living beings. What I mean by this is that all human beings must engage directly
and indirectly with both living and non-living beings, in all aspects of their lives.
We do not walk the earth alone, even if we choose to be alone. Each person must
have experienced one interaction with another human in their life. Therefore, it is
fair to say that relationships and human interactions are significant aspects of our
lives and have major implications in our lives. Through relationships we shape
ourselves, we influence the shaping of others and articulate how we see the world.
Relationships play such a significant role in our being, which strongly informs our
spirituality and spiritual growth.
Since relationships are major aspects of our lives and spiritual being, it is
extremely important to hold them as sacred responsibilities. This is important, not
only for the purpose of establishing a good core, but to ensure that one does not
cause injury to another. At this time I would like to define what it means to hold
relationships as sacred responsibilities. Alicia Fedelina Chavez’s (2003) article,
Spirit and Nature in Everyday Life: Reflections of a Mestiza in Higher Education,
provides the reader with several principles to engage the spirit in everyday life.
One of the principles she mentions is to hold relationships as sacred
responsibilities. Chavez, states that in order to hold relationships as sacred
responsibilities, as she understood it from her father, we must “without question
and without exception, no matter what, we must return to our relationships and
work through conflict or difficulty … staying engaged with others regardless of the
circumstances” (Chavez, 2003, p. 75). Chavez’s statement clearly demonstrates
that, as responsible spiritual beings, we must be accountable to those who we
engage with and resolve any issue that comes to surface. This accountability is not
exclusive to family and friends, but also to people we encounter casually in our
everyday lives.
Portman and Garret (2006) provide the reader with more principles that provide
a greater understanding of how we can work towards holding all relationships as
sacred responsibilities. They are: all things are connected and have a purpose; we
must honour all individuals, treating them with respect, kindness and
consideration; seek harmony and balance in all things; be aware of your
surroundings, what you hold inside and always show respect; treat every person
with respect regardless of age; always greet those you encounter, whether a friend
or a stranger; refrain from speaking negatively about another/others; do not engage
in the affairs of others, asking questions and giving advice when not asked; always
follow the customs of another when in their space; treat all things sacred to others,
with respect; respect mother earth, give to mother earth, nurture her, protect her
and show high esteem for the animal world, plant world and mineral world, for we
are all connected and must care for each other; listen to your spirit, listen to your
heart; learn from your life experiences, whether good or bad and always be open to
learn more, for learning is continuous; and always remember that a smile is
something sacred and must be shared with others (Portman & Garret, 2006).


As I begin to conceptualize the idea of holding relationships as sacred

responsibilities, I reflect on my own life experiences where such acts were evident.
For example, when I was going through my divorce, I began to realize which
friends were genuine and which ones were not. There were some who extended
themselves beyond anyone’s expectation, providing me with the space to grieve,
talk and share my pain. I was not judged but was left with a feeling of hope,
knowing that there were individuals who cared for me enough to hear my story of
emotional pain, comfort me, as well as, defend me when need be. On the other
hand, there were individuals whom I honestly felt were my closest friends. Yet,
when I was going though this turmoil they had no positive things to say and
appeared to enjoy my suffering. This was a very strange place to be, witnessing the
weakness in individuals who I thought loved me. My divorce was definitely a life
changing experience for me, based on the pain which was felt from ending a
marriage but also based on the realization of who supported me in my time of need,
who looked out for my best interests when I was at my weakest point and who
showed true love and commitment to me. I was able to see which individuals kept
me close to their hearts, holding our relationship as sacred.
I truly believe that certain experiences give us insight on how to live our lives,
helping us to achieve spiritual growth. These experiences are never planned but can
dictate the way you choose to live your life. Sometimes life experiences can be so
significant and powerful that they make you wonder if they are intentional lessons
from the creator, given for us to have a more fulfilling and appreciative life and to
gain insight on how to love and treat each other truthfully. My life experiences
have reminded me how important it is to hold relationships as sacred. These
experiences have also opened my eyes and made me aware of how challenging it
can be for all of us to hold relationships as sacred responsibilities and that there
may be times when anyone of us can be weak, selfish and uncaring to our fellow

What Are the Challenges People Face in “Holding Relationships as Sacred

The interaction one has with their environment, through relationships with people
and nature, are pivotal for spiritual growth and it is clear how important it is for
one to hold relationships as sacred responsibilities, in order to achieve spiritual
growth. As straightforward as it may seem for one to engage in the principles that
Portman and Garret (2006) list, there are many challenges in doing so due to the
fact that not all individuals strive for spiritual growth and respect their
surroundings. The second part of this chapter will discuss the challenges one may
face in holding relationships as sacred responsibilities and how that has come to be.
How have we detached our spirits from one another? What has been the driving
forces that challenge our spirituality?
It is important to acknowledge that, in order for one to hold relationships as
sacred responsibilities, we must be aware of our true self, also known as the
authentic self. This means that one must understand who they are, what they like,
what they dislike and what are their strengths and weaknesses as a person. By


knowing oneself, an individual is able to engage in relationships from a place of

truth that can inform spiritual growth. Tisdell (2003) introduces the readers to the
concept of metanoia, which describes the passage in which one’s spirit travels from
alienation to a deeper awareness of one’s being, which informs the authentic self.
Tisdell (2003) goes on to say:

If people undergo a metanoia, literally a “change of heart,” about their view

of themselves and their world and move to a less alienated state and deeper
awareness of themselves and others, they are invited further into their own
authenticity. Authenticity in this sense means having a sense that one is
operating more from a sense of self that is defined by one’s own self as
opposed to being defined by other people’s expectations. (p. 33)

The concepts of metanoia is clear, yet it is a process of growth that must be

achieved through knowing oneself and honouring all life experiences, good and
bad. I have understood that, in order for an individual to hold relationships as
sacred responsibilities, one must first understand their true self, coming from a
place of love and honesty at all times, regardless of the situation or the individual
you are engaging with. It must also be understood that this metanoia does not mean
saying and doing things that appear good, but rather saying and doing things from
an honest and true heart, not mincing words or sugar coating things, but coming
from an honest, non-pretentious place. For example, an individual may ask a friend
if a certain dress looks good or if a dish they prepared tastes good. The friend may
answer untruthfully, stating that the outfit is nice or that the dish is tasty, thinking
that they are being a good friend by sparing the feelings of the other. This act is
false and does not come from a place of love and honesty. I often wonder how an
individual can act in this way and feel as if they are being a truthful, dignified
individual. The only clarity I can identify in situations like this is that the behaviour
and sentiments come from a place of selfishness, passive aggressiveness and
disloyalty. I have seen such negative acts of disloyalty first hand at work when one
of my colleagues stated to me that she was unhappy with the work of another
colleague. She mentioned all the reasons why this individual’s work was not good
enough and needed improvements. So I asked her to speak directly to the
individual and give her feedback. She gave me a blank, yet shocked look, as if I
had asked her to commit a crime. One can only hold a relationship as sacred, by
being completely honest with the other, explaining their reasons and being true,
even if it is difficult. It has been a difficult practice for many, including myself, as
we have been nurtured in western society that promotes and encourages
individualism; the process is not easy.
In the Western society we live in, this form of falsehood has become very
prominent in our everyday lives. People do things because it is polite and not
because they feel it in their hearts, only to paint a false picture, a facade. Some
people give “courtesy smiles” to strangers or colleagues for the sake of politeness,
but not because their spirit calls for it. Many people may misconceive these acts as
genuine, thinking that it is the correct way to conduct oneself. This is not the case
and I will argue that such acts can only lead to the degradation of ones being and


spirit. One cannot embrace their true, holistic self when parading as a false being,
while nurturing superficial behaviour. This can only lead to spiritual stagnation. If
an individual portrays a certain image that is untrue, they do not only conduct a
disservice to their fellow peers but also create serious harm to themselves, losing
their holistic self to an illusion, one which takes away from spiritual growth.
When the false self matures and becomes more complex, it ultimately develops
into ego. One becomes self serving and is no longer looking out for the benefit or
greater good of all beings, but is focused on individualistic goals and pleasures. As
mentioned above, Western society focuses on many forms of falsehood and the
promotion of one’s self, without thinking of other beings. Shahjahan’s (2006)
description of the ego and the false self, within a Western context is well
articulated as follows:

All of the dominant discourses, along with the idea of control, solidify the
idea of the ‘ego’. It is well known that Western society reinforces the idea of
personal ego. The worship of the self conceals itself in many forms in the
West, such as fashion, fitness and career … This ego reinforces the idea of
Self, the Self which is separate from the rest of the cosmos and other beings.
It reinforces the subject and the object disparity. It fragments people’s views
of themselves, by rupturing there interconnectedness with other beings
(human and non-human, animate and inanimate) and instead encourages the
development of separate rational entities. One is forced to be caged within
one’s body and not be a part of a whole, as one is forced to assert their
individualistic and anthropomorphic nature. (p. 7)

It is apparent that, with the development of the ego, it becomes more difficult and
complicated for individuals to hold relationships as sacred responsibilities. The ego
leads to the development of selfishness, which leads to the destruction of the spirit,
limiting spiritual growth and increasing the potential for injury to oneself and
others. This ego can cause injury to ones spiritual, physical, psychological and
emotional being. It is fair to hypothesize that the ego could be the cause of our
world’s pain and devastation, from a historical and contemporary context. From
my own personal experience, I have seen individuals become swallowed up by
their egos. Their focus does not benefit the best interest of the group or those they
are suppose to serve, only the best interest of themselves. The “ego” becomes a self
destructive, negative force against the human spirit.
It is clear that the society, in which we live, fosters and promotes individualistic
values which have significant implications to the spirit. We must move away from
the ego, to create a space for spiritual growth, leading to the awareness and
realization of one’s authentic self; we must let go of our ego (Shahjahan, 2006). It
is important to now explore what has informed our society, shaping these values
which have caused us to lose touch with the authentic self, ultimately creating
empty spiritual beings who are unable to have functional, honest relationships.
Earl (2001) explores the theory of the shadow self, as an extension of
psychologist Carl Jung’s work, and the implications it has for spirituality. This


theory may give us insight on why the authentic self is concealed, creating a
negative impact on the relationships we engage in.
According to Earl, the shadow is the part of one’s personality that is not
displayed to the public. The shadow may be composed of both positive and
negative qualities. However, what is most significant about the shadow self is that,
if it is not embraced and accepted, establishing the authentic self, one projects these
qualities on to others. This becomes a dangerous psychological game, where the
individual’s true values are confused and lost. Earl clearly articulates in the
beginning of her argument that children start from a point of authenticity and truth,
living as authentic beings, showing their true emotions in their actions:

They are not afraid, either, to preserve their own moments of insight in the
teeth of strong opposition. Even very young children will defer to authority,
in the sense of appearing to let the matter drop, when adult opinion conflicts
with their sense of reality. (Earl, 2001, p. 280)

Earl then explains how the false self is usually developed at a young age, when
children begin to understand how to function in their surroundings, based on the
reactions and interactions they experience with adults. Children learn to create a
facade for themselves from adults. They learn what comments, gestures,
mannerism and behaviours are more conducive to presenting a good persona. The
focus is not about engaging the inner self to be honest and express feelings and
sentiments honestly. There are implications to how adults deal with children:

We all have the choice to deal authentically with children (and with their
‘shadow’ issues) in education, but we may not be willing to exercise that
choice. Too often we withdraw from these choices and hence from our
potential liberation as human beings, because we cannot face, fully, the
consequences of the choices before us. If we engage with children and in-
authentically, however, i.e. from a position of not admitting to the truth of a
situation, then we are not teaching well and we potentially denying them a
liberation too. It can be liberating to know that the dark side/shadow is real,
that we all struggle with it and that there is no way out of these struggles
other than to go through them. (Earl, 2001, p. 281)

Earl’s point on the in-authentic interactions adults have with children can also be
extended to the home and other social environments. It is fair to state that at a
young age, within a variety of social settings, children are bombarded by adults,
directly or indirectly, trying to shape them as in-authentic beings, suffocating the
authentic self. This of course creates a problematic social structure which prevents
individuals from holding relationships as sacred responsibilities.
Even though we are in a society that perpetuates falseness, we can still engage
in ways that nurture and embrace our authentic selves, allowing us to mature
spiritually and live our lives in a more holistic way. We can then begin to start
accepting the interconnectedness of all beings and, most of all, holding
relationships as sacred responsibilities to continue our spiritual growth.


Besides the social structure of our society, there are other realities that influence
the growth of the false self. Cashwell, Bentley, and Yarborough (2007) discuss
how trauma can cause an individual to hide their authentic self, stating:

All people experience trauma in their developmental trajectory … These

early negative experiences with parents, family members, other significant
adults, and other children create a disconnect from the spirit – or the true self.
This disconnect might best be illustrated with the image of a flickering light;
that is, a disconnect occurs when the connection with the higher self is
momentarily broken. (p. 142)

These authors give the reader another perspective to understand the complexity of
uncovering the spiritual core – a person’s true nature. They state that if an
individual continues to experience trauma, they then begin to deal with their pain
by repressing their feeling or becoming numb, emotionally withdrawn and
unavailable (Cashwell, Bentley, & Yarborough, 2007). This detachment or
numbness reminds me of problems people sometimes face in relationships. How
many times have we heard people complain that their partners have had bad
relationships in the past and, subsequently, it has been difficult for them to commit
and open up completely. This inability to establish an emotional connection can
lead to one party feeling hurt and taken for granted, which leads to the ultimate
demise of the relationship. If pain and fear is one of the reasons why we prevent
our true selves from surfacing, how do we address the problem? These authors
provide the reader with a recommendation of how one can begin to heal themselves
from pain, while revitalizing and awakening their authentic self. Cashwell, Bentley
& Yarborough (2007) give the reader hope when they state:

To uncover the spiritual core – a person’s true nature – work occurs at the
mental, physical, emotional, and interpersonal levels, as well as spiritual.
This process helps to clear away the psychological pain barriers that block
authentic experience. (2007, p. 142)

Therefore, in order to heal and embrace all aspects of oneself, it is imperative to

acknowledge all aspects of one’s being. This holistic work gives us a roadmap to
eliminating the false self while moving towards the authentic self. As mentioned
previously, once the authentic self is present we can comprehend our connections
to all beings and grow spiritually. This process may be difficult and even painful
but through finding and developing the authentic self we can begin to unlearn false
practices and move towards engaging in our relationships in healthy ways.
We have gained some perspective on how to correct the self and to become
more authentic through creating a space for the healing of all aspects of one’s
being (mental, physical emotional and interpersonal). It is clear, in order for us to
move towards spiritual growth, we must find our authentic selves and, in so doing,
we will gain the ability to recognize the interconnectedness of all beings and begin
to hold relationships as sacred responsibilities, which will lead us to another level
of spiritual growth.



Now that we have gained an understanding of what it means to hold relationships

as sacred responsibilities, what challenges do we face and how do we move
towards healing? How can we create a space to engage and guide learners to
embrace their authentic selves, to live a fulfilling life and ultimately hold
relationships as sacred responsibilities? How do we peel away the falsehood we
have suckled for such a long time?
The process is not linear. The educator is not the master of this process but is
there to guide students, engaging them in ways to enhance their spiritual growth, as
well as their own. In this environment, spirituality is a methodology. I have
established seven principles that I believe both the educator and learners must
engage in to move towards spiritual growth. These principles are to: 1) Nourish the
five levels of your being (spiritual, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and
physical) (Cashwell,Bentley & Yarborough, 2007, p. 142). 2) Create an honest and
safe space to inform spiritual growth, as well as a code of conduct for all
participants. 3) Practice ways to understanding the self, embracing both negative
and positive aspects of your being. 4) Be true to yourself, your thoughts and
actions. 5) Respect all living beings, for they all have spirits and every action we
make has a spiritual impact. 6) Understand that your actions are to be informed by
your authentic self. 7) Understand that perfection is not the goal. The goal is truth,
honesty and understanding where you stand as a person and as a spiritual being.

Nourishing the Five Levels of Your Being

It is extremely important for all individuals on the quest to find their authentic
selves, to ensure that they are caring for every aspect of their being. Balance is
necessary for this process to be effective and life changing. All five levels of one’s
being are connected; therefore, in order to move towards a healthy spiritual
consciousness, the whole person must be nourished. As mentioned by Cashwell,
Bentley and Yarborough (2007), “The movement towards healing and wholeness
requires attention not only to spiritual truth but also to individual truths, including
individual cognitions, emotions, interpersonal relationships and body armouring.
Therefore, the healing process involves deep work to see the truth of what is at
each of these levels (pp. 143-144).
In my own life I have engaged in activities and practises to feed each level of
my being by exposing myself to different knowledges, reading various literatures
relating to love and life - from the Dalai Lama to the Bible. I have also invested
time to understand who I am and where my ancestors came from, as well as the
form of spirituality practiced by them. I have made an effort to respect all living
being and pass that knowledge on to my own son, so he gains an understanding of
the cosmos and can appreciate his collaborative existence in it. Feeding each level
can happen in various ways and that is why it is important to know the true self, to
understand what will feed your spirit and how.


Creating an Honest and Safe Space to Inform Spiritual Growth, as well as a Code
of Conduct for All Participants
It is important to have an honest and safe space for all participants. This can be
informed through discussions about what spirituality means to each person and
how they can all develop a space of trust and honesty with the goal of cultivating
an atmosphere that influences spiritual growth. The recommendations and answers
may be different and may also possess different values and world views of
spirituality. However, once it is understood by all participants what the objective is,
and each individual has described their needs and ways of understanding
spirituality, a code of conduct must be developed, not only to establish ways of
respect for one another, but to also create a space of solidarity and understanding in
this sacred space. It is also important to emphasize the importance of all voices.
Each individual must be heard and received equally within this unique
I have begun to utilize this principle in the groups I facilitate and instruct. I
inform the group that the space in which we fill must be one of peace and respect,
that we are expected to accept each others’ views and engage honestly with no
malice. This has allowed my groups to create a learning environment based on
acceptance and respect, resulting in a calm therapeutic space for learning and
spiritual growth.

Practicing Ways to Understanding the Self, Embracing Both Negative and Positive
Aspects of Your Being
There are many ways for us to engage with ourselves and to create a better
understanding of ourselves. Two of the most important tools that can be used to
help an individual understand their true selves are meditation and discussion.
Meditation can be used as a tool for individuals to take a closer look into
themselves. It is important to have elders who traditionally engage in these forms
of knowing, to take part in guiding the educator and the learners. It is also
important to gain the assistance from elders of different cultural groups, to ensure
that all individuals are not only represented but that there is a space created to
embrace multicentric ways of knowing, which can inform the spiritual growth of
all participants.
Discussions are also important to understand one’s self. These discussions must
be informed by the participants and must hold significant value to the participants.
It may be useful to have each individual discuss a topic that is uncomfortable for
them, such as love, death, birth etc., for them to start thinking of why they feel and
understand things a certain way. In my own experience, I have seen how such
topics can get an individual to think of themselves, their lives and their ability to
have spiritual engagements with others. For example, in one of my graduate classes
we were asked to look at each other and say, “I love you”, verbally or in our heads.
For some this task was difficult, for others it resonated with their understanding of
life and how they viewed the world and engaged with others. Once this activity
was completed, we were asked to try this task during the week, looking at strangers


or people we knew and repeating those words in our heads. The following week we
all discussed the experience and how it felt. This was a simple task but it lead to
each one of us asking questions about ourselves and how we see and interact with
our fellow beings. This activity was a tool to begin to understand the meaning of
loving humanity and all around us, giving us the foundation to begin to hold
relationships as sacred responsibilities.
Both meditation and discussions can play a significant role in understanding
ourselves and how we see the world. In saying that, it can also help us to gain
insight on both positive and negative aspects of our beings but can only be
facilitated through consistency and honesty when engaging in such acts.

Being True to Yourself, Your Thoughts and Actions

For both the educator and learners to engage in a rich process of spiritual
engagement, honesty is vital. It is important for each individual to be able to
express their true emotions in this space. However, they must also acknowledge the
responsibility and accountability of their thoughts and actions. Participants must
understand that this process is necessary for their spiritual growth and cannot be
compromised with falseness. It must be understood that this process of being true
to one’s thought and actions is a learning process that may take time and come with
some difficulties.
I have applied this principle by asking individuals in my groups to explain their
understanding of being true to yourself, your thoughts and actions and why it is
important for the learning process. In most instances, individuals are very clear on
the principle and begin to understand and apply the principle in their learning as a
group. This process creates the expectation of mutual respect that indirectly
achieve spiritual growth.

Respecting All Living Beings, for They All Have Spirits and Every Action We Make
Has Spiritual Impact
For many of us from Western societies, respect for all beings has been
compromised for economic and political growth. These individualistic endeavours
come with serious implications to the world and the spirit of human beings.
However, many indigenous cultures have stayed connected to their indigenous
ways of knowing, with the understanding and respect of what connects us humans
to the physical, non-physical world and the cosmos. For these ways of knowing to
be a part of learning within educational systems, it is important for educators to
engage with indigenous elders and include them in our daily learning. This can be
facilitated by having guest speakers and creating a multicentric focus on
worldviews through the curricula. These ways of knowing can create a better and
more holistic way of how we view the world, teach and understand the connections
we have with all beings.
I have incorporated this principle in my educational sessions, through individual
and group work. I ask the group to discuss the collation of the environment to our
spiritual being. For individuals that have been exposed to such ways of knowing,


this serves as an enhancement of knowledge and for others that have not been
exposed to this way of knowing, it becomes an opportunity to learn and grow
within a cognitive and spiritual realm. I have observed that most individuals are
responsive and receptive to making a connection between our spirits and the
natural world.

