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Morrissey College of Arts and Science

UN526 Spirituality, Science, and Life

capstone program

Carol C. Halpern

Professor of Biology

Course Goals and Description

One of the goals of this seminar is to bring conscious awareness to our life journey as it unfolds in relationship to ourselves, our friends, family, and community and thereby to our spiritual development.

Capstone seminars provide the opportunity for students to:

“review their educations and to preview their upcoming long-term commitments in life…. focus on the students’ personal development – in relationships, in society, in academics, in spirituality, in career, and in personal skills.” (Capstone web site)

It is therefore, an invitation to begin (or continue) the process of self - discovery, which focuses primarily on ourselves but is reflected in the nature of our relationship with others and our connection to Spirit/God/The All. While our focus and concern in life so often starts out with the outer journey, this seminar will provide the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with our inner being. Throughout the semester, we will weave between the inner and the outer journey, and learn to appreciate the intimate connection between the two.

The process of self-discovery will be facilitated by in -class practices as well as a variety of assignments.  These will include meditation, in class discussion, various writing exercises, readings, videos.

One of the tools for self-discovery that we will use is the practice of mindfulness. We will use various forms of meditation and other approaches to mindfulness. Some are based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work which is derived in part from some ancient Buddhist traditions. Other forms of meditation are part of the Pathwork teachings. Through various assignments and in class practices, we will aim at the simple goal of being present. Mindfulness is the capacity to be present in the moment and this requires intentionality and practice. The practice of mindfulness on a regular basis, gives us the opportunity to enjoy many of the “simple” aspects of life, to make better choices for ourselves, and helps us cultivate the capacity to accept life as it presents itself even if we don’t like it.

Another goal for this seminar is to foster an attitude of inquiry and deep questioning of our assumptions about Life. That includes our own and the cultural beliefs about science, faith, and spirituality. Students will be asked to arrive at their own sense and understanding of these perspectives and the relationships between them. While we may think that our belief systems are based in the "hard" realities of the universe, or in a particular faith, a closer examination of these assumptions is very helpful in living a fuller life. By fostering the capacity to question, students may become more prepared to engage in their personal and community relationships with open hearts.

There is increasing evidence that our belief systems, our thoughts and our emotions, affect our physicality, our perception of the world around us, and our actual experiences in the world. Therefore, we have much more opportunity to be the creators of our lives than we often believe we do. This opportunity presents itself through our mindful attention to our deeper thoughts, feelings and belief systems. This way of being in life is counter to the prevailing Western cultural beliefs most of us are immersed in, and therefore requires our individual exploration and our getting used to.

The movement towards a unified view of spirituality and science will be facilitated through readings in several areas. One is the ever expanding field of research in which the body-mind continuum is explored and documented, and the other is related to some of the notions from physics, commonly referred to as “the butterfly effect”. The phenomenon speaks to the fact that we are all interconnected in a fundamental way because of our origins dating back to the “Big Bang”.

It is evident that our spiritual growth and development, involves ever greater knowledge of our interior landscape (what we truly believe, what our feelings really are, what our hopes and expectations are, what our intentions really are, what our fears are, what our passions are, etc.). This can then allow for a union between seemingly discordant parts of ourselves, other humans, and all there is. This is the healing power of love, and is the manifestation of the union between spiritual and scientific wisdom.

Thus, the relationship to self, to family, friends, community, and to God will be a theme present in many of the readings and will be explored in our discussions.

Academic Integrity

Boston College values the academic integrity of its students and faculty. It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the University’s policy on academic integrity. If you have any questions, always consult your professor.

Violations of academic integrity will be reported to your class dean and judged by the academic integrity committee in your school. If you are found responsible for violating the policy, penalties may include a failing grade as well as possible probation, suspension, or expulsion, depending on the seriousness and circumstances of the violation.

"No student may take more than one Capstone during their college career, whether listed as a UN course or cross-listed in a department. Exceptions require written permission from the Capstone Program director, in consultation with the A&S Dean for senior year."

Required Books and Readings

Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist, N.Y. Harper Collins 1993.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are, Hyperion, 1994.

Palmer Parker. Let Your Life Speak, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2000.

Salzberg Sharon. Faith – trusting your own deepest experience, Riverhead Books, 2002.

Thesenga Susan. The Undefended Self, Pathwork Press, 1994.

A Collection of Readings accessible electronically through the course web site.

Class Format

In general class will start with sitting meditation. This will usually be followed by a brief “check-in” by class members and this will lead into the presentation and discussion of the specific readings which were assigned for the given class. Students are expected to be the main contributors in these discussions where there is an opportunity to explore the intersection of the issues raised in the readings with the student’s life. This sharing is a way to find our commonalities and our uniqueness of opinions/perspectives, and in the life issues we are dealing with. My hope is to create a communal feeling that supports our individual searches.

Class Requirements

Students are expected to come to class prepared, ready to engage in a discussion of the readings and willing to volunteer to facilitate part of the class discussion on a rotating basis. Students are also expected to think about and share about the implications of the readings in their own lives. Prior to each class, students will prepare at least three questions/issues of concern/points of interest from the readings (at least one question per article and three questions from book assignments). These have to be emailed to the facilitator and me by Monday 3:00 p.m.

Students need to meet with me individually towards mid-semester to discuss their class participation as well as to give and receive feedback. Please make an appointment for during week seven or week eight.

Journal Writing

There are two aspects of journal writing students will do:

Reactions to and reflections on the readings and the seminar experience

Here students will write about feelings or thoughts or questions that are elicited by the readings and/or class discussion (i.e. how you are touched by the readings or discussion). This does not mean summarizing the reading, though it may be appropriate to refer to specific points in the readings.

Self reflection

This is open ended and is intended to help students explore the inner landscape of feelings, thoughts, life experiences that await integration, current concerns, reflections on the educational experience and life beyond college.

Journal entries will be due on the following dates: week five, week nine, and week 13.

How journals will be evaluated/"graded"

A system of "checks" will be used as follows:

V+ indicating that a great deal of thought has gone into this assignment; excellent connections between the readings and personal reflection; depth of reflection on the personal experience and/or the reading; assignment was handed in on time;

V general completion of the assignment but less depth than ideal - perhaps too superficial, or insufficient reflection on implications;

V- writing was done for the sake of completing the assignment, with very little evidence of introspection or reflection on the readings or the personal relevance;

0 assignment was not passed in or handed in late without permission.

other assignments

There will be several written assignments throughout the semester. These will be primarily of a reflective/mindfulness nature. Unless otherwise indicated, assignments should be typed and handed in.

These are:

  • Reflections on your college courses and education here at BC so far - due week two.
  • Mindfulness exercises:
  • How do I