Understanding That Your Actions Are to Be Informed by Your Authentic Self

To attempt to create spaces that acknowledge the importance of spirituality, we
must accept the authentic self and conduct ourselves through these lenses. For
example, if a participant is uncomfortable with a particular activity or discussion,
they should have the space to decline and be true to their beliefs. Within this space,
they must not be judged for showing their authentic selves but respected, regardless
of the reasons they have chosen to withdraw. By engaging in this way, we once
again reiterate ways in which we can train ourselves to accept our true feelings and
unlearn falseness.

Understanding That Perfection Is Not the Goal. The Goal Is Truth and Honesty,
Understanding Where You Stand as a Person, Spiritual Being
It is important to understand that the road to spiritual growth is not perfection. It is
to truly know who you are, while having the courage and conviction to express it.
Honesty is also required for the journey of finding the authentic self. Honesty
towards ourselves and to others is crucial for us to embrace our authentic selves.
When dealing with harsh realities of life, we must always come from a place of
truth. We must not pacify or hide from the truth but embrace it, understanding
where we stand, being in touch with your spiritual self.
The principles, which I have listed, have been extremely important to me in my
own spiritual journey. As mentioned previously, it is not reflective of all the steps
one must take to find their authentic self but this does give us a foundation to start
from, as educators and learners in educational systems that reject notions of
spirituality, suffocating the spirit and hindering the relationships in which we
engage in. Once we embrace such principles, as a tool for finding our authentic
selves, we can then begin to understand our life purpose and our relationship with
all beings. It is at this stage of realization that one can move towards respecting all
beings with love and begin to hold relationships as sacred responsibilities, whether
it is the relationship between a husband and wife, a group of friends, a passerby in
the street, a tree, a bird, the ocean, the earth, the air etc. We begin to understand our
connection to the world in which we live. This creates a place of understanding,
love, solidarity, and, most of all, the move towards spiritual growth.
It has been a struggle to implement spirituality into the academy. We must
continue the fight in order to preserve ourselves and live a fulfilling life. We have
to become subjects of change by inserting ourselves wholly into the task we engage
with within the academy. We should remember that the academy is only a human
product and, as such, it is not static and can be changed (Shahjahan, 2006).



Throughout this chapter I have attempted to provide the reader with an

understanding of what it means to hold relationships as sacred responsibilities,
what we are challenged by, what steps we can begin to take to find our authentic
selves in educational structures, and how significant it is for us to express our
authentic selves, which allows us to grow spiritually. This growth allows us to see
the world with a holistic lens, understanding the interconnectedness all beings have
with each other. We can then establish a strong foundation that informs our
spiritual growth and our engagement with other spiritual beings, helping us to do
what we have been created to do, which is to live in harmony with all, respect all
and hold relationships as sacred responsibilities.
Through my own spiritual and personal growth, I have realized that the process
of surfacing the true self is one that is difficult and painful, one that requires the
naked truth that comes from self awareness and honesty. I do believe that I was
only able to reach the point of metanoia through both positive and negative
experiences in my life. I am forever changing and getting closer to my true self as I
age and learn about the world around me.
It is important for us to try our best to hold relationships as sacred
responsibilities and, if faced with difficulty in doing so, we should try to unlearn
the practices that feed the ego. Awareness of the true self is our first step to
building positive relationships with all beings and moving towards holding
relationship as sacred responsibilities. It is a challenge, but a necessary one for our
spiritual growth and wellbeing.

Cajete, G. (1994). Finding face, finding heart, and finding a foundation. In Look to the mountain: An
ecology of Indigenous education (pp. 33-41). Skyland, NC: Kivaki Press.
Chavez, A. F. (2003). Spirit and nature in everyday life. Journal of New Directions for Student Services,
95, 69-77.
Earl, M. (2001). Shadow and spirituality. Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 6(3), 277-288.
Portman, T. & Garret, M. (2006). Native American healing traditions. International Journal of
Disability, Development and Education, 53(4), 453-469.
Shahjahan, R. (2006). Spirituality in the academy: Reclaiming from the margins and evoking a
transformative way of knowing the world. International Journal of qualitative Studies in Education,
18(6), 1-23.
Yarborough, P., Cashwell, B., & Cashwell, P. (2007). The only way out is through: The peril of spiritual
bypass. Counseling and Values, 51(2), 139-148.





As an African Canadian on the path to re-education from the oppressive learning of

Eurocentric lifelong teachings, I initially envisioned spirituality as a desirable
component within this re-educational project. This understanding of spirituality
stemmed from my religious upbringing, as well as a Christian lens through which
my family looked, analysed and understood the world. In this chapter, the term
African refers to all Black individuals born on the continent as well as in the
Diasporas. During my Christian upbringing, my set of beliefs tied spirituality
solely to religion and, although I was aware of the unseen aspect of our lives, I
mostly comprehended it through the lens of emotions. Though they are intrinsically
tied, I recognise the emotional self as the one who reacts to daily stimuli (joy,
sadness, anger, fear, love, etc) that are expressed physically while the spiritual self
is unseen and encompasses mind, body and soul. In due course, I moved away
from the church, recognising that it had stopped responding to who I was becoming
and what I aspired to - an unrestrained spirituality. The blind obedience to
authority structures did not reflect love in a way that was authentic to me.
Therefore, this was not a path that I wanted to follow. It is only after I got
exposed to different understandings that I recognised the intrinsic aspect of
spirituality in my life, in remembering that each and every one of us is mind, body
and soul. Realistically there is no such thing as leaving our emotions at the door of
the academy, the church, the mosque, at work or in our leisure activities. Within
the historical injuries, as well as the daily injuries faced by the African Canadian
communities, including myself, lies the importance of searching and engaging in a
spiritual journey, which is key for our emotional/spiritual healing process. In this
chapter, I intend to illustrate how spirituality can positively influence the healing
process of African Canadians’ decolonisation projects within society and
specifically within the educational system. Any reader who believes and
understands that such a project will not materialise within our lifetime, yet
genuinely sees the need to contribute for the future generations into a complex and
long term project in the name of our interconnection, I am taking this little walk
with you. Let us be.

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 169–181.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.


Our mountains, river, our island are us. We are part of them they are part of
us. We know this in a bodily way, more than in a recitation of names.
(Bishop, 1998, p. 203)

What do I mean when I say spirituality? My interpretation is a combination of

different beliefs and understandings. I would like to start with Wane’s (2002)
statement that says, “Spirituality is something so personal, unique and
individualistic that it cannot be captured in any neat definition” (p. 144). Though it
is personal, we must understand that it is not private. Because spirituality can be so
many things to so many people it is necessary for me to try and be as clear as I can
in sharing what it means to me and how I understand it. Through the words of
various spiritual writers I will illustrate the six different components to my
personal understanding; first, I see a greater force. Let me borrow Palmer’s (2003)
words to say, “spirituality is the eternal human yearning to be connected with
something larger than our own egos” (p. 377). To me, this greater force is that
dimension that Nakagawa (2000) calls ‘zero point of consciousnesses’. It is the
sum of all beings visible and invisible, reaching a balance where all reach a pure
consciousness. This brings me to my second component: all humans are godly.
Richards (1990) says it well when she states that,

In the African world view the human and the divine are not hopelessly
separated, as they are in western theology where the divine is defined in
negation of all that is human …. In Africa the human is divine, and the
demonstration of this joining is the height of religious experience, as the
spirits manifest themselves in us (spirit possession). (p. 211)

This belief is also part of different religions such as Islam (Five Percenters) and
Christianity, however it is too often underplayed.
The third characteristic is our interconnectedness to one another. The words of
Dei (2002) speak to me when he says, “spiritual education embraces humility,
respect, compassion and gentleness that strengthen the self and the collective
human spirit of the learner … and it is through spiritual education that the
connection between the person and the community is made, rendering the self as
not autonomous but connecting to a larger collective” (p. 7). The fourth element is
our interconnection to nature, “related to the circle of life … is the belief that all
things are alive, have spiritual energy, and, hence, are of essential importance
within the circle. From this belief stems the reverence of Native American peoples
for life in all its forms: animals, plants, rocks, and minerals, people, earth, sky, sun,
moon, stars, wind, water, fire, thunder, lightning, and rain. Native Americans
believe that all life exists in an intricate system of interdependence” (Portman and
Garrett, 2006, p. 458).
The fifth component is the importance of a life long journey. As Zulu-Latifah
states in Wane (2007), “Spirituality comes like wisdom, slowly at times, and quite
often quick and sudden, surprising, as it enlightens and teaches. A higher level of
spirituality, like wisdom, comes with age and exposure over a significant amount


of time to many life experiences” (p. 50). Last but not least, it comprises a different
way of seeing the world: “Knowledge should be produced not only by the mind but
also through soul and body. This kind of mindful embodiment bridges mind, body,
and spirit” (Mayuzumi, 2006, p. 11). These are the six components that inform my
spirituality and the way I understand it. This perception in return informs the way I
see, comprehend and explain the world, an element that should not be taken lightly.


I would like to emphasize the significance of centring spirituality in our lives

through the words of Some (1994) when he states: “each one of us possessed a
centre that he [sic] had grown away from after birth …. The centre is both within
and without. It is everywhere. But we must realise it exists, find it and be with it,
for without the centre we cannot tell who we are, where we come from, and where
we are going” (p. 198). Street talkin’ (theories) are ways of thinking that the
African Canadian communities already have, often unknowingly. The intended
frameworks applied in this chapter are an attempt at awakening and recentring
them in the lives of these communities.
I will use spirituality as a framework because it provides a holistic lens to view,
perceive, understand and give meaning to our global societies. The realisation that,
in this Canadian context, the Eurocentric lens is not the only valid one is much
needed because there are multiple ways to understand self, communities, societies
and the world. We need to disrupt what is seen as valid knowledge and introduce
spirituality as a way of knowing. Spirituality, as a way of being, is for some the
only way to know and, for others, a consciousness that is lacking. When a holistic
perspective is understood, it engages one in an assessment that goes beyond secular
or religious reasoning, as it compels an engagement within a new discourse.
Spirituality, as a framework, speaks to issues that are often marginalised or simply
kept out of public and private conversations. Due to this, the cycle of life, where all
living, non-living, seen and unseen are interconnected, is not reflected in dialogue
and consequently in behaviour.
I will also be using Afrocentricity as a framework; as Asante (1998) states,
“Afrocentricity is a philosophical perspective associated with discovery … and
actualizing of African agency” (p. 3). It is a philosophy that can reassert African
Canadians as their own selves from their own experience. It is a revolutionary
thought in reframing the African self at the centre of its history, experience and
spirituality. In other words, it is the action by marginalized people of embarking on
a journey to rediscover the holistic self through relationships, attitudes,
environment, kinship, beliefs and more. A key component of Afrocentricity is the
shift of a community’s mindset in the way they think and recognise spirituality.
This new understanding brings a much needed validation of who they really are,
not through a Eurocentric lens but, rather, through a perspective that is authentic to
their respective realities.
Indigenous knowledge is another framework that places multiple ways of
knowing at the centre as legitimate knowledge. This is a source of experience that
supports African Canadian communities in perceiving and understanding who they


are as distinctive. Indigenous knowledge is a site of resistance against an

oppressive social organisation of life that does not recognise multiple sites of
knowledges. It is located in the different indigenous bodies; it is the memories, the
stories, the songs, the values, the rituals, the language and the spirituality of these
bodies. It is kept alive by the holistic selves, not by the mainstream books, texts,
and film, as it is passed on orally and through other cultural ways that evolve with
time. Indigenous knowledge has the potential of engaging African Canadian
communities in cultural, spiritual, and emotional locations that reflect their
respective realities. As active agents of their voices and their healing processes,
African Canadians can reclaim their own knowledges, as well as recognise the
significance of resisting a set of values that is detrimental to indigenous bodies and
indigenous ways. This framework inspires them to reconnect with dignity to their
history and, consequently, their communities and themselves, as an entry point to
healing through spirituality.


Since the civil rights movement era, many changes have happened in different
African communities in the United-States; those same transformations reached and
influenced the African population in Canada, mainly because of the geographical
proximity. One example, that I particularly want to point to, is the belief that these
African Canadian communities were included in the myth of the “the land of the
free”. By this I mean, the idea that the African communities were to be considered
full citizens and given an equal and fair treatment by the white majority in their
respected countries; that they could reach the “American/Canadian dream” by
simply studying and working as hard as the mainstream, White Americans or
Canadians. Unfortunately this misconception triggered a radical change in the
socio-political focus of the different African communities. bell hooks (2001)
writes, “In my own family this critical vigilance began to change as the fruit of the
civil rights struggle became more apparent …. By the end of the sixties many black
people felt like they could sit back, relax, and exercise their full rights as citizens of
this free nation” (p. 76). This quote explains the idea of ghetto-ology.
With gains such as ‘integrated schools’ coming out of the civil rights movement,
the African communities started to shift their perception of education, relating it
solely with the accumulation of capital gain. They went from striving for a
common goal of equity for all, to paper chase.1 Before Brown v The Board of
Education, the 1954 judgment that put an end to segregated schools in the U.S, the
‘segregated schools’ played a particular role in the different African communities.
When segregation was in place, the African communities were very much aware of
the dichotomy prevalent within white societies, with regards to African and white
populations; a dichotomy that presented Black communities as lazy, dirty and
dangerous while presenting the White, mainstream society as clean, hard working
and law abiding. These erroneous beliefs were (and are still) widely embraced by
the White societies and the need to counter and actively refute these images, both

The title of a disc from 80s rap duo, The Krown Rulers, meaning ‘a focus on making money’.


within African communities and outside of them, was pressing and at the forefront
of community activism.
I am in no way trying to romanticise or advocate for ‘segregated schools’. They
were not necessarily up to par with the ‘integrated schools’, especially in rewards
to the lack of resources. However, African teachers, supported by the African
communities, gave the students a sense of pride in themselves, something the
‘integrated schools’ dismantled. African communities today are still lacking when
it comes to the schooling that they receive, which can easily be seen in the
achievement gap: “The achievement gap is one of the most talked-about issues in
the U.S. education. The term refers to the disparities in standardized test scores
between Black African and White, Latina/o and White and recent immigrant and
White students” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 3). When the achievement gap is
understood, one can realise that, despite the disputed verdict of Brown v Board of
Education and what it stood for, the schooling reality for African students is still in
need and confronted with a lack of resources. This can be said for the United States
as well as Canada.
Today, “given the progress since Brown v Board of Education it would be a
mistake to continue to wait for justice and social and economic parity” (Leary,
2005, p. 212).This statement is also true in Canada. The promise that anyone in
Canadian society, through hard work, ingenuity, self-reliance and determination,
can be a success story is one of the methods ascribed through social pressure that
prevents spiritual well being. These messages are contradictory to a healthy
spirituality, especially if they are not accompanied by messages and strategies of
spiritual growth and/or healing. What I also see as problematic with these
messages, is the fact that they are only focused on the accumulation of wealth and
specific skills at the expense of the emotional wellbeing and spiritual health. So the
false impression that success is found exclusively with material gains, is a message
that young African girls and boys have been hearing from their African parents and
society at large, particularly since the civil rights movement. Schooling became the
way out of poverty for the wrong reasons, financial success, rather than as a way to
empower one towards self-fulfilment, a position that can help understand wealth
accumulation from a different perspective. Unfortunately, for African communities
this temptation of achieving material gain does not only have repercussions in
regards to an economical project but there are social implications that we need to
be reminded of and understand. Class privilege has been racialised in history, since
before slavery, and today it is associated with “white privilege” which extends its
arm far beyond class. It is time for the African Canadians to consciously work for
changes that are about emotional and spiritual wellbeing, as a method of resistance
to the oppression that we are subjected to everyday. In addition it can provide a
different understanding of what is truly of importance in their lives.


The fact that individuals in Canadian society are surrounded by secular ways that
suppress many forms of spirituality within its history, its sharing, its wellbeing and
its growth is not an adequate reflection of the lack of spirituality in people’s lives.


Awareness of the active aspect of spirituality is often misunderstood and ignored.

There is a need to ‘take it there’, to be in nature oriented spaces, to experience
feelings of ‘déjà-vu’ or the need to connect beyond oneself; highlighting the
important role (knowingly or unknowingly) that spirituality plays in the existence
of all beings. The need for spirituality to be consciously integrated into our daily
existence can be addressed with more transparency, especially in the experience of
African Canadians.
The everyday lives of African Canadians are filled with joy and pain, words that
Rob Base and D.J. E-Z rock were rapping back in the 80s. There are plenty of
situations that bring joy, such as birth, school successes, family gathering or
romantic encounters. These tend to be ignored and the focus on the pain is
emphasised. Now and in the past, the focus has been on negative aspects rather
than positive solutions. This approach plays into the hands of dominant Eurocentric
discourses that control the lives of African peoples, preventing them from
liberating themselves from oppression. While conflict can have positive
consequences, if it is not dealt with in a constructive way, it only serves to deepen
the struggle and thus become negative. The way one responds to conflict influences
the way s/he deals with negativity in her/his life. As bell hooks (2003) puts it,
“many of [them] have not witnessed critical exchanges in [their] families of origins
where different viewpoints are expressed and conflicts resolved constructively.
Instead [they] bring to the … settings [their] unresolved fears and anxieties” (p.
135). Communities need to know how to handle conflict. African Canadians have
had to learn about conflict early and often due to the established dominant social
structures and there is the need to deal with it in constructive ways. This has been
the case for generations, where children rarely learn how to handle divergence
positively and, as a result, bring the cycle of conflict into adulthood.
In my experience as an African body, I have had numerous conversations about
racism, its effects and its consequences on us as a people. As I echo my
conversations, as well as my reflections about racism and racial discrimination,
including books and articles that I have read about race relations, I realised that
very few revolved around the emotional or psychological effects of racism and
racial discrimination on African people. Within my surroundings, African
Canadians often talk about decolonisation without a critical emphasis on their
spiritual well-being, as if it is something to stay away from if they are to survive
(and that is often the choice of word) in this society and in this world. Only rarely
do African Canadians mention the emotional trauma that they might experience,
such as the hurt, shame and pain that they endure because of this floating signifier
called race, as Stuart Hall (1997) would call it.
I would like to mention some examples that are dear to me. A few of my
African friends have had the blessed experience of travelling to the African
continent. Upon their return, they all said the same thing: that they felt a sense of
connection and attachment to the people, the culture and the land. This is in no way
a generic representation of such experience. They also said that they had trouble
adjusting to being back in North America and not in the usual, ‘back from
vacation’ type of uneasiness, rather a sense of resistance and awkwardness to their
understanding of who they were, their way of life and to the western culture. They


came back asking, “Why do we accept this constant bitter sentiment of “otherness”
as a norm or a fatality?” Consequently, after a period of time they stop questioning
out loud and readjust to their familiar lives.
The emotional impact of these examples mentioned is rarely discussed while
their occurrence daily impacts the African people’s behaviours. Another time,
while in a conversation with a friend, he shared that, knowing his brown body had
a specific impact on individuals, he would sometimes cross the street rather than
impose fear onto fellow pedestrians. This is a clear example of how racism and
racial discrimination can impact and shape our behaviour. The emotional aspect of
such reality is not addressed, at least not in a sustaining and healing way. How did
he feel each time after crossing the street? How did he feel to know that he inspires
fear just by the way he looks? How much does this emotional and spiritual injury
impact one’s choice of where to apply for work, school, yoga classes, open a bank
account, look for business grants, where to hang out or where to train at the gym?
All of these daily occurrences do affect the African communities emotionally and
spiritually and can have unwanted consequences.
I would identify these daily encounters as “quiet” traumas. According to Leary
(2005), “trauma is an injury caused by an outside, usually violent, force, event or
experience. We can experience this injury physically, emotionally, psychologically
and/or spiritually. Trauma can upset our equilibrium and sense of well-being. If a
trauma is severe enough it can distort our attitudes and beliefs” (p. 14). Despite the
fact that I identify them as “quiet” traumas, when these encounters happen
frequently, everyday throughout one’s life, it can have some severe consequences
on an individual spirit. Bryant-Davis (2007) speaks of this reality: “Although there
is much literature written about the social, economic, and political effects of
racism, much more is needed in understanding and acknowledging the
psychological effects of racism” (p. 141). Too often intellectuals debate among
themselves in academic settings without including the people and without even
acknowledging their potential to engage. I believe in expanding our understanding
and dialogue, in regards to issues of trauma, with communities in a clear and
simple language so they can speak and exchange about this serious issue.
Spirituality is an important aspect of people’s lives and can no longer be left in the
margins of African Canadian communities. Coming back to ideas embedded in the
frameworks that I apply, communities just like individuals can recognise and
understand their own experiences and express themselves accordingly on matters
that affect them.
In acknowledging the central role played by the communities in their own fate, I
also recognise that the acknowledgment of the importance of spiritual health is
practically invisible in the lives of African Canadian communities. I am aware of
the need to include spiritual healing in everyday discourse, to address racism and
racial discrimination (and other factors) as well as their effects on spiritual health.
For African Canadians, racism prevents them from living their spirituality as part
of the life cycle. This is why a strategy that allows African Canadians to recognise
the centrality of spirituality in their lives, will allow them to move beyond merely
physical health, ensuring that they dictate what their spirituality is and allowing
them to embrace their afrocentricity.



As a first step to healing, the African Canadian communities need to know the way
to move, to adapt their conversations. The words we speak call for intent; if we
mostly speak of negativity then that is what we will experience the most in our
lives. I come back to the need to focus on positive solutions. Communities need to
look into how to move past the cycle of hope, as identified by Fernandes (2003) as
a cycle that only mirrors back hope without ever attaining it. Every dialogue should
allow space for the expression of emotions and spirituality, in order to prevent the
internalising of suffering. If the body becomes sick then the spirit ought to be sick
also and vice versa. Now even more so, when we exchange about the reality of
racism and racial discrimination, we need to do it in a way that will help move past
its sickening consequences. By engaging extensively in this inclusive dialogue it
ought to become part of the unconsciousness and African communities will, over
time, act and react in ways that will reflect their active spirituality, engaging in a
healing process.
We must believe in this need to change our ways. We need to be bold; it is about
different ways of knowing. African Canadians need to use this change of focus as a
strategy to move closer to healing. “It is now time to consider establishing new,
healthier patterns of behaviour, patterns that will be the foundation on which a new
and powerful legacy can develop” (Leary, 2005, p. 190). People need to take the
time to understand each other, know why they have resistance towards one another,
as well as what their beliefs mean not only to themselves but to their environment.
African Canadian communities need to be open minded and understand that what
individuals may believe in has positive aspects that can help them grow as a
community. We need to stop believing in the dichotomy idea of ‘them vs. us’ and
believe and understand that we are all one. It is not about forgetting any wrongs
committed by one group on the other but understanding that it is about the full
cycle of life which we all are parts of, as clichéd as it might sound. “How one
views the world is influenced by what knowledge one possesses, and what
knowledge one is capable of possessing is influenced deeply by one’s worldview”
(Ladson-Billings, 2000, p. 258). Whether one talks to siblings, friends, foes,
strangers, co-workers and so on, it is not about what but more about how it is
talked about. I see the need and importance of engaging in public conversation
about meaningful questions that each aof us might have.
I remember a particular instance at my workplace where religion was the topic
of a conversation between two of my co-workers and I. Not too far into the
discussion, we reached a sensitive issue and one of them suggested to stop the
dialogue because he did not want the conversation to get out of hand. While some
of us might see this as a wise suggestion to avoid conflict, instead I see it as a way
to escape challenging our beliefs. The topic was never raised again. The more we
engage, the more agile we become in doing so. Honesty is one way to break the
cycle of silence that often leads to lies. We need to talk about the
miscomprehensions that we may have of others, as well as what we feel we may or
may not know. When we express ourselves, are we being fair and equitable or do
we only come from a close-minded stance? Are we claiming to be objective when
objectivity is only a word to prevent an honest perception of the reality? Everyone


has their own biases that are based on their identity and experience. What ought to
be is the openness to know and understand that we may be wrong in our perception
or understanding of a situation.
We all have a specific understanding of life which taints how we understand or
view the world or one’s environment. What I understand as objective is: being
honest with ourselves first and then with the others, presenting “equitable
answers”. Answers that are based on equity seek to reach common good not
personal or group interests. African communities can begin to heal by being open
and by being equitable with others. A foundation of this is spirituality as a means
of being fair, positive and just. Spirituality does not move away from polarizing
answers but looks to provide dialogue and equitable answers to all. We need to
work with an agenda of possibility, being willing to engage and move away from
false hope.


Working towards health and well-being will take us to our goal. There is a
significant difference between not being sick and being well. If we are to heal
and become healthy we will do so by building upon our strengths. (Leary,
2005, p. 189)

African Canadian communities need to give themselves the tools to move away
from this cycle of hopelessness. There is hope and they know it. However, do they
really believe in that hope that they say exists? Or do they unconsciously believe
that there is no hope for the future? To me, these are questions based on a number
of actions that often demonstrate the latter belief. In order to experience the world
in different ways, African Canadians need to allow themselves to feel and embody
hope. Until then, P.S. see you when I see you … spirituality.
Aside from spirituality, there are other lenses with which to interpret the world.
Too many of them are trapped in the binary of right and wrong. They want to
implant the understanding of their location into either a secular or a religious
perspective; this only limits them in their comprehension. In using a spiritual lens,
it is about the interconnectedness of each of us to one another: “The fact that a
people’s experience and historical circumstances are shared over a long period of
time in the setting of the culture makes them one, and their oneness creates a
common spirit” (Richards, 1990, p. 208).
Initially I did not see spirituality as a component of our liberation project and
mostly understood it, as I already mentioned, as a private venture. Furthermore I
did not have the words to explain what I understood as spirituality and what it
meant to me, though I was aware of its importance in my life. In this Western
,reason based Canadian society, not being able to give a logical, rational answer
means that your viewpoint is meaningless. But, “Spirit is ethereal …. We
experience our spirituality often, but the translation of that experience into an
intellectual language can never be accurate. The attempt results in reductionism”
(Richards, 1990, p. 208).


When looking into different religious structures, I notice that their particular
philosophy operates within a dichotomy. Though the themes of sisterhood and
brotherhood are part of their foundations, the organisational structures tend to
focus on detaining the ultimate truth as if the truth could be owned. According to
Fernandes (2003), “one of the spiritual errors made throughout history is the claim,
made across religious traditions, to a monopoly on the truth. This claim is both
material and secular” (p. 108). Too much attention is put on the structures and their
representation rather than on the people themselves.
When I reminisce about specific messages about the relationship between god
and the individual, promoted through prayers, sermons and Sunday school by
Christians, I cringe. Messages stating that the ‘individual is worth nothing without
god’ or that ‘only through god can the individual achieve anything in life’. When I
think about the history of slavery and continuous oppression of African Canadian
populations, I understand these messages as a devaluing of the self. The love of
self was never talked about, or very rarely, in the various Christian settings I
experienced. We were to love our neighbour but when we looked at how to love
your neighbour, it was mostly how to avoid conflict by avoiding confrontation; to
turn the other cheek. Another concept is to remain silent while waiting for god to
take action in your name; justice will be served on judgment day. All of these
principles speak of inaction and discourage one from participating in our own
In invoking spirituality, African Canadian communities need to do so with the
intention of reconnecting to themselves wholly, as well as to others. The idea is not
to be better than another or just to rebuild our self-esteem as a people or to
demonstrate to Canadian society that we can perform as well; these goals are traps
that will hold us back. An erroneous, ego-centered approach cannot be about the
oneness that connects all living, non-living, visible and invisible. If the African
Canadian’s worldview comes through the lens of materialism, then they are
feeding the ego. Shahjahan (2005) reinforces this point in saying, “This ego
reinforces this idea of self, the self which is separate from the cosmos and other
beings…It fragments people’s views of themselves, by rupturing their
interconnectedness with other beings” (p. 692).


According to Richards (1990), the experience of the African American can be

understood through two concepts: ethos and worldview. She defines worldview as
the way of making sense of the environment within our communities or the natural
setting in which we exist. In other words it is about knowing. It tells African
Canadians why it is necessary to have a way to be, to see and understand their
surroundings. If we are to keep understanding and looking at the world through a
profit/gain lens, as the western societies have trained us to do, than African
Canadian people ought to remain in a stall mode. It would be quite difficult for
them to progress towards healing in a sustaining way. In order for African
Canadian communities to understand themselves in a different light they need to
experience the world in a different way. For one to be able to recognize him/herself


and her/his surroundings, allows them to move closer to one’s own indigeneity.
Mayuzumi (2006) expresses it well when she says, that experiencing the tea
ceremony (a Japanese ritual) has helped her understand the world in a different
light and perceive her Japanese ancestry with a different understanding than the
dominant western perspective imposed on Japanese culture. It is important to
recognize the multiple forms of knowledges that one can have access to.
As some African Canadian communities move away from the western way of
seeing the world, another discourse needs to integrate their everyday conversations
and reflections; it is the connections among the different indigenous knowledges
(Eastern, African and North/South American Indigenous). They need to look
towards those with similar worldviews to theirs. Rather than consistently looking at
the differences with Western worldviews as a way to identify who they are or who
they are not, it is about knowing yourself in a different way. African Canadian
people need to have a more constructive approach and refuse the l dichotomy that
the west offers and look toward those who share comparable understanding of life
and what it is composed of. There needs to be solidarity among the oppressed
bodies of the world in order to move beyond the shame imposed on them by the
oppressor. In no way do I mean that all is positive among the different racialised
bodies that compose each group; it is not all positive among any given group. My
personal experience of racial discrimination has been filled with interactions with
other racialised bodies. African Canadians need to find and share an entry point
into healing and revaluing their histories, their cultures, their worldviews, their
spirituality and themselves. If we are to speak of developing or re-centering our
understanding of the cosmos and all that it is composed of, then African Canadian
individuals need to start by walking out of their isolated corners and step into the
centre to connect with others. As communities, we must not wait for our place to
be given back to us; African Canadians need to take back their rightful positions at
the centre of knowledge. We need to move away from reactionary attitude, march
towards action and be proactive. To have each and every African Canadian
individual moving at their own pace must not be seen as chaos; it is respect of each
other’s journey as well as each community’s journey. This is neither a simple nor a
high-speed project. That is why African communities need to work, as Goodleaf
(in Shahjahan, 2005) understood it, with the intent of reaching seven generations
after them. This is the interconnection that my understanding of spirituality talks


As I conclude I want to share this last point. The way we learn, as well as what we
learn, is responsible for the way we interact with each other. If my spirituality is
trapped in me, it fragments the way I perceive others, as well as my environment
and myself: “Conventional education teaches us that disconnection is organic to
being” (hooks, 2003, qtd. in Shahjahan, 2005, p. 694). This is the reason why, in
my past, I accepted spirituality as a dettachable element that I can discard, based on
the social setting. Instead, spirituality has an inherent position within us; just like
breathing, it is a necessity. Its essence comes in diverse forms and is expressed in


different ways through atypical courses. That is why I have come to understand
that, no matter the path one takes, what is important is the journey and, hopefully
one day, the arrival.
As I mentioned earlier, my education, along with my socialization, played a
great function in what I thought the role of spirituality was in my life. The
awkwardness of naming spirituality in an academic setting, as if it is not a valid
source of knowledge, was and still is very much present with me. Still, I believe
spirituality cannot be abandoned in the academy; as Fernandes (2003) states,
“Spiritual practice that is based on a belief in a separation between the spiritual and
the material is at best a form of escapism and at worst a means for the perpetuation
of deep-seated forms of injustice” (p. 109). Spirituality is not a private affair. To be
spiritual is to be contesting the location of all forms of political, social and
economical injustices. As our worldview changes and embraces a spiritual way of
knowing, we ought to know and remember that the interconnections are real.


In conclusion, healing from our past injuries is a necessity for our physical, mental
and spiritual selves. The mind, body, and spirit are all interconnected; therefore,
illness affects the mind and spirit, as well as the body – we must have this holistic
approach. This same interconnection makes us part of a circle that tells us that we
need each other. We cannot remain in our own struggle thinking, ‘I have enough to
get through, I cannot be slowed down’ or ‘we are going through very different
struggles’. Let’s remember the oneness. To decolonise we cannot do so on our
own; we need to work together as a community. That same community can only do
so much on its own, it needs the support from other communities, as, allies
providing support and vice versa. It is the same for the path to spiritual wellbeing;
we need the support of the community, as well as other living and non living
beings: “We must not pretend, make it seem like living a life in the spirit is easy.
On the contrary, living a life in the spirit is difficult. It is not a life that is about
how much people are going to like you” (hooks, 2003, p. 159). Once more, we
must not try and fool ourselves, this journey has only begun. Let us be.

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Spirituality seems to be coming of age as a new discourse in the academy and, yet,
many students have been practicing their spirituality everyday as a means of
survival, as a guide or an anchor in how they manage their lives. As a new student
in Canada who had gone to school in Africa, I could not help but notice that
spirituality in the academy has largely been suppressed to create room for
secularism, as a response to the dangers of religious fundamentalism. Yvonne
Bobb-Smith (2007) refers to spirituality among the Caribbean-Canadian women as
an agency that is the “responsibility to think about and create the means to
negotiate their own survival as well as that of their communities” (p. 475). I define
spirituality as an inner life, or inner righteousness, wisdom and generosity of the
spirit being and soul that has the will to do everything or anything for well being or
safety in the community or environment. The spirit being referred to here is not a
deity but a human being who is a spirit, has a soul and lives in the body.
In this chapter, there is the use of Indigenous African knowledge as a theoretical
framework to resist the hegemonic Eurocentric knowledge implicated in spirit
injury in a racially hierarchical society. African spirituality is my core for resisting
all forms of injustice. Although the Eurocentric way of knowing has maintained a
status quo that ignores or suppresses spirituality, it is through African spirituality
that we can resist colonial racism in our society. Dei (2008) asserts that every
knowledge producer and user must be grounded in their own local modes of
thinking in order not to be alienated from their social world. Local ways of
thinking, knowing and knowledge producing must include spirituality as a
framework for understanding a wide array of connections and for challenging
dominant, singular ways of knowing. In this light, this chapter critically examines
how African spirituality can be used in resistance to colonial spirit injury.


Upon coming to Canada in 1998, I found no acceptance in Christian spirituality

and it was not difficult to discern that I would not be free to practice my culture
among these ‘friends’. In Uganda, I had observed the spirituality of the Euro-
Canadian missionaries, who had lived in Africa for forty years, and after arriving in
Canada it seemed possible to me that they were indeed practicing a sort of African

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 183–192.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

spirituality because I could not relate what I saw in them to the Christianity that I
experienced in Canada. It was necessary for me to revise the perception that the
missionaries had impacted African spirituality, rather it was the opposite. The
spirituality that my Euro-Canadian missionary friends had, after some forty years
in Africa, was totally different from that of the Canadian-Christian spirituality I
came in contact with.
As a result, I link Christian spirituality in Canada to Euro-cultural imperialism
which is ongoing. For example, at a retreat I attended in the Ottawa Valley, my
contribution to a conversation drew mixed reactions, whereby two of the women in
our group switched over to speak in French in an attempt to exclude my input.
These attitudes caused a major rupture in my spirituality and it became necessary
for me to jettison the “values” of Christian spirituality due to their Eurocentric and
oppressive nature.

Early Experiences
My awareness of racism, experienced first in the British colonial education in
Uganda, is quite salient. The education system in Uganda was built on systemic
racism, especially through the use of segregated schools. The Indian schools,
which I attended, allowed Indians to practice their Hindu religion with no
requirement for them to convert to Christianity while most Africans, however, had
to convert in order to get an education because schools for most Africans were run
by the Church. In these schools we were anglicized and our Indigenous practices
were re-defined as “savage”. But was the colonizer really interested in converting
the colonized Africans? Memmi (1974) points out that the colonizer is not really
interested in conversion but in maintaining dominant power relationships. Because
colonialism branded everything African as “primitive”, my parents thought it a
good idea to send us to the Indian school instead. Even here, the environment was
spiritually and culturally different than what I grew up with, as an African in the
countryside. We were told that, in town away from the African schools of the
villages, we could have the ‘best education’ for future success.
However, in these elitist schools we were taught to sing British songs under the
tutelage of a white teacher. I remember learning songs about snow. For example,
“Oh it is slowly I go through the thick falling snow, leaving home and love
behind.” There is no snow in Uganda but there are African folk songs that are
meaningful for our culture and African education; we did not learn these. English
songs were meant to replace the Indigenous African songs about events, our history
or even the seasonal songs about bumper harvests of grains or seeds and other food
crops, songs that people gather around to sing during annual festivals in the
villages. African songs are spiritual, about the ancestors and our history. Also, at
school, our languages were regarded as “primitive” or unacceptable. Our languages
were redefined as “dialects”, not languages, in a bid to devalue them in comparison
with English. European education in Uganda worked to rob the students of their
African identity.
I also remember singing: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming forth to carry me
home, a band of angels coming after me, coming forth to carry me home.” On


learning this song, our thoughts went to river Jordan out of our scripture lessons.
Home was manifested as some sweet place far away from the realities of our
African lives, a place where we were ‘changed’ into something else and all signs
pointed to this something else being much Whiter than we were. Such songs pitted
the students against the homes of their parents who paid their children’s fees. In
this way, parents had to pay for the colonization of the minds and amputation of
the souls of their children.
There was also this song: “I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee; I
am going to Louisiana my Susana for to see. For, I am going to Alabama with my
banjo on my knee.” The white woman who taught these songs, where the banjo
was mentioned, obviously did not see the irony in the fact that the banjo is actually
indigenous to Uganda, as well as some other African countries like the Central
African Republic, the Congo, Zambia, and others (Epstein, 1975). They are made
locally in the villages by people who have never been to Alabama or Louisiana.
The banjo has been appropriated from Africa and Africans into the New World,
carried captive there along with its owners. The banjo reference made some sense
to us as children, unlike those of snow, because the banjo is an essential musical
instrument to our village, which had two gifted banjo players named Opio and
Osira. The people who played the banjo, in addition to making the banjo, were also
gifted in carving walking sticks from certain kinds of indigenous trees whose
woods had spiritually meanings. As children, all this we knew already but we knew
nothing of the world of Alabama.
The English songs were part of the epistemic oppression, through which the
colonizer was to break the spirit of Africans. In a town in Eastern Uganda, called
Tororo, at every year end the Jopadhola compose their own communal songs that
speak of the events that have impacted their lives, using all kinds of instruments.
Among them is the locally made banjo. Some of these songs are satires sung about
the meaninglessness of the white man’s songs to the Indigenous people and how
they practice their spirituality. Other songs are also sung to teach history, which is
passed on orally as younger generations learn the songs. Though not written down,
the indigenous songs have endured. As children and as part of our spiritual
upbringing, we knew these songs but our education divorced us from them, instead
teaching us about snow, good people who became as white as this snow, and far off
places such as Alabama.

Racism in the Indian Schools

My parents and family wanted the best education for their children and no
disrespect is meant to them by my interrogation. Even though colonialism
oppressed our parents and caused them much spirit injury, they believed that it was
through acquiring good European education that the children would regain what
had been disrupted and devalued. The impact of colonialism was so thorough that
our parents were willing to spend all the money they had on sending us to a good
school, hoping it would bring us nearer to the ‘privilege and power’ that white
children from Kizunguni had. Kizunguni was the Swahili name for the whites’ only
quarters in town. The principles of African connectedness and spirituality saw to it


that other members of the extended family contributed school fees to the children
of their siblings; community is and was important.
But our parents did not know our experiences with racism as minority students
in the Indian Public School. The Indians’ social position was part of the colonial
hierarchy and was maintained through the perpetuation of racism and domination.
Indians looked down on the few African students in the Indian schools. School
administrators were openly associated with well-connected politicians in working
relationships that ensured Indian and White economic domination over Africans. In
this hierarchy, Indians needed to protect their limited social status through
disenfranchising Africans. Indians befriended politicians in what Frantz Fanon
(1963) describes as the “bourgeoisie caste” system, maintaining the colonial
contempt and hierarchies.
Indians were originally brought to Uganda as part of a colonial project, to work
as porters on the Uganda Railway, built to Mombasa Port to export copper from
Kilembe Mines to England. Tororo, our home, was a major north/south junction for
the railway line. Africans had refused to work as porters on the railway because
they were primarily farmers and land owners who stood to lose land. Taking away
Ugandan copper was part of the injury that Africans encountered due to
colonialism. One of the Ten Commandments in Christianity is ‘Thou shalt not
steal’ but the colonial powers were not concerned with this. The colonialists
imposed Christianity on Africans but could not practice what they preached.
Africans resisted colonial Christian spirituality and the racial segregation that it
was invested in. For example, there was a time in Uganda, post-independence,
when the white men continued to manage the industries in the country. In 1969,
there was the Uganda Cement Industry (UCI) in Tororo where an Italian was the
general manager. He did not listen to the grievances of workers about safety issues,
more concerned with the desire for cheap labour. African workers collectively
decided to confront him. The encounter was tense and, afterwards, there was a
ritual spiritual cleansing to ensure that whoever had confronted the European
oppressor would not be haunted by his spirit or ‘shadow’. Such acts of resistance
are edited out of the European accounts. One has to experience something hurtful
to turn around and resist its recurrence.


With Indigenous African knowledge as a theoretical framework, we can offer

healing processes for spirit injury against people of African desent. I implicate
Eurocentric colonialism as the main culprit in violating African spirituality. With
the rise of spiritual discussion, care must be taken that there is room for African
spirituality within these discourses. If not, spirit injury occurs. Groen (2008) states:

Spirituality in North America is a growing phenomenon that is finding

expression both within and outside religious traditions. For centuries people
sought answers to life’s important questions within the walls of formal
religious institutions, this is no longer the sole pathway as increasing


numbers of adults seek an alternative journey towards spiritual meaning, such

as retreats, meditation and spiritually-based popular reading. (p. 153)

My concern here is with the non-recognition of African spirituality or the spiritual

agency of Africans within these new discourses of spirituality, which are seeping
into the learning institutes of Canada. Wane and Neegan (2007) tell us that
Africans have maintained a 400 year presence in Canada but nowhere in the above
paragraph is mention made of historic spirituality outside the confines of the
dominant religions, which Groen names as “formal religious institutions.” Where
does African spirituality that is grounded in cultural institutions and philosophical
frameworks fit? Groen talks about religion as the “sole pathway” of the past,
ignoring the many options available through African spirituality and, further,
projecting a linear model of history that is colonial and Eurocentric in scope. It
causes spirit injury to Indigenous learners. Today, as in the past, there are multiple
pathways for people to seek spiritual meaning through African spirituality.
Similarly, Groen (2008) makes a point about retreats which, in my experience,
are elitist and further dominant norms rather than spiritual growth. These places are
often not open to African bodies or African spirituality. As I mentioned earlier, the
women’s Christian retreat in the Ottawa Valley that I attended caused more spirit
injury than any healing. In going, my interest was in meeting other women who
were interested in furthering their spiritual development. I was excited to share my
testimony for spiritual fulfilment, spirituality networking, and to equip me for the
challenges in a new environment and in a new country. This proved to be a failure.
The first obstacle was that the person who registered me on the phone did not
know that I was Black because of my first name and that I spoke English fluently.
The person was blinded by European colonization and forgot that English is widely
spoken in Africa, with certain countries, such as Uganda, having it as the official
language. It was only after my arrival at the venue that my host found out that I
was Black. Our journey to the retreat saw nobody talking to me, not even the leader
responsible for receiving the first time visitors. Throughout the retreat the women
were cold and worked to make sure I was not included. The encounter with this
racism caused spirit injury of a great magnitude and contributed to a new
awakening in me about Western Christian spirituality. I am reminded that not all
white women are so cold hearted but certainly this particular Christian retreat
group perfected such a thought in my mind.
My encounter with racism at the retreat challenges what Groen (2008) says, that
“it is in our everyday experiences and our humanity that we find our soul” (p. 194).
Not only is the idea of ‘finding one’s soul’ in opposition to African spirituality,
where the soul is already always present in all aspects of life itself, but such a
statement ignores that European colonialism, that through everyday actions, has
hurt members of minoritized groups. Moreover, the use of a normalizing ‘our’,
highlights the universalisation process of Western thinking. Whose humanity must
be used to find spirituality? What everyday actions highlight faith? Do the actions
of people like those at the retreat constitute spiritual or soul-full living? Do I need
to go to retreats or read certain texts or burn incense to find my soul? My African


spirituality does not neatly fit into many of the boxes given to it by Eurocentric
In contrast, a few days later a woman from Kenya noticed me on a bus and
asked for the news chapter that I was reading. In the process, she had the
opportunity to ask about my origins. Sensing African spirituality in her, we
introduced ourselves and I found out that Naomi Muli was from Kenya. I told her
that I also have a home in Nairobi, Kenya and we reverted to Kiswahili
immediately. That weekend, Naomi took me to the mall and spent $250 shopping
for us as well as counselling me on how to settle and warned me about the racism I
would experience. Our African spirituality, built on the unity of Africans, enabled
Naomi to treat me like a sister immediately. It is the African spirit of unity,
communalism and hospitality practiced in African culture that gave Naomi the
sense of duty to take responsibility and act like a sister. No retreats were necessary
for a spiritual connection; it was part of our Naomi’s lived experiences and daily
African spirituality does not fit into European standards (Dei, 2002). For
example, what Naomi Muli did for me was more than what the social workers,
trained from a Eurocentric paradigm, could ever do for me after my arrival in
Canada. The social workers almost immediately started treating me like a potential
criminal or a possible welfare cheat to be monitored. Because everybody in our
family, including children, all have different surnames, a social worker mockingly
told me that she had never heard of anywhere where someone had children with
different surnames, unless they had different fathers. Such arrogance causes spirit
injury through racism, by refusing to recognize that Africans have their own
culture. Further, buttressed by her Eurocentric upbringing, the social worker did
not have any experience with spirituality but, rather, she had a hostile spirit full of
cultural arrogance and ignorance. There was nothing holistic in the questions that
she asked and neither was she receptive to the idea that there are multiple cultures
with multiple ways of naming.
As Africans, we must know that Eurocentric knowing will not assist us in
fighting spirit injury. I remember a Tanzanian woman elder warning a Rwandan
woman I knew who was seeking emotional healing after the genocide, not to attend
a Christian gathering. Mama Mtebe told her a word of wisdom in Kiswahili, “Wata
ku baguwa na wata ku tania,” meaning, “They will discriminate against you and
mock you.” African oral knowledge is readily available among elders and Mama
Mtebe readily gave it to save someone from spirit injury. Wisdom from an African
elder was readily accepted by the Rwandan woman and, as a result, she had more
healing than if she were to go to a Christian retreat. European culture should not
overlook the fact that, for an African to practice spirituality that gives genuine
emotional healing, one needs African wisdom grounded in an African spiritual




Mazama (2002) quotes Asante in telling us that the ultimate goal of Afrocentricity
is the recovery of African freedom and creativity and that Afrocentricity is the
measure of our lives. Afrocentricity must inform our approach to everything:
walking, running, loving, eating, working and so forth. Mazama (2002) also adds
that one important feature of African resistance, through Afrocentricity, is reliance
on spirituality. He asserts that the fundamental African philosophical principle is
the principle of the unity of being. This unity of being or ontological unity is what
draws one African to another when confronted with racism and spirit injury
emanating from colonialism.
This African spirituality is not about creating a dichotomy between Western and
African spirituality but about accepting a multiplicity of possibilities. On the other
hand, Afrocentrists and those who practice African spirituality must guard against
co-optation that could render African agency invisible or appropriated. I have had
the experience of thinking that there was something beneficial about practicing
Western Christianity for ‘integration’ as a new comer. However, resistance to
‘integration’ must begin immediately because this ‘integration’ is assimilation
followed by dehumanization and spiritual injury.
Organized Western religions, as agents of colonial ways of knowing, are
cultural and spiritual oppressors that perpetuate the domination of Africans,
especially in matters of spirituality. No amount of improvement or change can be
brought about by Africans in any organized religion because it is also the structure
and frameworks of the religion that are responsible for spirit injury. African
spirituality must remain autonomous. Efforts at African spirituality within
organized religions can be co-opted for the benefit of the colonizer and oppressor.
Once, a White woman told me that she loved African singing and worship. She had
spent some time in Africa and, when she went, she led the choirs at the local
Catholic Church. It is safe to say that colonialism is perpetuated through organized
religion where Africans are led by people of European descent who in turn relegate
Africans to the periphery.
One can agree with Mazama (2002) that Christianity has been practiced to
justify Eurocentric domination and there is need for a strong challenge from
Afrocentricity. African experiences are collective and collective action is therefore
necessary in utilizing our African spiritual agency to confront issues of racism and
the denigration of our culture that is the base of our very being.
The imposed religions do not resonate with African spirituality in many ways. For
example, the symbol of the serpent in the Old Testament is that of the serpent
deceiving Eve the woman and Eve later misleading Adam the man; the serpent is
the evil deceiver. In contrast, I remember from when I was in Kenya, that it is not
evil to dream about a snake, instead it is a message that a woman has conceived a
child. As a result, should an African woman believe that the dream signifies evil,
she is likely to miss an important interpretation or the announcement of the
conception of her child.
Similarly, there was one night in Kenya when both my cousin and I had the
same dream. We both dreamt that a certain pilot whom we both knew had left his


wife and moved into another house. It so happened that because of Anglican
influence over our ethnic community, we had been told not to interpret dreams.
However, a few days later, the person we dreamt of went to be with his ancestors.
The ancestors had been spiritually communicating a message to us and, had we
known how to interpret it, we could perhaps have saved someone’s life by warning
Spirituality in Africa is not passive and is put into use in the daily lives of the
people. For example, in Uganda in 2007, Indigenous environmentalists threatened
to call on the spirits in Mabira Forest if the government insisted on leasing part of
this Indigenous forest to an East Indian entrepreneur to grow sugar cane,
desecrating the Indigenous medicinal trees in the forest. Some women with
spiritual powers issued statements and promised to unleash the guardian spirits
upon anybody who dared encroach on the Indigenous forest. This forced the
government to back down on giving away parts of Mabira Forest Reserve. The
president of Uganda backed down once he heard that the citizens were going to
consult the spirit mediums to call on the spirits of the forest (The New Vision,
2007). African spirituality is a strong force that many Africans use regularly and
effectively in resisting oppression and subjugation. It is not something kept to
one’s self but used in a wide range of daily activities.
Wane and Neegan (2007) assert that African spirituality, as an anti-colonial
discourse, also guides our quest for greater meaning in life. Mazama (2002, p. 222)
asserts that there can be no dichotomy between so-called natural and supernatural
worlds. For this reason, in many parts of the African world, the dead, or ‘living-
dead’, are buried within the family compound along with many of their belongings,
so that they can continue playing a part in their family’s affairs. Africans also
practice the offering of libations and food to the living dead as gestures of
appreciation, hospitality and respect (Mazama, 2002). This spiritual realm helps to
provide meaning, give direction and helps to maintain connections to the living, the
dead and the environment. The ancestors are not merely departed relatives but
guides, sharing a connection with the living.
I was once a witness to my father speaking to my grandfather, who one year
earlier had died. My brother, Rembo, had fallen sick and no amount of western
medicine gave him any relief. My father thought at first that it was cerebral
malaria, but it was not. He had some insight that my grandfather’s spirit was
grieved and wanted to speak to him through my brother. A simple ritual of holding
his hands in a particular way and shaking them saw my brother clear his throat in
readiness to speak after nearly two days of silence. My father asked who the spirit
was and he clearly told him that he was my grandfather, Mikaili Yoga. They then
held a conversation in which my grandfather instructed my father. Soon after that
communication with the ‘living dead’, my brother recovered from the sickness.
Mazama (2002, p. 221) informs us that in African philosophy new-borns are
frequently thought of as ancestors who came back, not necessarily as physical
entities but as spiritual personalities. In my father’s communication with my ‘living
dead’ grandfather, the name that he used to call my brother was an ancestral
spiritual name. Such African spirituality is usually absent in Eurocentric discourse.


This demonstrates, that in spite of colonialism and its impact on the local
people, African spirituality continues to flourish among the African communities.
This is our way of resisting spirit injury in a colonized society. Similarly, ancestral
African names are usually given according to circumstances, events, or African
proverbs, something regarded as pagan by the colonialists. Mazama (2002) quotes
the Bambara saying: “Life merges from divinity through birth and merges back
into divinity through death and through this cyclical transformation, we achieve
immortality” (p. 223). Keeping ancestors‘ names alive is a tribute to the ‘living
dead’ and a way of maintaining the cyclical patterns of African spirituality.
Asante (1990) states that African spirituality enables us to present arguments
from a different angle. African spirituality resists being defined from a dominant
standpoint. The realm of spirituality and of the ‘living dead’ is not voodoo, myths
or a bygone tradition. It is for healing and guidance that we co-exist with the living
dead, honouring the connection to a framework that is larger than our individual


In conclusion, for Africans in the Diaspora and on the Continent, African

spirituality is an important anchor in healing and resisting spirit injury caused by
racism and colonial discourses. Throughout my life I have suffered many instances
of spirit injury and have tried to work with Western Christianity. Integration to
Western methods is not a way to acceptance and only further harms the African
spirit. The only thing that has brought me to the place I am is African spirituality. It
connects me to other Africans, both on the Continent and in the Diaspora, and
guides me through the many locations of oppression and hurt that are placed in my
life by Eurocentric ways of knowing.
African spirituality is maintained through oral narratives, dreams, words of
wisdom and the maintaining of connections to the ‘living dead’. It empowers us to
live with humility and compassion. As my stories show, spirituality is deeply
personal but it also connects us to a larger network of forces, rooting us in the
collective histories of our people and sustaining us in the journeys that these
connections take us on. My spirituality is something that I live in my daily actions,
much like the spirituality of Naomi Muli or the women of Mabira Forest. I cannot
separate it from who I am.

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As I define my strength through weakness

The rape of Mother Earth’s Witness
I sit in the privilege of Academia
Graduating from a Master’s in insomnia
The Strong Afrikan Womban is Tired

So much attention on my black breasts

No space for me to express my need for rest
In a world of dicks and chiefs
Struggling to find a sistahood in peace
As I walk, and run, I forget how to see and sleep
As I weep, I am labeled weak
The Strong Afrikan Womban is Tired

The demeanor eraser of my body

Traces the invisibility of my life’s work
The validity of my emotions feeling ravaged
As my mind is in overdrive
Yet I don’t know how to drive
The Strong Afrikan Womban is Tired

As the blood runs through the river Nile

From Egypt to South Africa
You’re still in denial
Embodying pain, revulsion and shame
I’ve remembered, imagined, confessed, and promised yet
The visual imagery of my everyday poetry is silenced
The Strong Afrikan Womban is Tired

My part in finding is getting lost, as I loose, I find

The stories inside and in between my stories
The lies inside me and in between my thighs lies
My need to revolutionize the false truths
To decolonize the weapons in disguise
The Strong Afrikan Womban is Tired

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 193–203.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

The screeching pain under my tooth is no cavity

It’s my captivated truth shadowing my reality
Trying to entrap me to overstand my own body
The Strong Afrikan womban is Tired
I’m no story teller, I’m a story told by her,
reclaiming the her in power
For my Soul, I fetch water,
Even when the season could not be dryer
For my spirit, I search for the circular
Through my Afrikan chest and black breasts, comes my inner breath
When a Strong Afrikan womban is Tired, She breathes
Listen to the breath in her heartbeat, you will finally see her


I have lived most of my life outside my country of birth, breathing Eurocentric air
(through my formal education and socialization) in both Europe and North
America; this is part of my reality as a Kenyan Black womban.
In the critical reflections that I am sharing in self-analysis form, I will use my
story as a study, by articulating my struggles in decolonizing my mind and body
and showing how this process affects my spiritual growth as a human being, as
well as how it impacts my knowledge as a youth educator (outside the classroom)
and a graduate student in Academia (inside the class room).
As illustrated in my poem “The Strong Back womban is Tired,” part of my
journey is getting lost in order for me to find spiritual meaning; this is an integral
part of my decolonization process. Therefore, I intend to focus on the aspect of my
experience that speaks to the loss of my indigenous languages. In my critical self-
analysis, I do not intend to bring about an undifferentiated, rigid, monolithic
understanding of my experience for those who share (or do not share)
commonalities or/and differences to my story. Rather, I hope to use my story as
part of a collective resistance tool to bring Black African women’s shared
experiences (that embrace similarities and diversities) to the forefront of world
conversations, including local and global dialogues.
In this chapter, I will be the research subject throughout my writing, as a
womban embodying the intersectionality of being African (Kenyan), Black, a so-
called immigrant, a community activist, a popular educator, and graduate student in
the academy. I want to use my subjectivity to explore various aspects of spirituality
and identity, including its implications in education in various socio-cultural
spaces. I will be using a narrative autoethnographic approach in hopes to validate
the knowledge that I embody and that has shaped my experiences.

Womban refers to my female identity including my body, mind, soul and spirit that has the wisdom to
nurture life, stories, intellectuality, resilience and emotions in ways that are specific to me which is
beyond a physical/biological level but rather an African Spiritual personal and collective reclaiming of
my being



To explore my story, critical autoethnography is my standpoint. It is a style of

narrating, writing and researching that connects the personal to the cultural by
placing the self within a social context (Ellis & Bochner, 2000). This method
relates strongly to how I see spirituality and find spiritual meaning in relation to
ancestry and culture. Due to this, to provide meaning to my subjective sculpture, I
will be using the first person by including dialogue, emotion, and self-
consciousness, showing how my stories are impacted by my history, social
structure and relationships (Ellis & Bochner, 2000). Autoethnography is a
controversial methodology, especially in Academia where objectivity is often
perceived, and consequently pursued, as the most valid and valuable approach to
academic work and research. Many people have criticized autoethnography as
being too sentimental, emotional and not scientific enough (Denzin & Lincoln,
1994; Sparkes, 2000). Others have criticized it for being too self-centered and
biased in lacking objectivity and, therefore, cannot be applied to the formal criteria
of qualitative research (Coffey, 1999; Sparkes 2000).
I disagree with these comments because I know the power of the knowledge that
is founded on lived experience, especially its significance in indigenous
communities, African communities (from the Continent or/and Diaspora), as well
as many other oppressed populations worldwide. However, these criticisms of
autoethnography are very interesting as they intersect with popular criticism that
has been brought against the place of spirituality in education, especially in
societies that value capital profit instead of spiritual growth and social
responsibility (Fernandes, 2003). As educators and students, we need to see these
connections and find ways to resist dominant ideologies that privilege the mind
over the body, written knowledge over oral knowledge, etc. We must also bring
our whole emotional and spiritual selves into the classroom, being present in all
ways. bell hooks (2003) states: “One of the first things I do is bring my body out
there with the students: to see them, to be with them” (p. 157).
Her statement strongly resonates in me because I have often been taught to be a
head without a body, disembodied in the formal education that I have undergone.
This has been a significant aspect of my oppression, as an African black female
non-heterosexual student subjected to teachings that constantly “othered” me
intellectually, physically and emotionally. Furthermore, in hooks’s (2003) writing
on spirituality in education, she testifies that: “the meaningfulness of spiritual
practice is that such a practice sustains and nurtures progressive teaching,
progressive politics, enhances the struggle for liberation” (p. 164).
The criticism regarding autoethonography as a valid academic tool also applies
to similar criticisms that question the validity of Indigenous knowledges in
Academia and society at large. This criticism stems from the hierarchy of
knowledge which devalues the experiences of African Black Women (from the
Continent or the Diaspora), refusing them place at the center of education, work
place environments, and societies worldwide (Wane, 2000). My goal is to use
autoethnography to counteract Eurocentric ideals of what is considered valid
valuable knowledge or/and research in society and the Academy.


I see autoethnography as a method for experiences of the oppressed to be

expressed and also as a tool to bring validity to the reality of people living in the
margins of societies worldwide. It also teaches academics to not fear subjectivity
but rather embrace it. For me, I was compelled to the word and its idea before I
even really grasped its concept or potential. When deconstructing this English
word, autoethnography, I was attracted to its meaning in knowing that it was
composed of self (auto), collective/nation (ethno) and writing (graphy). Trotter
White in McClaurin’s (2003) Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics,
Praxis and Poetics describes autoethnography as a: “Concept … [that]focuses on
righting the ways in which a culture can be misrepresented and distorted by another
that is outside-dominating or colonizing” (p. 65).
Many marginalized peoples and theorists have used this form of writing not only
to advocate for their rights but also to reclaim their stories, as well as to present an
in-depth critical inquiry about their oppressions. It was also a way to express
personal emotions in a public fashion, using the colonizer’s language in order
expose the systemic discrimination based on race, class, sexual orientation, gender,
(dis)ability and more. McClaurin (2001) clearly illustrates this when talking about
autoethnography as: “the dialogical, in that it represents the speaker/writer’s
subjective discourse but in the language of the colonizers, the “native”
demonstrates her capacity to be both like the colonizer and unlike him” (p. 65).
I hope that my story brings forth more self-knowledge/awareness, both
validating the “I” in Academia all the while encouraging me to take a critical lens
to my search for authenticity, accountability and social responsibility. Ellis and
Bochner (2000) speak to me when they state that autoethnography: “make[s] the
researcher’s own experience a topic of investigation in its own right” rather than
seeming “as if they’re written from nowhere by nobody” (p. 733). To further this
autoethnographic journey, and by using myself as primary data as a transformative
tool, I will thread my analysis and interpretation of my behavior, thoughts, and
experiences in relation to other bodies and structures in the spaces that I have
encountered. In doing so, my focus will be on embedding the loss of my
indigenous languages and its impact on my spiritual journey within the role of
spirituality in education. I will use two transformative frameworks that will include
Black feminist thought and anti-colonial thought.
These two frameworks clearly speak to the reality of my experience and the
needs for me to see myself and to be seen, in order to emancipate my colonized
mind through experiencing self love and spiritual growth. I hope to illustrate the
common and diverse standpoints from which African Black Women might live
spiritually by exemplifying my story. By Applying McClaurin’s (2001) framework,
I will attempt to situate why African/Black Feminism is important, in that it gives
a: “coherent, yet heterogenous way of seeing and interpreting the social world and
the role of Black women in that world” (pp. 62-63).
African/Black feminist thought is a complex, fluid body of knowledge that is
constantly changing and means different things to different people worldwide. This
is due to how African/Black female bodies experience their lives very differently in
various global settings, in terms of physical, emotional, geographical and spiritual
locations. We embody diversity in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-


economic background, religion, literacy levels and, thus, embody a variety of

histories, lifestyles and standpoints. Because of this, I will simply provide an
understanding of what African/Black Feminism means to me and how I embody
this framework. I see African/Black feminism as recreating and reclaiming
experiences grounded in history, cultural perspectives and social constructions by
recognizing black women’s oppression with an anti-colonial standpoint. In doing
so, by validating our activism and knowledge, including our creative
transformative actions, and by valuing the different and common ways in which we
know the world and breathe in it, we can counteract Eurocentric systems of
thought. McClaurin (2001) speaks to me when she gives her meaning of Black
feminism as “an embodied theoretical standpoint that derives its formulations from
the lived experiences of Black women’s lives and social positions in the world” (p.
Theorists from the African continent like Wahu Kaara, Musimbi Kanyoro,
Wangari Mathai, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and more; Black feminists from the
Diaspora in America such as Irma McClaurin, Rose Brewer, Stanlie James, bell
hooks, Particia Hill Collins; as well African or/and Caribbean Canadian women
living in such as Notisha Massaquoi, Njoki Nathani Wane, Erica Lawson, Erica
Neegan, Wangari Esther Tharao, Roberta K. Timothy, d’bi.young.antifrika, etc.
have defined, redefined, deconstructed, reconstructed and gave meaning to the
concept of Black feminism through various bodies of work in activism, organizing,
mothering, research, academia, the Arts, and storytelling. African/Black feminism
is vibrant and diverse, allowing for many paths to liberation and, in the process of
my work, I too hope to be liberated from the constraints of the dominant
representations of empirical work (Wane, 2007). Therefore, for those who might
read this work, I fully acknowledge that a Eurocentric framework and criteria will
not be appropriate to adequately understand this chapter.


I was born in Nairobi, Kenya from two Kenyan parents, grew up in Europe and
later moved to Canada as an adult. The move of my mind and body from one place
to another brought forth new knowledge, including a global perspective to various
social phenomena. However, simultaneously, it also disrupted my roots and
connections to my place of birth, both physically and emotionally. However, my
parents (who grew up in rural Kenya and moved to Nairobi as adults) worked very
hard to ensure that our family was grounded in Kenyan culture. This was done
through storytelling, rituals (such as giving thanks to different elements of the
earth), sharing morals and values key to their indigenous knowledges, as well as
speaking Swahili to my brother and I during our childhood. Due to my lack of
practice and the pressures for me to conform in the school environments and social
networks, I slowly lost this language.
I am the only one in my family who does not have a solid understanding of any
Kenyan indigenous languages, which are the ‘baskets’ of my identity and
spirituality. My family in Kenya (cousins, uncles, aunts, grand aunts, and
grandparents when they were physically alive) all speak Swahili, Gikuyu, or /and


Luya. For those of us who left Kenya, my parents, brother, other aunts, cousins and
uncles all speak at least one indigenous language almost fluently. Some might find
reason in knowing that this is because I left Kenya for the first time when I was a
very young child, while my other family members left at later ages.
Personally I find no peace in that; it might be an explanation but it is no
justification. Although I have not lost Swahili entirely, I can understand
conversations that one would hear in the streets or in a family household, there is
no way I could write this paper in Swahili, or even less in Gikuyu (my father’s
indigenous language) or Luya (my mother’s indigenous language), two indigenous
languages that I cannot speak asides from a few words. When we moved to
Europe, my parents really fought hard to continue speaking Swahili to us.
However, I went to a public school that spoke French and I would return home
saying words in French, a language I had to acquire to understand what was going
on in the classroom. I have vivid memories of my mind being confused and lost as
I was learning a new language (the colonizer’s language) and forgetting others (my
indigenous languages).
I was not lost because I was learning new languages; I was lost because of how
those new languages disconnected me from my Kenyan roots and how this
negatively affected my emotional well being in terms of who I was and how I was
supposed to speak. In the classroom, all the immigrants where taken aside from the
rest of the class to go for “specialized” courses, for those who did not understand
the dominant language, French. The classroom separations were not just for
language courses, this approach to teaching was included in math and other
sciences courses as well. The students that did not acquire the dominant language
were considered “slow” in learning, “troublesome”, or “behind”. This was us: the
new immigrants and the people of color.
In the fear of being excluded and misunderstood, I did everything to learn
French and, at the time, it was easy because I was a child where most of my
socialization, inside or outside the classroom (playgrounds and such), was done in
French. However, when I would come home, where Swahili and English were
spoken, I felt completely confused to the point where I felt ashamed without really
understanding why. My parents tell me stories, describing moments where they
would communicate with me in English or/and Swahili and I would respond in
French. I was already conditioned to think and respond in my new language. We
were all struggling as a family to adjust to this new environment and at the time
there were neither resources nor support for my parents to express their worry and
concern. With time we were able to find a community and, as years passed, more
and more people from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania moved in, although most of
the African immigrants came from francophone countries such as Senegal,
Cameroon, Congo, Mali, Burkina Faso etc…because we were in a French speaking
area. I was eventually able to take Swahili classes with a family friend called
Mama Swai from Tanzania, but they did not last long enough due to different life
Today, when I go back to Kenya, so many mixed feelings invade my body,
feelings such as the joys of seeing family, friends and loved ones, as well as the
beauties of smelling the red soil, breathing the air in my parents villages, seeing the


incredible landscapes, eating the tasty food and ingredients, hearing the sounds of
different animals, embracing the feeling of belonging with the stories of my elders,
the laughter of my young cousins, and plenty more. However, I am also struck by
shame and embarrassment as I recognize in such strong ways the impact of my
colonization and the difficulties in store for me to decolonize my mind. Now, I am
not romanticizing my roots and culture but, rather, valuing their worth. I am aware
that most of my cousins, aunties, uncles and my parents went to school learning
British history and that the British colonial influence, that is tangible, is affecting
Kenyans living in Kenya in many destructive ways. My mother still tells me stories
of how she taught herself, when she was a young adult, how to read and write in
Luya because she did most of her schooling in Kenya, until university level, in
English. Even living in Kenya, it was only while she was pursuing her PhD in
linguistics that she decided to learn several bantu languages. There is complexity in
our stories.
Still, my mother’s (and father’s) connection to Kenya in ancestry, culture and
spirituality is so strong and rooted within her. The knowledge of the languages that
compose her identity is found in the way she breathes and sees herself in the world,
no matter where she lives. However, in my case, I have a spiritual disadvantage by
not fully speaking my indigenous languages and it has prevented me from keeping
a deeper connection to my ancestry, affecting my identity, self awareness and my
spiritual and emotional well being. In moments of isolation within my formal
education and other places of socialization, having an awareness of Gikuyu and
Luya could have created a place of comfort, collective ownership and community
without the need of physical bodies who shared common backgrounds with mine,
because a collective consciousness would be installed in me through my
indigenous languages.


Through the process of losing my indigenous languages, it is only now that I am

finding myself, as I analyze my own narrative to provide a framework that gives
meaning and understanding to the role that spirituality plays in my life. I go back to
the African womban’s spirituality that my matrilineal ancestry embodies to find
how my life is interconnected with everything and everyone on this Earth, whether
it is in creative ways or destructive ways. When I struggle to find myself in the
challenges of my decolonization process, I think of Zulu Latifa’s words when she
said in her interview with Wane (2007) that:

At the root of Black women’s spirituality is a lineage connection to ancestral

wisdom that is passed down in words and deeds, but mainly deeds. This
connection takes places at the spiritual level, consciously, before a woman’s
physical birth place. Black women carry this ordained spirituality in manners
different from other races of women. (p. 49)

Although I try to live by humility and mindfulness, I struggle to find inner peace
with the reality of my daily oppression. While I define myself through the deep


relationships that I have with people and nature, I also suffer when I do not have
possession of my indigenous languages. Interestingly, because of my shame, when
I speak Swahili in Kenya I get paralyzed, the same with people that are here in
Canada who speak Swahili. I know what they are saying and I have the vocabulary
to respond adequately but I freeze and it’s in these moments that I need to feel the
communal holistic aspect of spirituality that is evident in rootedness. My spiritual
self becomes my tool for freedom and emancipation. Wane and Neegan’s (2007)
words strongly resonate in me when they are talking about African Women’s
Indigenous Spirituality and they say: “Historically, spirituality has served as a
personal and communal source of liberation, solace, hope and forgiveness for many
women of African ancestry” (p. 30).
In applying my narrative reflexively, so as to have an in-depth analysis of my
interactions in society in relation to the loss of my indigenous languages and the
impact of spirituality (or the lack of) on my education and identity, I also want to
include how I conceptualize the need for spirituality in education. For too long, an
authentic representation of my body and mind has been excluded from mainstream
research, while other people come into my communities to “research” me and to
write inadequately about a reality that is supposed to be mine. This is something
that I am not experiencing in isolation and hope to counteract with the sharing of
my story.
I educate myself in various ways; consciously, I want to be aware of what is
going on in my home country but subconsciously I think this might be a way for
me to compensate for my loss. For example, I make sure that I read the Kenyan
Standard and Daily Nation almost every day because I try my best to be aware of
the latest news of what is happening in Kenya. When my grandparents were alive, I
communicated with them in my broken Swahili and it was good, I did not feel a
barrier because they loved me no matter what, even if what I said did not make the
most sense. In addition, my mistakes were always corrected, so the knowledge of
my grandparents contributed to my education positively. However, when I am
watching KTV or KTN for example (local and National Kenyan news) or comedy
shows such as “Ridiculous” where I do not have a full understanding of the jokes,
or at family events when I understand a joke late, the shame and guilt crawls right
back inside me. This also happens when I take a Matatu (a Kenyan public transport
system) and the co-driver taking the money can notice that I grew up abroad.
Despite the shame, I attempt to reconnect to a part of me that I have lost,
attempting to grow from roots that were once severed.


The loss of language is part of the colonization of my mind and it is probably one
of the most challenging things that I am currently dealing with. Although I have
different alternatives like taking Swahili classes again (which I am in the process
of), the emotional damage and spirit injury has already been done. Today, I am
now healing each breath at a time, recognizing how my reality is not experienced
in isolation and seeing the interconnected aspects of the cosmos; this is what I need
to heal. Zulu Latifa’s conceptualizes it as: “The connection to a life force, a higher


power or purpose, a great mystery or an ultimate meaning making that provides us

with a sense of wholeness, healing, and an inter-connectedness to all life on this
Earth” (qtd. in Wane, 2007, p. 52).
In these moments, my spiritual journey becomes a key in giving me hope. By
looking at the world with a Black feminist lens and anti-colonial thought, I have a
deeper understanding of the dominant structural forces that have impacted my
body, mind, actions and behaviour. Instead of taking a self hate approach and
blaming myself, I find meaning and understanding in taking a self love approach
with these frameworks that encompass my healing spiritual journey. This is when I
see spirituality, not just as an internal process, but a very public experience that I
need to practice in my daily life. Leela Fernandes’ (2003) article comes to mind as
she clearly states the need to see spirituality and social responsibility as one, in
order for it to be a transformative social justice tool in society at large.
As I continue to heal from the lack of full knowledge of my three indigenous
languages and my imposed assimilated ability to acquire three colonial languages
(English, French, Spanish), I center myself in my African Woman’s spirituality
that is inherent in me. I use: “Spirituality as an anti-colonial discourse that guides
our quest for greater meaning in life. It enables us to search for answers to
conflicting messages that may come from new knowledge being created through
the advancement of technology and the fact that today, humans are able to provide
explanations for a multitude of phenomena” (Wane & Neegan, 2007, pp. 29-30).
My loss is colonial violence against my being because I truly believe that if I had
the opportunity to speak Swahili, Luya and Gikuyu without being ridiculed, or
fearing exclusion (from school and social networks), or if I was not forced to learn
other colonial languages to be seen, respected and considered worthwhile in the
societies I lived in, I would have had a safe space for me to be myself, with pride,
strength and dignity. Roberta K. Timothy (2007), when paraphrasing Thiongo,

The loss of indigenous language and forced acquisition of colonial languages

has created “us” vs. “them” dichotomies among African peoples. Millions of
African peoples inside and outside of the continent speak “mother tongues”
or “official” languages that are European based and/or Arabic based, and
many do not speak their indigenous languages or know their native cultures
due to continuous oppression and colonization. (p. 159)


My story is just one example of how spirituality needs to be implemented in

schooling. As I ask myself, “How did this happen to me?” I also ask myself, how
can this be avoided in the future for children that come after me? As stated above, I
am far from being the only one; there are millions of us. So how can this be
I would like to suggest the crucial need and necessity for Black Feminist and
anti-colonial thought as an educational vehicle to implement spirituality in
schooling systems, including educational spaces (formal and informal) worldwide.


If I had these tools during early moments of my childhood, I would have felt
equipped to resist the oppressions that were putting me down. Spirituality in
education has the potential to be transformative for all human beings.
These frameworks, implemented in education methods and ways of living, have
the ability to create and sustain alliances to counteract the colonial air that we are
all breathing. In order to find my African woman’s spiritual breath, it is important
to grasp, as well as embody, African/Black feminist thought by locating it within
an anti-colonial framework, to channel it as a discourse that counters colonial
structures, minds, and ways of living.
As Roberta K. Timothy states: “African/Black feminist lenses continue to
dismantle oppressive international ideologies often backed by unsubstantiated
statistics that exist to silence the voices and experiences of African women
(Timothy, 2007, p. 159). I hope to paint ideas of interconnectedness and collective
resistance, including resilience, for those who can relate in multidimensional ways
to my experience. According to Ellis and Bochner (2000), autoethnographers have
the ability to: “ask their readers to feel the truth of their stories and to become co-
participants, engaging the storyline morally, emotionally, aesthetically, and
intellectually” (p. 745).
In this chapter, I used my story as the subject by engaging in a critical self
analysis in relation to the loss of my indigenous languages, social relations and my
location (physical, emotional and spiritual) in hopes to include you, the reader, in
my struggles, in resisting this colonial mold that constantly thrives to sculpt me
into positions that are unhealthy and oppressive for my mind, body and soul.
In telling my story and recognizing how African/Black feminist and anti-colonial
thought are threaded in the spiritual journey that I embody, I honor the resistance
of all African/Black women that represent our complex heterogeneous bodies
around the world and give thanks to the voices in history, the present and the future
that have and are currently guiding me to shatter the colonial social constructions
of my reality. I would like to conclude with Mazama’s (2000) words:

Reliance on spirituality is a central feature of African resistance and has

always played a central role in the many struggles for liberation of African
peoples. (p. 319)

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As many of the essays in this collection indicate, spirituality is typically seen as an

essential, positive part of who we are, something which unites us with our fellow
people, our environment and the divine to promote peace, strength and goodness.
And yet, spirituality can also be linked to conflict, exploitation and power struggles
when it is mobilized to promote inequalities and private gains. In this chapter, I
examine how discourses of spirituality have been employed for private economic
and power gains in three contemporary examples, connecting this process
metaphorically to theories of domination and colonization.
Spirituality has multiple definitions, some of them centering around a personal
relationship with the divine, while others remain secular, such as “the organizing
story of one’s life … [which turns] around that to which we are ultimately loyal
and which we trust for our fulfillment” (Bennet, 2003, p. xiii). Among the various
definitions, the common elements seem to be that spirituality is something at the
core of our being which defines who we are, what we value, and how we
experience our relationship with the world. For those who participate in a religion
or a hold a belief in a god, “spirituality” is generally accepted to be the part of them
that engages in these beliefs and in the acts of ritual and worship associated with
The theologies of most major religions – the structures within which so many
people develop and practice their spirituality – contain concepts of human one-ness
and caring for fellow people (Fernandes, 2003, p. 103). Even for those who do not
practice a religion, spirituality can be a source of inner peace, a humbling reminder
of something greater and more important than the details of our daily lives, and a
way of connecting ourselves to the divine, the universe and our fellow people.
There is something about this which is so humanizing, so opposed to material
concerns, oppression and violence, that one would hope it would be a source of
equality, egalitarianism, compassion and peace. And yet, throughout history and all
over the world, religion and spirituality have been implicated in conflict and
I myself am neither religious nor profoundly spiritual and have at times
accounted for my own personal non-involvement in religion as a response to its
connection to conflict and oppression. This informs my perspective in this paper,
as does my status as an urban, middle class, Caucasian Canadian. I was raised by

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 205–218.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

non-religious parents of an Anglican and Protestant background, I have never

actively participated in an organized religion, and I have self-identified as either
agnostic or atheist since my early teens. However, I have long had a strong interest
in the religious and spiritual experiences of others, in part out of curiosity about the
fundamental human experience I seem to be “missing”, which has led me to
several courses in the anthropology of religion in my undergraduate education and
at the graduate level. I have a deep respect for other’s spiritual experiences and
beliefs in the divine, understanding these through my anthropological education as
valid alternative ways of knowing and interpreting lived experiences. However, I
have always remained sceptical of structures of organized religions, largely
because of a sense of hypocrisy: most organized religions preach love, kindness
and equality, and yet so often around the world differences in religious beliefs are
the source of violence and conflict, or their theology is used to justify restricting
the rights of particular social groups.
In struggling with this seeming contradiction between religion and oppression, I
have found the work of Leela Fernandes on the colonization of the spiritual,
particularly in Transforming Feminist Practice (2003), to be something of a
revelation. Fernandes argues that there is nothing of deep faith or spirituality in
acts of violence or oppression, but that when faith is used to justify material human
struggles for power, money and privilege this constitutes a secular colonization of
the divine. This link to the powerful concept of colonization allows for a rich
analysis of cases where religious justification has been used to promote the secular
ends of economic and political power.
The use of religion to justify political action is particularly evident in the actions
of contemporary religious fundamentalist movements. This chapter will therefore
examine three very different examples of religious fundamentalist movements
which have acted for personal or group political gain and will explore how such
groups have mobilized religion-based ideologies and a shared religious identity to
motivate group cohesion and action. It will maintain a focus on the structures of
power within these movements and on the secular (financial and political) interests
behind them, particularly as many such populist fundamentalist movements are led
by powerful elites; examining how in each case people’s deep spiritual beliefs are
co-opted by structures of power within fundamentalist movements, and thereby
“colonized”. I will also consider possibilities for decolonizing, particularly through
classroom pedagogy, so that spirituality may act as a source of equality and
harmony, rather than one of separation and oppression.


While the theoretical framework of this paper follows Fernandes’s work on the
colonization of the divine, my analysis is also guided by an understanding of the
broader field of anticolonial theory. Where postcolonial theory has tended to
address broad social, political and economic issues around the world (particularly
in non-western countries) by linking them to events in the formally colonial past,
anticolonial theory rejects the claim that the European/Western colonization of the
world has actually ended in any meaningful way, and therefore focuses on


contemporary and ongoing acts of neocolonial oppression. While most countries

had formally divested themselves of the majority of their official colonies by the
end of the 1960s, anticolonial theorists argue that global political and economic
forces continue to maintain global structures of privilege, in particular privileging
citizens of Northern countries over those from the global South, but also
structuring power relations along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, education,
income, etc. Instead of using the classical definition of colonization as the
“implanting of settlements on a distant territory”, recent anti-colonial theorists have
defined it more broadly as “anything imposed and dominating” (Said, 1993, p. 8;
Dei, 2006, p. 3). Within this definition, an act of “colonization” need not even be
an international event, but can occur domestically between more and less
privileged citizens of the same country, for example. In Dei’s words:

The anti-colonial prism theorizes the nature and extent of social domination
and particularly the multiple places that power, and the relations of power,
work to establish dominant-subordinate connections. (2006, p. 2)

This broader definition of the colonial is close to how Fernandes employs it in

reference to spirituality.
Fernandes’ views on spiritual colonization are contained within her book
Transforming Feminist Practice, in which she advocates for something she calls
“spiritualized social transformation” – a spiritualization of social and political
processes in order to combat oppression (Fernandes, 2003, p. 102). She emphasizes
that by this she does not mean an end to secularism in state politics, as this
secularism is vital for preventing religious oppression. The use of spirituality or
religion to justify any political or material end (particularly political, social and
economic power or domination) is actually the antithesis of the kind of social
transformation she proposes; rather than a spiritualization of the secular, she
considers this a secularization of the spiritual.
Fernandes criticizes those who “harness divine beliefs, faiths, truths and the
deepest sources of wisdom in order to pursue secular, material ends” for
committing an offence against the nature of the spiritual, and she finds organized
religions and their institutional hierarchies are most often responsible for this
(Fernandes, 2003, pp. 107, 104). Fernandes notes a grave problem common to
almost all organized religions: they make claims to have exclusive ownership over
truths about faith and the divine, treating transcendent truths and spiritual
experiences like pieces of territory which can be battled over (Fernandes, 2003, p.
103). This process of claiming exclusive ownership to spiritual truth and using
spiritual beliefs to bolster secular ends is what Fernandes labels the “colonization”
of spirituality (Fernandes, 2003). The primary circumstance in which she refers to
this occurring is in fundamentalist religious movements.
Fernandes sees an irony in the fact that most religions speak of love and human
one-ness, yet “link spiritual teachings and practice to a process of identification”,
encouraging their followers to see their specific religion as a core part of their
identity, one that unites them with members of the same religion yet sets them
apart from those who do not share their religious convictions (Fernandes, 2003, p.


105). These identities can then be politicized and mobilized to support the (secular)
aims of members or leaders of the same religion in the pursuit of political and
economic goals. For Fernandes, the way to decolonize spirituality is through what
she calls a process of “radical disidentification” – a casting off of faith-based
identity lines which act as barriers between groups of people (Fernandes, 2003, p.
103). She believes such a disidentification, if successful, can provide a powerful
means of combating oppression (Fernandes, 2003, p. 103).
I will return later to Fernandes’s hopes for spiritualized transformation. First, I
will explore the process of spiritual colonization in three cases of fundamentalist
religious politics, with a focus on the mechanisms of identity and identification
(which Fernandes touches on) and ideology, which she does not address at length
in Transforming Feminist Practice, but which also appears to be a vital mechanism
in the colonization of spirituality.


Social theorists have argued that there are two components to identity: our personal
identity and our social identity (Parekh, 2009). Our personal identity is that part of
ourselves which makes us “unique individuals, distinct centres of consciousness”
and by which we recognize ourselves as the same person from one day to the next
(Parekh, 2009, p. 268). Our social identity has to do with the social networks in
which we are imbedded and the categories to which we belong, including family,
ethnicity, nationality, occupation and religion (Parekh, 2009). These two are
intertwined, as our personal identity affects the groups with which we identify, and
is in return is shaped by our social influences. Parekh writes that:

Society often seeks to ensure that its members not only conform to the
demands of, but internalize their social identities, that is, identify themselves
with and define themselves in terms of the categories to which they belong.
(2009, p. 273)

This understanding of social and personal identities echoes a common approach to

contrasting spirituality and religion, defining spirituality as “private, emergent,
emotional and individual” and religion as “corporate, public and stable” (Bender,
2007, p. 1). Spirituality would therefore relate to personal identity, while religion is
a part of social identity.
Parekh discusses cases in which one of a person’s multiple social identities
becomes dominant over all others, leading him or her to determine all self-
identification and social affiliation based on this identity, and to label and reject
anyone who does not share this single aspect of identity, ignoring other
commonalities they may share (2009, p. 276). Parekh sees this as a profoundly
dangerous circumstance, but one that often occurs on a large scale as a result of
political and social forces. He notes that this kind of “obsessive preoccupation”
with a single axis of identity occurs most frequently around religious identity
(2009, p. 277).


Strong social identities have often been employed in the pursuit of very positive
social change and the struggle against oppression. The term “identity politics“ is
widely used to refer to this kind of social movement, and often involves mobilizing
around an identity which has been the basis for oppression or discrimination by
dominant groups (Bernstein, 2005, p. 48). Much of the literature on identity
politics deals with struggles for equality by such groups as women, people with
disabilities and people of colour (Bernstein 2005). While Fernandes acknowledges
that such strategies can be very useful in achieving short-term goals, she also
believes that they “cannot allow for the kinds of transformation of self and world
that are necessary for a lasting manifestation of justice and equality” as such
strategies maintain clear identity-based lines between groups of people, rather than
encouraging a broader human unity (2003, p. 31).
Amartya Sen (2009), in a response to Parekh’s discussion of identity, argues that
while social and individual identity are related, it is possible for individuals to
choose not to act (particularly in violence) with one of their social affiliations, and
yet still maintain the same personal identity. For Sen, if people do not exercise this
choice then there is little hope for peace and tolerance in the world. He writes that
“the distancing of personal identity from one’s social affiliation is an extremely
important issue in making the violent world we live in a little less turbulent” (Sen,
2009, p. 287). This distancing of the personal identity from harmful and divisive
social identities is very similar to what Fernandes means when she talks of “radical
disidentification” for social change (2003).
Religious fundamentalist movements are often able to mobilize their members
to provide political or economic support to leaders who share their religious
identity and act, sometimes violently, against people who do not share that
religious identity. When this occurs, it may be a case of the phenomenon that
Parekh (2009) describes where one social affiliation (religion) takes precedence
over all others to the point that people are no longer able to see commonalities with
people of different religions. This mobilization can be especially powerful when
adherents connect their deep personal experiences of spirituality so tightly to their
religious identity, that failure to act in unison with that group would feel like a
betrayal of their most vital beliefs and values. As the following examples will
demonstrate, leaders of religious-based political movements often deploy rhetoric
which encourages this tight linking of spiritual beliefs and religion-based political


Although Fernandes does not address the role of ideology in fundamentalist

movements and in the colonization and co-optation of the spiritual, it does appear
to be essential to understanding how these movements work. While we usually
believe the individual decisions we make on a day to day basis are independent and
uniquely our own, the sociological concept of “ideology“ attempts to uncover the
hidden structures and “systems of beliefs” which guide our decisions and actions
(Bailey & Gayle, 2003, p. 2). The Canadian Oxford dictionary (1998) defines
ideology as “A system of ideas or way of thinking, usually related to politics or


society, or to the conduct of a class or group, and regarded as justifying actions,

especially one that is held implicitly or adopted as a whole and maintained
regardless of the course of events”. Ideologies are influenced by structures of
power, as those in power often have opportunities and platforms through which to
influence the ideological frameworks of society at large and thereby “mediate
people’s understanding of society” (Bailey and Gayle, 2003, p. 7). This power to
shape ideology can certainly be applied to fundamentalist leaders. Ideology plays a
central role in any social movement which involves an element of mass
mobilization, as it provides a coherent set of beliefs and goals to unify the group
(Butke, 2004, p. 48).
Religions provide excellent sources for ideologies, as most organized religions’
theologies contain pronouncements on what is right and wrong, what is the path
towards fulfillment, happiness, morality, responsibility, goodness and divinity and
what is not. Most adherents of a particular organized religion share a common
knowledge of that religion’s core doctrines and often deeply revere this particular
set of principles. This makes mobilization around a faith-based ideology highly
effective. These religion-based ideologies can also be very useful in defining who
is a part of a social movement and who are its enemies, as religious texts often
include negative judgments (e.g. the Christian concept of Hell) against those who
do not follow the particular religion’s set of guidelines and beliefs. Movement
leaders “pick and choose carefully among inherited doctrines” to select the
particular elements which best support their intentions (Kumar, 2002, p. 17).


Fundamentalism is defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as the “strict

maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion” (1998). In
general, fundamentalism involves a reaction against some element of
modernization and globalization, and involves seeking a “return” to the
fundamentals of religion and a society in which religion held primacy and power.
Haynes explains the global phenomenon of fundamentalism as follows:

Those in some way dissatisfied with the effects of modernization have

become receptive to the arguments of religious figures who have seen their
own power and influence diminish over time in relation to the rise of the
secular state and the official downgrading of religion. (Haynes, 1995, p. 22)

However, what fundamentalism means varies by religion and national context. Of

the examples discussed here, Christian and Islamic fundamentalism both involve a
“return” to a more literalist interpretation of parts of their central religious texts.
Hinduism lacks a single central scripture but Hindu religious traditions have
become the rallying point for an effort to “return” to an undiluted Hindu national
identity (Haynes, 1995).
The histories of the Islamic republic in Iran, Hindu nationalism in India, and the
Christian Right in the United States are all extremely different. However, they are
all cases where a particular religious identity and ideology has been reified and


used to rally support for specific political goals. In each case, movement leaders
have used discourses of identity and an ideology of religious purity to persuade
citizens that support for the movement is a natural extension of their personal
spiritual and religious beliefs. In all cases, this has enabled some of these leaders to
achieve concrete personal political power.

Iran, Political Islam and Ideology

Recent decades have seen a surge of political action in the name of Islam, much of
it in resistance to particular political regimes or the global dominance of the “moral
decadence” of Western culture (Karasipahi, 2009, p. 94). The Islamic Republic of
Iran, which came in to being in 1979 following two decades of gradual Islamic
political resurgence, is an interesting example of this (Karasipahi, 2009). In Iran,
the movement that led to the overthrow of the Shah and the installation of the new
Islamic regime involved a mass mobilization of people from a variety of social
classes but was led by clerics who already held considerable social and economic
power and who were installed as the new leaders of Iran (Karasipahi, 2009).
Butko applies Gramsci’s theory of how revolutionary social movements
function to the history of Islamic political movements in Iran and elsewhere
(Butko, 2004, p. 49). He argues that these Islamic movements are very much
driven by their leadership but that this leadership recognizes the need for mass
support via deep individual commitment to their cause (Butko, 2004). Gramsci
argued that revolutionary movements need “a coherent and attractive ideology with
the potential for mass adhesion and support” and Butko believes that Islamic
political movements are successful because Islam provides an ideal source of just
such a powerful, coherent ideology (Butko, 2004, p. 48). Broadly ethical
ideological concepts such as brotherhood, justice and freedom are drawn from
Islamic theology and used as “rallying slogans” to garner wide support for political
movements (Butko, 2004, p. 49). Butko finds that the writings of Islamic political
leaders and theorists also often include an emphasis on the need for obedience to
leadership and a profound, unquestioning faith – a faith tied to religious conviction
– in the goals of the movement and its leaders; for example, Iran’s revolutionary
leader Khomeini insisted that opposing the political rule of the Shah was a
religious duty for Iranians, as the Shah was not a divine authority (Karasipahi,
2009, p. 92).
A recent study by Tezcur and Azadarmaki (2008) conducted in Tehran has
shown that today many Iranians continue to connect their religious beliefs to
support for the current system of government. They found that “religious beliefs
are associated with a political ideology that justifies clerical involvement in
politics”, and that citizens who were more devout practicing Muslims were more
likely to support Islamic rule (Tezcur & Azadarmaki, 2008, p. 214). This applied
even to those citizens who were “politically unsatisfied”, i.e. did not find that the
specific actions of the current regime met their own priorities – in spite of feeling
some opposition to the current regime, if they were devout Muslims they were
likely to at least support the contemporary system of government (Tezcur &
Azadarmaki, 2008). In the case of Iran, the political leaders have been extremely


successful in mobilizing Islam as both a faith and an ideology to galvanize support

for their political power, and the regime very successfully “appeals to the public’s
religious sentiments to justify the current distribution of power” (Tezcur &
Azadarmaki, 2008, p. 213). While an ideological approach has been central to the
regime’s strategy, ideas of identity (specifically, that the majority of Iranians share
a Shi’ite religious identity, and so ought to be led by fellow Shi’ite religious
leaders) have also been employed. In Fernandes’ terms, the power these leaders
have achieved (and the accompanying financial rewards) are secular goals and
achievements which they have bolstered via religious and spiritual claims.

India, the BJP and Hindu Identity

India has a rich legacy of religious pluralism: while 80% of Indians are Hindu, the
remaining 20% include Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Christians (Kumar,
2002). When India attained independence from Britain in 1947, Gandhi and his
followers hoped to establish a new independent nation “free from the turmoil of
caste and religious violence”, but Hindu fundamentalist “communalism” and
violence have remained central to national politics and to an element of national
identity (Kumar, 2002, p. 18). Unlike “religions of the book” such as Islam and
Christianity, Hindu fundamentalism has been organized around “cultural
chauvinism rather than close adherence to religious texts” (Haynes, 1995, p. 24).
That is, many Indians have come to prioritize their religious identity in their self
definition and use this as a means to self-differentiate from and legitimize the
domination and harm of non-Hindu fellow citizens (particularly Muslims). This has
been the basis for successful national political movements, including the Baratiya
Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu fundamentalist political party which was elected to
rule the country from 1999 to 2004 (Sen and Wagner, 2009, p. 313). Fernandes
uses the politicization of Hinduism as a central example for the material
colonization of the divine, writing that:

The carving out of Hinduism into a singular political, cultural and religious
identity-based movement distorts the mystical teachings of Hinduism,
teachings which can provide many of the foundations for a radical,
egalitarian form of social transformation based on a disidentified notion of
the Self. (Fernandes, 2003, p. 106)

As Fernandes notes, there are elements of Hindu theology (including the

“disidentified notion of the self”, connected to the Hindu belief in reincarnation,
and the importance of shanti, meaning peace) which could be used to promote
pacifism and equality (Kumar, 2002, p. 32). However, Hindu fundamentalist
political leaders have drawn attention to elements of Hindu theology which better
suit their ideological agendas, including scenes of war in the Mahabharata and the
Ramayana which have been employed to support violent militancy (Kumar, 2002,
p. 28). They have also employed and manipulated Hindu religious symbols to
become symbols of Hindu national identity and communalism, so that messages of
Hindu political supremacy are perceived when Hindu symbols (such as the saffron


flag) are displayed for religious purposes (Sen and Wagner, 2009, p. 322). In
addition to this, fundamentalist leaders of the BJP have developed an ideology of
Hindu supremacy, claiming that Hindus are the “original inhabitants” of India
(prior to European colonization, but also prior to the Muslim Mughal invasions of
the 16th and 17th century) and that Hindu religion is superior to others (Sen and
Wagner, 2009, p. 309). Much of this ideology has been promoted through the
formal education system, which was reformed by the BJP in 2001 to promote
values of Hindu nationalism, under the telling slogan “Indianise, nationalise,
spiritualise” (Lall, 2008, p. 109). This slogan is an excellent example of how BJP
leaders have pushed Hindus to connect their personal spiritual beliefs and practice
to the political project of Hindu nationalism.
A group of people Wagner and Sen have called “political entrepreneurs“ have
fanned the flames of communalist, pro-Hindu sentiment in India, hoping to achieve
their own political goals through establishing common cause with the majority of
Hindu citizens based on shared Hindu identity (Sen & Wagner, 2009, p. 310).
These leaders and politicians have succeeded in persuading many citizens, first, to
identify strongly as Hindu above all, and then to vote and act with fellow Hindus to
establish and maintain a communal advantage over non-Hindus – with particular
political leaders at their helm. This approach has resulted in several very material,
secular events, including the installation of BJP politicians in positions of power.
Here again the ideological language of religious orthodoxy and social identity has
been used to colonize the spirituality of a group for elite political gain and the
oppression of outsiders.

Evangelicals and the Christian Right in the United States

The 1960s and 1970s saw the United States grow more socially liberal: abortion
was legalized, the gay rights movement developed and the feminist movement
combated traditional conceptions of women’s roles in the home (Fowler et al,
2004, p. 90). At the same time, and largely in response to these broader social
trends, the growing American population of evangelical Christians began to
reshape the agenda of the Republican party in keeping with “traditional values” of
social conservatism which they believed were being threatened (Haynes, 1995, p.
24). Today, approximately one quarter of Americans are evangelical Christians and
many of these are very politically active, making them potentially “the strategic
centre of American politics” (Fowler et al., 2004, p. 89). In the US, evangelical
churches are largely divided by race, and while they have occasionally worked
together on specific social issues (e.g. abortion), black evangelical churches tend to
carry messages of liberation in the Bible, leading most black evangelicals to vote
for the Democrats (Fowler et al., 2004, p. 39). However, white evangelicals have
become the core of the Republican Party in the last 30 years (85% of white
evangelicals voted for George W. Bush in 2000), pushing the party to maintain
cultural conservatism, and are the prime participants in the “Christian Right”
movement (Fowler et al, 2004).
The Christian Right has historically been made up of several civil society
organizations which have worked to mobilize Christian citizens to vote and act in


support of various culturally conservative issues which they relate to biblical

morality, and to vote for particular candidates who share their conservative
Christian identity and values. One of these large organizations, the Christian
Coalition of America, founded in 1989, states in its mandate that it “offers people
of faith the vehicle to be actively involved in impacting the issues they care about –
from the county courthouse to the halls of Congress” (Christian Coalition, 2009).
The Christian Coalition focuses on providing training to conservative Christians to
make them more successful and effective political activists, and on “voter
education”, publishing voter guides which “give voters a clear understanding of
where candidates stand on important pro-family issues – before they go to the polls
on Election Day” (Christian Coalition, 2009). Another organization, Focus on the
Family, uses an enormously popular radio broadcast by their president, James
Dobson (who has consulted with Republican presidents Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush
Jr. on policy issues), to mobilize conservative Christian support for key actions:
“Phones ring off the hook on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures everywhere
when [Dobson] calls for action” (Fowler et al., 2004, p. 179). Shields examines the
rhetoric these organizations have used to “arouse moral passions, especially in
order to mobilize apathetic citizens (Shields, 2007, p. 89). Direct-mail
communications to supporters regularly use such inflammatory terms as “militant
homosexuals”, “abortionists” and “ultra-feminists”, employ theocratic language
(e.g. references to “ungodly laws”) and cite scripture to support specific moral
concerns (Shields, 2007, pp. 94-96).
The Christian Right civil society organizations and their leaders rally Christian
Americans to act politically using arguments which reference passages from the
Bible. In some cases they communicate to constituents through their churches, or
ask supporters to connect Christian Right political and social goals with personal
spiritual practice through prayer for their causes and the success of the individual
politicians they support. For example, the Christian Coalition’s website states that
“a great way to impact our society is to pray daily for our nation and for its
leaders… God’s Word instructs that we pray for our leaders” (Christian Coalition,
2009, “Prayer” section). The Christian Right unites citizens for political action and
support around an ideology developed based on a literalist evangelical
interpretation of parts of the Bible, and a shared Christian identity, to fight for the
United States – officially a secular nation, where the separation of Church and
State is laid out in the constitution – to follow policies which are in line with this
specific ideology, arguably imposing it on others who do not share their
conservative Christian views. One of the major results of the work of the Christian
right has been the electoral and political success of several politicians who identify
as evangelical and have run on platforms of Christian identity and socially
conservative values.


The examples above were selected to demonstrate how religious ideology and
collective spiritual identity may be mobilized to promote private gain or acts of
oppression. But what would the mobilization of spirituality for positive, egalitarian


social change look like? In response to this question, Fernandes advocates for a
relationship between spirituality and social change which she calls “spiritualized
social transformation”. The key difference between this process and those of the
fundamentalist movements described above is that “spiritualized social
transformation“ involves an outright rejection of connecting one’s identity tightly
to one’s specific faith beliefs. Fernandes sees identity – not just religious identity,
but every dimension of identity – as a thing that keeps us “locked in” to power
structures of inequality and maintains identity-based lines between us (2003, p.
31). She therefore advocates a disidentification from every one of our social
identities, through acknowledging the privileges they grant us and completely
detaching our personal self-definition from any of our social identities as a first
step towards egalitarian social change (Fernandes, 2003, p. 33). But what is left
once we remove ourselves from our social identities? This is where Fernandes sees
the role of the spiritual. She writes:

It is only an understanding of the self as spirit, as well as matter and mind,

and an understanding of the spiritual as a real force that permeates everything
we are and everything we do that can provide us with the foundation for the
kind of disidentified self which is necessary to realize our visions of social
transformation. (Fernandes, 2003, p. 36)

For Fernandes, the spiritual (when ‘decolonized’ and completely removed from the
structures of religion) allows us to experience our profound, even “sacred”
interconnections to all other humans and the planet, beyond the lines of identity
and structures of material inequity, as well as an “unmediated” relationship with
the divine (Fernandes, 2003, pp. 37, 117). If we can become “disidentified” and
“decolonize” our spirituality, she believes, we will have no enemies, will “not sit in
opposition to anyone”, and from this position we can powerfully begin to combat
and disassemble structures of oppression without replicating them in the process
(Fernandes, 2003, p. 45). This, again, is in dramatic contrast to spirituality’s use for
the opposite purpose in fundamentalist religious movements engaged in oppressive
This powerful argument resonates with ideas that spirituality ought to relate to
fundamental connection and the equal valuing of all humanity. However, the idea
of complete disidentification from one’s social identities, particularly that of one’s
religion, is certainly radical and does not necessarily describe the majority of
instances in which spirituality has been mobilized for egalitarian social change in
the past. It does seem important to acknowledge that many successful spiritual
movements for social justice have not centred around radical disidentification at
all. In insisting on disidentification, does Fernandes primarily mean to point out the
potential dangers we may face if we prioritize our social identities? Or would she
argue that most successful faith-led egalitarian social justice movements must have
involved at least some measure of tacit social disidentification? She also does not
seem to address the risks inherent in asking people to disidentify from their social
groups, or the possibility that not all people may be equally able to risk such a
disidentification. Surely if a specifically identified group is suffering oppression


based on a shared identity, its members and allies cannot be faulted for specifically
struggling for the well being of that identity group? While the potential dangers of
identification in faith-motivated movements for social change are evident, those
cases in which identification has not been subverted and very positive anti-
oppressive change has occurred raise questions about what makes such cases
different from those which result in oppressive acts. Do such movements involve a
weaker identification with a shared religious identity? Do they employ different
kinds of religious ideologies, or use them in different ways? Such questions lie
beyond the scope of the present paper but are worthy of consideration.
Fernandes, in spite of her powerful philosophical argument for her particular
route to social justice, also leaves the reader guessing what the first step might be.
Is the process of disidentification a private, personal project or one in which we can
lead others? It is here that possible implications for schooling and pedagogy seem
to emerge. While Fernandes does not directly answer this question of how to
engage in disidentification, she does happen to describe some related conversations
and challenges that had arisen in her graduate-level courses around this topic
(Fernandes, 2003). In this, as in much of her argument, her approach is reminiscent
of Paulo Freire’s words in his 1970 classic (and arguably anti-colonial) work,
Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire emphasized that one of the most important
goals of a critical pedagogy of the oppressed must be the re-humanization of both
the oppressor and the oppressed, liberating both from their opposed roles in the
power structure (similar to Fernandes’s idea of disidentification), so that they
might work collaboratively to end oppression (Freire, 2001). Freire’s approach for
guiding this process of humanization was, of course, a pedagogy – an approach to
teaching, to be used both in the classroom and beyond it, and one that involved
leading the “student” in a process of asking critical questions about and sharing his
or her own thoughts on the process of oppression.
Perhaps, then, educators can initiate social change via “disidentification” by
engaging their students in critical discussions about identity, privilege, religion,
conflict, spirituality and a sense of common humanity. Much as Dei’s (2006)
explanation of an anti-colonial approach involves seeking out the many ways in
which power establishes “dominant-subordinate connections”, the process of
decolonizing our spirituality and disidentifying ourselves in preparation for
spiritual social transformation involves teasing out the many ways our personal
spiritualities and identities have become connected to structures of power and
oppression, and developing strategies to change this. This kind of conversation can
be volatile, especially where it concerns spirituality and religion, as our spirituality
is something very close to the core of our being, so perceived assaults on it can cut
very deeply. In addition, many students will be accustomed to practicing their
spirituality within the context of a particular religion and may have difficulty
thinking of their spirituality outside of their religious identity and finding spiritual
commonalities with those who do not share their particular faith. If the goal of
class discussion is true spiritual decolonization and the development of a sense of
human unity, the instructor must work carefully to establish a safe space and a
culture of kindness within the classroom. Whether or not teachers encourage their
students to radically disconnect from their social identities in the pursuit of social


justice, this kind of class discussion can provide a fantastic means to encourage
students to consider our profound internconnectedness with each other and the
planet, and to discuss the implications of this – both spiritually and politically.


In this chapter I have attempted to reconcile the concept of spirituality as a

powerful, humanizing and connecting force with the fact that spirituality and
religion have so often been implicated in processes of violence, oppression and
private political and economic gain in a wide variety of contexts around the world.
I have framed this exploration with Leela Fernandes’s theory of “colonizing the
divine”, which refers to the imposition of material pursuits for power and privilege
on spirituality or religion. Employing her theoretical framework, I have reviewed
three cases of religious fundamentalist movements in Iran, India and the United
States, examining how each of these have mobilized religious identity and ideology
to encourage support for what are essentially secular political goals. I have also
explored Fernandes’s idea of spiritual “disidentification” as a way to move towards
a more positive and appropriate relationship between spirituality and social change,
and one which might be furthered by pedagogical practice in classrooms. An
important question for further consideration is when and how positive, egalitarian
and anti-oppressive faith-based social change results from spiritual or religious
mobilization which does not involve disidentification. The question of
disidentification, and whether it is truly appropriate or necessary for every person,
remains a difficult one. However, the idea of fostering classroom practice at any
level which encourages students to relate to their classmates and fellow people on
the basis of shared humanity, in spite of identity differences, seems positive and
important, and potentially a fantastic way to bring elements of spirituality in to
teaching practice in a non-denominational, egalitarian, practical and peaceful

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“May you live in interesting times.”

Edmund O’Sullivan (1999, p. 14) interprets the above statement as both a curse
and a blessing and believes that we humans are currently in a time of great change
as a species. The current state of the world is troubling. War, starvation, drought,
oppression, genocide, the extinction of unique species, and the eradication of the
natural environment are all terrible realities. We are in need of transformation and
education has the potential to provide discourses through which transformation can
be explored and nourished. Spirituality is one such discourse.
Spirituality is a complicated concept and is very subjective. As an academic, I
have always been interested in spirituality as an innate human quality. My
undergraduate degree is in psychology, from which vantage point I explored the
complexities of belief, anomalous and mystical experience, meditation, vision
questing, and holistic approaches to healing. I minored in religious studies,
focusing on ancient religions dating back to some of the earliest known human
societies and civilizations in the Near East. During this time I came to understand
spirituality as something which humans have experienced and expressed
throughout time immemorial – something which is based on the desire to connect
to something beyond oneself. To know more than just physical or worldly
existence and to feel engulfed by an infinite source of creativity,
interconnectedness, and diverse expression of life – this is spirituality. In other
words, spirituality is a state of consciousness. It involves the alteration of one’s
consciousness beyond the everyday waking consciousness we all usually share in
common – the one which ties us to objectivity, rigid forms of identity, and the
human construct of time. Religion, in my opinion, is not synonymous with
spirituality but is a social construction through which spirituality becomes
organized, categorized, and intimately tied into cultural history.
In the confusing and complicated times in which we live, we can all benefit
from learning from one another and from seeing the world from a number of
perspectives. People must be given the opportunity to learn through supportive
interaction, the sharing of ideas, and the exploration of multiple ways of knowing. I

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 219–234.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

call this wisdom-sharing, and I see it as a valuable catalyst in transformative adult

In my discussion I wish to show that, through the practice of wisdom-sharing,
we can come to better understand and respect interconnectedness while
discouraging ignorance, hostility, xenophobia, and attempts at ideological
homogenization. We must look to each other across cultures to increase our
combined knowledge of spirituality, mythology, history, religion, and science. If
these lines of inquiry can be explored openly and without prejudice, a
transformative learning experience can take place. My understanding of
interconnectedness as an aspect of spirituality will be a running theme throughout
my discussion of wisdom-sharing for altered states of consciousness, within the
framework of Transformative Education.



Thomas Berry (1999, p. 4) feels that the present state of the world is caused by a
state of consciousness which sees being human as distinct from and above other
modes of being, which results in a decreased respect for other forms of life. He
emphasizes that a “pervasive change in our best hope for
developing a sustainable future” (p. 69). Transformative Education could be our
vehicle for such pervasive change.
Edmund O’Sullivan (1999) states that “the wisdom of all our current
educational ventures … serves the needs of our present dysfunctional industrial
system” (p. 7). As such, a new approach to education is needed if we hope to
change the state of the world. O’Sullivan discusses the framework of
Transformative Education, which he describes as:

[the experience of] a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought,
feelings, and actions. It is a shift in consciousness that dramatically and
permanently alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our
understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with
other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of
power in interlocking the structures of class, race, and gender; our body-
awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of
possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy. (cited in Dei, 2004,
p. 1)

In the views of O’Sullivan (1999) and Berry (1999), Transformative Education and
transformative learning are based on a deliberate attempt to change consciousness
towards a more inclusive understanding of the human experience and a more open
approach to the exploration of multiple ways of knowing. In other words,
transformative learning is about altering consciousness towards a deeper awareness
of interconnectedness. Such interconnectedness is a key feature of my
understanding of spirituality, and of David Korten’s (2006) understanding of what
he calls “spiritual consciousness”.


In his book, The Great Turning, David Korten (2006, pp. 42-48) outlines five
states or “orders” of consciousness which he believes each person is capable of
experiencing, and which he further believes will either help or hinder a
transformation of society, or a “great turning” towards an increased sense of
community and interconnectedness. The first, which is common to everyone in
childhood, is “magical consciousness”, which involves impulsive action and a
limited understanding of consequences – there is no understanding of the
difference between fantasy and reality so it is thought that anything imaginable can
be put into practice without obstacle or concern. Next is “imperial consciousness”,
through which we learn about the ways our actions affect our environment. This
involves the development of categorical and comparative thinking from a self-
referential point of view, and any understanding of relationships is still very black
and white in this state of consciousness. Third, Korten describes “socialized
consciousness”, in which we are able to connect to others and to form a sense of
identity based on the social groups we are part of (often these are defined by race,
gender, nationality, socio-economic class, etc.). At this stage, there is some
development of empathy, a sense of morality, and emotional intelligence – group
interests are acknowledged as well as self-interests (although “groups” are still
smallish communities based around shared identity markers). There is much trust
placed in society’s laws and norms which limits critical thinking in this state of
consciousness. Korten explains that this “socialized consciousness” is the one that
most people, especially in the industrial world, remain in for their entire lives.
“Cultural consciousness”, which is Korten’s fourth order, involves a more in-
depth exploration of morality and the ways in which identities are socially
constructed. Those who enter into this state of consciousness are inclined to
appreciate the interconnectedness and unpredictability of all life, and to work to
create or shape more inclusive societies. This leads to Korten’s fifth and final order
of consciousness – “spiritual consciousness“. In this state of consciousness there is
a focus on wholeness, compassion, and an understanding of our common origin in
the greater universe. “Groups” are no longer understood in terms of shared identity
markers but in terms of humanity as a species. This involves an optimistic view of
the potential of human beings to connect to one another and to something greater
than everyday waking consciousness allows. In other words, spirituality becomes a
state of consciousness which can be cultivated or stifled depending on one’s
environment and the access one has to multiple ways of knowing. Korten makes
the point that those qualities which could aid in a positive transformation of the
way we live in the world are achievable only if we are able to move beyond our
usual state of consciousness (“socialized consciousness”). Unfortunately, industrial
society makes it very hard, if not impossible, for this consciousness shift to happen
spontaneously. Therefore, it must be taught through Tranformative Education and
the open and respectful sharing of wisdom.
George Dei (2002) discusses the transformative importance of wisdom-sharing
and remaining open to the fluidity of one’s own point of view, while warning
against the potential harms of arrogance:


There are significant limitations in our pedagogues, communicative and

discursive practices. One such limitation can be the intellectual arrogance of
knowing it all. It is important to work with the power of not knowing and
allowing oneself to be challenged by other knowledges...we must continually
acknowledge the dangers of the fixity in our positions and seek to continually
learn across different knowledges. (p. 10)

Thomas Berry also understands the notion of wisdom-sharing for transformative

consciousness change. A chapter in his book, The Great Work (1999), called “The
Fourfold Wisdom” outlines the ways in which the wisdom of women, indigenous
cultures, classical philosophy, and science can inform one another in
transformative ways. The author states that:

These all agree in the intimacy of humans with the natural world in a single
community of existence … It becomes increasingly evident that in our
present situation no one of these traditions is sufficient. We need all of the
traditions. Each has its own distinctive achievements, limitations, distortions,
its own special contribution toward an integral wisdom tradition that seems to
be taking shape in the emerging twenty-first century. (pp. 193-194)

Beyond Berry’s notion of wisdom-sharing, I believe it is imperative for all

members of the human community to share their ways of knowing with one
another, and to be open to learning from one another. The content (rather than the
various culturally unique ways of expressing the content) of what is shared is most
important, and should point to our interconnection, as Berry said, in order to
nourish an increased respect for life and for each other. Understanding
interconnection can help us to reach Korten’s ideal of “spiritual consciousness”.
In this quest for spiritual consciousness it is crucial that we as humans share our
various understandings of spirituality, mythology, religion, history, science, and
identity. It is also important to consider the possible dangers of the appropriation
and commodification of knowledge. Wisdom-sharing must be done in a way that
respects the differentiation of knowledge and does not attempt to homogenize, but
which acknowledges each perspective as a creative expression of what it means to
be human. Our own understandings of spiritual consciousness and of the human
experience can only become richer within a multiplicity of awareness.



As discussed earlier, spirituality is very difficult to define. But despite the

difficulty one finds in defining or labeling spirituality, it is something which many
people (if not most people) claim to be an important aspect of their lives. Like
myself, Rose (2001) has found that the notion of spirituality may or may not be
connected to the practice of organized religion, but is more often about a personal
or subjective understanding and connection to something greater than oneself, be it
social involvement, moral standards, or the belief in a creator or supreme deity. As


has been shown, another concept of spirituality is that of a particular state of

consciousness, such as Korten’s (2006) “spiritual consciousness”. When
spirituality is envisioned in such a way, we can begin to discuss ways it can be
encouraged or mobilized through wisdom-sharing.
Like Korten, Shahjahan (2006) understands spirituality to be an altered state of
consciousness – “a different way of looking at the world around us” (p. 11) –
which ties it directly into this discussion of altered states of consciousness as a
means for transformation. Shahjahan (2006) explains that spirituality involves
image, myth, and symbol as means by which to construct knowledge and
understanding. He further asserts that his experience in university has been
inconsiderate of, and even somewhat hostile towards, his own need for spiritual
expression. This is because universities are based on individualism, intellectualism,
and secular ways of knowing which tend to deny the importance or validity of
other ways of knowing. The university could be a place where wisdom-sharing is
encouraged and nourished, but, as Shahjahan points out, this is not what has been
happening in most cases.
Mary Earl (2001) explains that spirituality, mythology, and symbol “reflect our
own struggle to become conscious” (p. 282). Earl (2001) investigates Carl Jung’s
psychological concept of the archetypal Shadow, which he defined as “everything
that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet (which) is always
thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly” (cited in Earl, 2001, p. 285). Earl
suggests that educators must acknowledge the Shadow in themselves, as well as in
every student, and must approach teaching in a way that uses symbolism which
speaks to the Shadow and promotes a more holistic learning experience. This
would be a form of wisdom-sharing, in that the insights we might gain from
investigating our Shadow-selves (as well as the larger Shadows of society) can
help to enrich our ways of knowing and to promote transformation. Spiritual
consciousness is not easy to reach, or to maintain. It takes knowledge of all aspects
of ourselves, including the parts we may not want to face. Archetypal symbols can
help guide us through these difficult challenges, which is why knowledge of such
symbols must be widely shared.
Thomas Berry (1999) explains that our conscious states are enforced through the
myths and symbols we encounter each day. Currently, we are constantly
bombarded by symbols that enforce the ideals of Capitalism, profit, individualism,
and “the myth of continuing and inevitable progress” (Berry, 1999, p. 168). Berry
believes that there is such a thing as a “transformative symbolism”, and that in
order to move away from our current focus on industrialism we must appeal to the
symbols of “The Journey”, “The Great Mother”, “The Cosmic Tree”, and “Death-
Rebirth”, all of which have been expressed in indigenous mythologies across time
and space, and also correspond to Jungian archetypes (Berry, 1999, pp. 69-71,
160). Berry (1999, pp. 69-71) describes how “The Journey” archetype/symbol can
help us understand our species’ evolution as part of the “whole” of the universe,
while the “Great Mother” archetype/symbol can help us to connect to the natural
cycles of the earth and the cosmos – to birth, creation, nurturing, and sustainability.
The “Cosmic Tree” archetype/symbol can encourage us to care for the natural
environment, and the “Death-Rebirth” archetype/symbol can remind us that


everything ends and begins again in the great cycle of life, so that there is no
reason to fear change, death, or transformation. If we are exposed more frequently
to symbolism of this kind, then perhaps our consciousness will shift more readily
towards a state more focused on community, compassion, and interconnectedness –
all of which are necessary for the transformation of the current dysfunctional state
of the world.
Gregory Cajete (1994) speaks to the interplay between archetypal symbols,
Indigenous mythology, and natural phenomena. Cajete explains that:

[Archetypal symbols] occur in all Indian cultures and exemplify their

inherent interrelatedness. These are the mythic structures that symbolize the
processes of Nature and represent primal and mythical ways of perceiving the
world … They are also extensions of science in that they reflect unique
cultural interpretations of phenomena of the natural world. (p. 196)

Interestingly, Cajete notes the importance of scientific knowledge as well,

suggesting that it need not be polarized away from mythological or spiritual
knowledge – all can be transformative. Further, Cajete (1994) calls for a
“renaissance” (p. 196) in which such an interconnectedness of inquiry can be
Goddess symbolism can speak to a holistic notion of the cycle of life, rather
than just focusing on the creative and nurturing aspect. Life involves both creative
and destructive forces. Alleyn Diesel (2002) points out that in South African
Hinduism, both of these forces are expressed in goddess symbolism. Diesel shows
that some Hindu goddesses are imaged as having qualities which society has
traditionally deemed to be “unacceptable” for women. These qualities include
aggressiveness, assertiveness, anger, independence, strength, courage, and even
destructive tendencies. Diesel explains how using symbolism that points to these
aspects can empower women to challenge the patriarchal and hierarchal structures
of society.
Diesel (2002) further explains that the symbolism alone is not enough and that
women, upon feeling more empowered, must take action and make themselves
heard. According to Diesel (p. 13), “silence disempowers”, and women must share
their stories of suffering in order for others to understand and begin to aid in the
process of change. Diesel highlights here the importance of wisdom-sharing in
healing and transformation. Furthermore, the symbolism she examines underlines
the problem of essentialization and reminds us that not everything can be seen in
black and white terms.
Life is made up of many unique expressions of innumerable phenomena.
Mythology and symbolism are examples of such expression. Other examples are
history, religion, and science. Sharing the lessons of each can apply nicely to the
process of Transformative Education, the awareness of interconnectedness, and the
cultivation of spiritual consciousness.



In order to practice respectful wisdom-sharing, it is necessary to have some

understanding of the history of those traditions and cultures that produced the
wisdom in the first place. George Dei (2002) asserts that “a knowledge of history,
place, and culture helps to cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning in life” (p. 7).
Knowing the history of wisdom traditions can also have a humbling effect for
North American citizens who are trying to enrich their knowledge base through
wisdom-sharing. Thomas Berry (1999) explains that Westerners must understand
that they have a history of trying to achieve world-domination, and that upon
reaching this understanding, they must now actively withdraw from these efforts.
This arrogance has, to some degree, been connected to the notion of monotheism,
and the idea that “my ‘true’ god is better or more ‘true’ than your ‘true’ god”. In
this case, much can be learned from examining monotheism and its origins.
Despite his attack on New Age religions’ tendency to mix many knowledge
systems together, Michael York (2001) does accept that “all religions appropriate
from each other” (p. 369). It may be helpful to know that Yahwistic monotheism
(that is, the worship of only the god Yahweh, or Jehovah) did not just arise out of
nowhere, but in fact was tied to a long period of paganism involving the worship of
other Near Eastern gods and goddesses such as El and Asherah (Stiebing, 2003).
The story of Noah and the flood found in the Old Testament was clearly influenced
by an almost identical account found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written
in ancient Akkadian cuneiform and dates back to the 3rd millennium B.C.E.
(Dalley, 1989). This ancient account has the god Ea pass on information about a
coming god-made flood to a hero named Ut-Napishtim, who is to build a boat
(specific dimensions are given, just as Noah receives from God in the Bible) and to
save himself, his family, and the animals from the wrath of the gods. After seven
days, Ut-Napishtim’s boat comes to rest on a mountaintop and he sends a dove out
to see if the flood is over (just as Noah does in the Bible) (Dalley, 1989).
Stiebing (2003) provides another interesting fact that, around the time in which
Christianity was beginning to develop, there was a religion, popular among
Romans but likely developed from Persian myth, called Mithraism, which involved
the worship of a sun deity who was said to have been born in a cave on December
25th. The date of his birth tied to the perceived date of his death on the winter
solstice (December 21st – the longest period of darkness throughout the year and
therefore an appropriate time to envision the death of a sun deity) and was thought
to be a cyclical date of rebirth or resurrection. This important pagan date was then
brought into Christianity as the date of Jesus’ birth.
Early Christianity was actually a very small movement based around the
teachings of a man named Jesus (whose historical presence is up for debate), who
preached in favour of community, respect, and love. The movement was heavily
persecuted by the Roman Empire for many centuries. Then, in the 4th Century C.E.,
Roman Emperor Constantine had a “vision” of his military using the cross as a war
symbol, and just before he died he converted to Christianity (Fisher, 2005). After
Constantine’s conversion, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman
Empire, and its aim, carried out in the Holy Crusades of the 11th and 12th Centuries
C.E. and many other colonization projects, became to Christianize and dominate all


other religions (Korten, 2007). As most of the world has had some experience with
Christianity (whether from the perspectives of the dominant culture or of those
being colonized), it would be beneficial for everyone to understand the full history
of Christianity, including the values on which it was founded, as well as the
uncomfortable fact that Constantine tied it to a legacy of oppression.
Mary Pat Fisher (2005) points out that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have
much in common, as they all trace their history back to Abraham and they all teach
variant versions of the Adam and Eve story. In fact, Islam acknowledges followers
of Judaism and Christianity as “people of the book” (that is, the book of Genesis),
as well as recognizing Jesus as a prophet (although not considered to be divine). It
is important to understand that the Islamophobia common in North America
(particularly after 9/11) is based in large part on media coverage of only the most
extreme cases of Islamic fundamentalism, and to know that Islam was founded on
values of community, humility, and sacrifice, similar to the founding values of
most other religions, including Christianity (Fisher, 2005).
Eastern religions have had a major impact on North American society in recent
years with the growing popularity of practices such as meditation, yoga, and
martial arts. Phyllis Robinson (2004) explains that meditation can be an effective
way to train one’s mind to be more present and less cluttered with thoughts and
worries about the past or the future, while promoting an increased awareness and
feeling of connectedness to all life. She states:

Through sharing this experience, perhaps the insights can contribute to the
investigation of the role of meditative practice in serving an
integrative/integral and transformative vision for adult and higher education.
(p. 108)

What Robinson is suggesting is a transformative experience based on wisdom-

sharing, where Westerners can learn and benefit from the intricacies of Eastern
spiritual practice. However, in order to keep such wisdom-sharing respectful, it is
important to understand that such practices are grounded in religious and cultural
history. For example, practitioners of meditation should know that there are many,
many types of meditation connected to different forms of Buddhism (including
Mahayana, Theravada, and Zen), Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, and Confucianism,
and occasionally, even to be found within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Fisher,
2005). It would also be useful for practitioners to understand that one important
Buddhist tradition, Tibetan Buddhism (headed by the Dalai Lama), has had a long
history of oppression under Chinese rule (Fisher, 2005). Meditation has likely been
a way for Tibetans to maintain a sense of hope and meaning throughout long
periods of suffering. In fact, the Buddhist theories on suffering as being caused by
desire and attachment, and meditation as a way of releasing such desires, are part
of the foundation story, where a man named Siddhartha Gautama (a documented
historical figure from 5th Century C.E.), born into a prestigious royal family, finally
realizes the suffering that people are enduring every day on the streets of his home
town, and decides to renounce his attachment to material items and to release


himself from his attentional habits using the contemplative technique of meditation
(Fisher, 2005).
Yoga or Yogic meditation is also very complex and diverse, with its origins tied
to Hinduism. The original purpose of Yogic meditation was to clear the mind
completely so that one’s inner identity or individual self (known as “Atman”)
could merge with the universal, unknowable cosmic divine (known as “Brahman”)
(Fisher, 2005). Western practitioners of this type of meditation should also be
aware of the historical and cultural context from which it emerged. Fisher (2005)
explains that in Hinduism, it is believed that all are born of the divine, but that
certain groups are born from certain parts of the divine (symbolized
anthropomorphically as body parts from the head down to the feet). This notion has
played a role in the development of the Caste System, a hierarchical organizing of
society which says that those at the top (Brahmins – born of the deity’s head) can
have access to everything society has to offer, including privileged access to sacred
knowledge and religious ritual, while those at the bottom (Dalits or
“Untouchables” – born of the deity’s feet) must live in poverty without access to
proper housing or education and must do the dirty work of society (such as
cleaning toilets and discarding diseased animal carcases from the roads) (Valmiki,
2003). There has been much progress made in recent years regarding the social
inequalities of the Caste System, but it remains an important part of Hinduism’s
cultural history.
Each of the religious histories examined here can shed light on the ways in
which spiritual expression is tied to cultural tradition. It is also clear, through this
examination, that many religions share aspects of spiritual understanding and
practice, including the awareness of interconnection and the importance of
contemplation in order to connect to something greater than the self. Interestingly,
these aspects are also seen in natural science, despite the fact that many people feel
that religion and science are necessarily opposed to one another.
Creation and destruction are both natural aspects of life, as has been previously
discussed. This can be seen in looking at natural phenomena on Earth and in the
universe at large. Furthermore, when studying the universe we come to understand
our position in relation to the rest of life. This is the notion of interconnectedness in
its widest implication.
Swimme and Berry (1992) explain that when stars die, often they explode in
supernovas. The materials that are spread out into the universe after the supernova
explosion eventually collide with other cosmic materials, and new stars, galaxies,
and planets form. So death in the universe will always result in new life. Further,
Swimme and Berry (1992) point out that this means that the origin of our sun, our
solar system, Earth, and each one of us is tied together and likely goes back to
some ancient cosmic event, like a supernova. Here, we can see how we are
intimately connected to one another and to the rest of the universe on a very basic
physical level. For anyone who does not believe in a spiritual connection among
all life, this physical connection should be equally awe-inspiring and should have
equal potential to motivate us towards spiritual consciousness – to respect life and
to seek transformation from our current fragmented and exploitative ways of


living. To know the universe is to know the self. Swimme and Berry (1992) state

Scientific knowledge is essentially self-knowledge, where self is taken as

referring to the complex, multiform system of the universe...the human is not
simply noting an objective, external design, but is rather intrinsically
participating in the creation of these designs. (pp. 39-40)

These authors show us that we have a dynamic relationship with the universe, with
our own planet Earth, and with the rest of life on our planet. We are not just
objective spectators – we are immersed in the cycle of life on both macrocosmic
(the greater universe) levels and microcosmic (the cells within our own bodies)
In addition, Swimme and Berry (1992) call on us to understand the concept of
sacrifice as part of transformation. If we hope to transform, then our old way must
die. Only from this death can a new life emerge. The death of a star results in the
new life of entire galaxies and everything contained therein. We all must be willing
to let go of some aspects of our current way of life. Fear of change or fear of the
unknown can make us hold too tightly to beliefs and lifestyles and can cause us to
have violent reactions against those we think might take those beliefs and lifestyles
from us. Furthermore, this attachment might motivate us to seek out ways in which
we can enforce our ideologies onto others with the notion that if everyone thinks
the same way, then that way of thinking can never be lost. But we must realize that
everything changes eventually. We need to be able to accept the fluidity of our own
consciousness, and to embrace the unknown rather than to fear it. If we accept
fluidity, then we can take the time to nourish a potential future (through our work,
our attentional focus, and our relationships with others) that will be more
rewarding for all. Without the acceptance of this fluidity, we waste time trying to
resist the inevitability of change.
An even more mind-boggling scientific concept – that of uncertainty – is
explained by physicist Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time (1988).
Hawking describes the “uncertainty principle”, first put forth by Werner
Heisenberg in 1926. This principle involves the idea that, on the level of particle
science and quantum mechanics, it is impossible to predict for certain the path or
velocity of a particle at any given time due partly to the fact that the act of
observing it will change its course in an unpredictable way. Hawking states that:

The uncertainty principle had profound implications for the way in which we
view the world … In general, quantum mechanics does not predict a single
definite result for an observation. Instead, it predicts a number of different
possible outcomes. (p. 55)

Hawking (1988) goes on to discuss how, knowing what we do about the birth and
death of stars and galaxies, we can understand how the universe is self-
maintaining. However, it is impossible to know for certain how the universe began
and how it will end. It is likely that our universe began with a “big bang”, at which


time all the particles that would eventually make up the galaxies, stars, planets, and
life-forms was blown out into space where it eventually came together. But what
caused the big bang? Was it god? Was it a mathematical singularity? Is our
universe just one of many flowing into and out of one another? As of yet, there is
no way to know for sure. This goes back to the notion of uncertainty.
If science itself states that the only certainty is uncertainty, then how can we, as
humans, claim to have all the answers? How can one group claim that their beliefs
are more “true” than any other group’s beliefs? Again, we must try to release our
tight hold on what we each call “reality” and accept that other points of view are
just as valid as our own. We must embrace the fact of the unknown and engage in
wisdom-sharing, looking to one another for an understanding of the various
possibilities in life.
History, Science, and Religion all speak to the notion of interconnectedness – a
major component of spiritual consciousness. As such, sharing wisdom across these
ways of knowing can mobilize us towards achieving a much-needed consciousness
shift. Also, this wisdom-sharing can remind us of the dangers of becoming too
attached to one way of looking at the world, which can lead to arrogance, rigidity,
and an overwhelming fear of change. It is important that when we engage in
wisdom-sharing, we do so in a way that respects the complexities of knowledge.
Sharing is about relationship, and it must not be approached with the desire to
hoard, steal, or offend. For this reason, it is important to examine the concepts of
appropriation and commodification in the context of wisdom-sharing.


Modern industrial society‘s economy is based on the exchange of the dollar.

Although it is arguable that this has been the source of many of the inequalities and
injustices in society, that is not the scope of this paper. I simply want to point out
that money is what we exchange for services and for information in much of the
world today – certainly in the industrial world. For this reason, the issue of the
commodification of wisdom is a more complex subject than many realize.
As has been discussed, the vast majority of people in the industrial world remain
in a “socialized consciousness”, according to Korten’s (2006) concept. The social
groups of these individuals are usually organized around shared identity markers
such as race and class. As such, these individuals are unlikely to have direct access
to the ideas and perspectives of other cultures. However, access to these
perspectives and knowledges increases once they become purchasable. For
example, being able to go to a book store and buy a book about indigenous
spiritual traditions can be a simple and important way for someone to enrich his or
her knowledge base and to begin to open to other states of consciousness.
Similarly, being able to buy a deck of Tarot cards and to self-teach about their
history and methodology can be a valuable way to appreciate other ways of
knowing. If these types of things were not available to purchase, then their wisdom
might never be shared with people in Western cultures. However, it is important to
be aware of the fact that many authors have agendas which may not be egalitarian.
Stereotyped representations are plentiful, and should be seen for what they are.


This requires a critical eye to what is available in purchasable materials. Anyone

seeking, in this way, to learn more about cross-cultural ways of knowing must pay
careful attention to the producers (authors, artists, publishers, etc.) of such
Cross-cultural wisdom can also be explored through direct interaction.
Traditionally, this interaction and sharing of wisdom would likely have involved
some sort of exchange of goods for services, or services for services. Although
money would not have been the traditional object of exchange, it is the most
common modern object of exchange. A personal example will illuminate this idea.
On occasion, my husband and I see a shaman, who was trained in Peru but who
lives and works outside of Toronto. In exchange for his services, he asks for
money, and we oblige. This exchange allows me and my husband to experience
shamanic ceremony, a source of wisdom to which we otherwise may never have
been exposed, and it allows the shaman to make a living in North America doing
something he loves.
Many authors believe that widespread access to cross-cultural ways of knowing
can be quite problematic. Michael York (2001) takes an offensive stand against
New Age religion, which he believes is based on the practice of usurping sacred
traditions from various ancient and/or indigenous cultures and then exploiting them
in a for-profit, market-driven way. But York is missing the fact that New Age can
be vehicle for integral wisdom-sharing, if viewed with a cautious eye. York states:

If New Age is grabbing sacred truths from other cultures, its ultimate fruition
might lie in re-claiming, like Neo-Paganism, sacred truths from the past – in
other words, sacred truths that are no longer claimed as privately owned. (p.

Here, York takes the stance that appropriation is wrong, but if it must be done, then
it should be done with ideologies that have died out in antiquity. However, he
himself perpetuates the use of market-driven language to refer to wisdom as
something which can be “owned”. Can knowledge and wisdom really be “owned”?
Is knowledge not something which should be free? York’s point that wisdom
traditions do sometimes get fragmented and disordered in New Age practice is a
reasonable one, but throughout his article, York neglects the real issue, which is
that to avoid the commodification of wisdom, we must stop thinking of wisdom as
a commodity item.
Edmund O’Sullivan (1999) warns against romanticizing indigenous ways of
knowing, or expecting that those ways can (or should) be directly copied by non-
indigenous groups, while arguing that “we nevertheless must appropriate certain
aspects of wisdoms from the past” to move us forward into a new era of being (p.
98). The reluctance of certain Indigenous groups to share their wisdom for fear that
it may be appropriated and commodified is understandable, considering the horrors
of centuries of colonization, and the fact that many people sample bits of wisdom
without really understanding the greater knowledge structure from whence they
came. Graveline (1998) has discussed the concept of “silence” – that is, the refusal
on the part of Indigenous groups to share their ancestral wisdoms with “outsiders”


– as a “successful tool of resistance” to oppression (p. 44). Another form of

resistance discussed by Graveline (1998) is “ignoring”, or refusing to take on the
dominant culture’s beliefs and ways of life. “Ignoring”, in the sense that it
encourages the preservation of one’s cultural knowledge and the denial of the
universality of the dominant way of knowing, can be a very useful approach to the
problem. However, “silence” can be a dangerous thing. It promotes a negative
attitude towards wisdom-sharing, which ensures that multiple perspectives cannot
be explored. This will only result in the maintenance of society’s current problems,
including closed-mindedness, rigidity, ignorance, and fear of the “other” or of the
unknown. For this reason, “silence” should not be seen, as Graveline suggests, as a
“successful tool of resistance”, but as a method by which knowledge is closed off
and kept only for members of particular populations.
Portman and Garrett (2006) have explained that there is often a strong
reluctance on the part of Native American healers to share the complexities of their
ceremonies with non-Native people, which results in a disinclination on the part of
both Native and non-Native researchers to research these ceremonies:

Indigenous healers choose not to relay information to non-Native researchers.

Native researchers may be hesitant to research traditional healing practices
because of their cultural views and beliefs systems, which prohibit writing or
researching sacred ceremonies. The greatest fear of Native researchers may
be that traditional healing practices, if written down, will be corrupted and
commercialised. (p. 467)

Portman and Garret go on to suggest that researchers examine the reactions of

Native participants to ceremonies, rather than the ceremonies themselves. This may
be an acceptable alternative, as it would allow Indigenous healers to pass on and
share the content of the wisdom itself (i.e. the beliefs related to the causes of illness
and well-being and the resulting effects on ceremony participants) while keeping
the unique expressions of that wisdom (i.e. the intricacies and details of the ritual
ceremonies) to themselves. However, there are many non-Native researchers who
would genuinely and respectfully seek out a thorough understanding of the
ceremony rituals for the purpose of enriching their knowledge base and cultural
experience. Should non-Native researchers be denied this opportunity to learn and
connect to other ways of knowing? I think the answer to this question lies in the
ability of the learner to approach learning as a relationship. Interconnectedness and
the interplay of creative and destructive forces in nature speak to the notions of
give and take. Learners must not attempt to consume wisdom but to receive it
humbly – to take it in and connect to it, and to offer something worthwhile in


Clearly, the idea of wisdom-sharing is not an easy one. What complicates this
subject even more is the subjective nature of spirituality, consciousness, and


identity. As individual and group identity plays into this process in a very big way,
it is beneficial to examine this here.
Identity is informed by different things for different people. Nationality, race,
gender, religion, age, occupation – all of these are possible identity markers for
individuals, but people tend to place varying degrees of importance on each. For
example, for some (myself included), race is not a primary building-block of
identity, while for others it is very important, if not the most important aspect of
identity. Levinson (1997) discusses the way identity plays out in a multi-racial
classroom, where students of colour often feel they must explain racism to white
students who have never come to realize (because they have never really had to)
the subtle ways that their race ties them to social stereotypes. Levinson explains
that white students often come “belatedly” into an awareness of their racial
identity, while students of colour have likely been developing a racial identity their
entire lives.
Colonization has played a major role in identity formation for many people.
Tisdell and Tolliver (2003) explain that, for many indigenous and/or minority
groups who have experienced oppression, there may be a tendency to become
hostile towards, or to reject completely, the viewpoints of the dominant group.
Another possibility discussed by these authors is that those who have experienced
oppression or colonization may internalize the negative attitudes which were
projected onto them by the dominant culture, creating a confused and impoverished
sense of self identity. The authors suggest that oppressed groups may need to
unlearn ways of knowing which have been forced on them, and reconnect with
ways of knowing from their cultures of origin, which can be a very tumultuous
process. As such, the confusion and frustration that must be felt by these
communities when they see members of the “dominant” culture also attempting to
connect to these indigenous knowledges is quite understandable.
Tisdell and Tolliver (2003) hope, through this process of learning and
unlearning, that “ultimately … the new identity is integrated into a more universal
perspective” (p. 373). Similarly, Thomas Berry (1999) calls for a transition to a
sense of identity that connects directly to the universe at large. This is something
that all cultures can strive towards, but it requires much healing and personal
struggle with issues of trust and fear.
Trust and fear are not only challenges to the process of identity formation, but to
the entire process of wisdom-sharing. Sharers of wisdom must not feel afraid of or
threatened by those who are receiving the wisdom. This is not an easy task, as has
been shown. Fear can result in withholding and silence on the part of potential
sharers, or arrogance, manipulation, and dishonesty on the part of potential
receivers. Trust must be built over long periods of time, through communication,
interaction, and respect. This will eventually lead to a relationship between sharer,
receiver, and wisdom itself. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) says, “sharing
knowledge is a long-term commitment” (p. 16).
The intricacies of cross-cultural identity formation and feelings of fear and
distrust can make wisdom-sharing a difficult process to navigate. It is important for
transformative educators to understand how students are forming their identities.
This will provide the educator with an idea of what is most important to each


student, and can help to gauge the extent to which adult students will be open to
engaging in a process of relationship-building. It is also imperative for the
transformative educator to work to break down fear and to build trust, no matter
how long this may take. Such awareness on the part of the educator would likely
result in a more compassionate learning experience for all involved.
Gregory Cajete (1994) explains how Native North Americans have been passing
on a cultural narrative which incorporates aspects of spirituality, science,
mythology, symbol, and cultural history. He calls this cultural narrative
“Indigenous Science”, and he proposes a comprehensive method by which to teach
Indigenous Science to people of all backgrounds. In his model, Cajete (1994)
outlines seven courses which would introduce learners to Native American
understandings of social and cultural structures, community engagement,
approaches to healing and well-being, nature symbolism and mythology, biology
and ecology, astronomy, physics, and Earth sciences. In this way, Cajete outlines a
brilliant Transformative framework through which to explore wisdom-sharing from
within and without the Indigenous cultural context, as well as promoting respect
and understanding for cross-cultural ways of life. A framework such as this one
could go a long way to reducing tension between cultural groups and opening up
communication and interaction across difference, while promoting the cultivation
of spiritual consciousness.


Transformative Education and wisdom-sharing are about seeing things differently

– seeing things from new perspectives or from altered states of consciousness. This
task is becoming ever more important in our global condition, which sees war,
oppression, starvation, abuse, and neglect as everyday occurrences. The most
important part of this process is to see beyond one’s usual perspective and to
understand the ways in which we are connected to one another. This is an aspect of
my understanding (and Korten’s) of spirituality or spiritual consciousness. In order
to achieve such change, we must promote multiple ways of seeing and knowing,
including full exploration of cross-cultural experiences of spirituality, mythology,
history, religion, science, and identity. There are so many ways of knowing
throughout the human community, and these do not need to be in opposition to one
another, but can inform one another in significant ways to promote awareness and
connectedness rather than ignorance, intolerance, oppression, and hate.
Accessibility is essential. So is relationship. If we are going to grow as a species
we must make the effort to see that we are informed as a species, which will
involve making long-term commitments to seeing that knowledge and wisdom are
accessible to all. Further, it is our responsibility, once we have access, to
understand that knowledge and wisdom are intimately connected to complex
histories and cultural contexts which must be respected, and to social constructions
and representations which must be viewed with a critical eye. According to George
Dei (2002), knowledge is seen as cumulative and as emerging from experiencing
the social world. Knowledge emerges from the interplay of body, mind, and soul
(p. 5).


Knowledge and wisdom are not objective but subjective. They are not items to
be bought, sold, hoarded, hidden, or used as leverage for political or personal gain.
They are dynamic parts of human experience, and if we wish to enrich human
experience and to alter our consciousness, then we must accept wisdom-sharing as
a method by which this transformation can be achieved.

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While there is not really another appropriate title for this, other than ‘conclusion’,
the very idea of a conclusion seems antithetical to the ideas of spirituality that are
presented in this book. As editors of this project, we choose to see this concluding
space as an invitation to you, the readers, to join us in the task at hand: the
integration of spirituality into our daily lives, into our societies, and into the
academy. Much like Carol Boyce Davies (1994) intimates, at each arrival we begin
a new departure. With this project, we hope it serves not as an arrival or any type
of conclusive, definitive statement on spirituality but, rather, as a departure into
further discussions around spirituality, education and society. This book is merely
one starting point into the much broader discussion that is just beginning to emerge
around spirituality. There is a spiritual fire burning and we hope that this book adds
fuel to it; may you, the readers, have the prescience to continue to do the same,
maintaining and growing this flame.
In reading through this book, there are many threads that weave and intermingle
in the pages. Spirituality is seen as a private endeavour, both born amidst and
sustained among the many dominant discourses in society and the academy that
seek to silence the power of the spirit. Spirituality in imbued with an intimate
relationship to culture and history, nurtured by lived experiences and revealed in
diverse ways. But while this intimate reality is sustained within us, it is also a force
of social change. It connects us to spaces that are beyond the self. It forces us to
extend outwards and reflect on our place in the world and the many power
relationships that divest themselves in us and through us. Spirituality can be used
as a lens to critically re-evaluate our positioning, to be aware and conscious of our
surroundings, and to see the connections that are present in all of this.
Thus this book also highlights how spirituality is contextualized in various
locations. Spirituality is very closely tied to culture, cultural ways of knowing and
lived experiences of the bodies within that cultural setting. How spirituality is
conceived of in Uganda will be different from how it is seen in Japan, and again in
Canada. How are these spiritualities connected? How are they different? How can
multiple ways of knowing be valued? Within our research and our classrooms,
spirituality is part of the struggle to value multiple ways of knowing and to create
spaces for these knowledges to be enacted but what does this look like in practice?
Spirituality, here, is also presented as a collection of ideas and diverse
understandings which, while rooted in culture and history, are not constrained by
geographical or cultural differences. It is a clear testimony of why spirituality

N. Wane et al. (eds.), Spirituality, Education & Society, 235–238.

© 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.

should be viewed as a uniting phenomenon rather than a source of irreconcilable

The immense challenge that arises out of this book is: How do we harness the
power of spirituality in new ways, both in the academy and society? In a world that
values objectivity, reason, efficiency, and science, how do we make room for
spiritual undertakings? It is difficult to take these theories and ideas and apply them
to our classrooms, to our schools and to our work. There is danger in putting such
an intimate part of ourselves into such a public arena. Beyond this, how do we
account and make space for both our own spirituality and the multitude of diverse
spiritualities that we interact with daily? How does an educator make space for the
spiritual in a classroom of thirty diverse students? How do we nurture a child’s
spirituality that might be different than our own?
To an extent, these questions are asking: How do we fit a round peg into a
square hole? The frameworks of the academy are not conducive to or friendly
towards ideas of spirituality. As researchers, when we apply for grants or funding,
we scrub our proposals clean of any taint of spirituality, using broad terms such as
‘critical pedagogy’ or ‘alternative ways of knowing’, perhaps even referencing
more accessible terms such as emotion and psyche to replace ‘spirit’. Words such
as hope, love and spirit are seen as having no place in the academic realm
(Shahjahan, 2006). As educators, we access terms such as holistic learning without
ever asking about spirituality. Lesson plans are devoid of the spiritual, masked
under ‘creative learning’. The academy is a hostile place for the spiritually
conscious researcher or educator.
Still, we cannot sit back and accept this dismissal nor do we want some token
space granted to us; we cannot accept being ghettoized by an academy that insists
on “having a conversation with itself” (Wahab, 2005). If we are serious about the
task of transformative learning, the integration of the spiritual self is essential, not
only in valuing students inner knowledges but also in the task of resisting and
disrupting dominant discourses that ignore the marginalization and fracturing of
both students and knowledges. Spiritual discourses ‘talk back’ to the alienating,
fragmenting conditions of the academy. They cross borders and resist being
bounded. Spirituality is not easily codified nor subjected to a course outline or a
reading list. It in an aspect of all us, so how do we apply it to the task of education?
Other social sciences? Humanities? Science and mathematics? What would a
spiritually attuned curriculum look like in a history classroom? How can a
spiritually aware educator bring this aspect into an engineering class? How does
spirituality cross discipline lines, tracing connections between feminist studies and
anthropology? Or between social work and statistics? Are there connections to be
made? How do students and educators negotiate these connections or are they
silenced within academia? These are the questions and the work that spirituality
opens for us.
Finding the answers will not be easy. In our societies, we are programmed at an
early age to deflect and bury our spiritual selves. Our tasks demand busy schedules
that leave little time to pause and reflect, vital aspect to building a sense of the
spiritual (hooks, 2003). As we were putting together this project under various
deadlines and other responsibilities, there were points where frustration hit us hard


and the demands of the work overwhelmed us. The comment was made that, “This
has been one of the least spiritual exercises I’ve participated in”. The demands of
academia and our society rob us of our ability to live as spiritual beings. How do
we reclaim our spiritual selves in the midst of these demands and structures which
divorce us from spiritual living?
For those who are looking for lesson plans, tutorials and pat answers, you will
undoubtedly be disappointed – this books has very little of this. The goal of this
book was to show how spirituality is operationalized in various contexts and
through various experiences and to highlight the possibilities that exist within a
spiritual framework. The rest is up to you. The task of bringing spirituality and
spiritual living into the academy demands “ a commitment to complex analysis and
the letting go of wanting everything to be simple” (hooks, 2003, p.78). Within the
messy realities, there is little room for simplistic answers, platitudes or superficial
engagement. Spirituality is not an excuse to disengage but a call to engage deeper!
If we wish to negotiate the labyrinths of power, we must eschew generalizations. In
engaging with power we must recognize the intersections of race, gender, class,
(dis)ability, and sexuality. We must learn to value difference beyond the
multicultural project of ‘tolerance’, recognizing the immense power of recognizing
diversity and the role it plays in knowledge production (Dei, 2002). Spirituality in
the academy is a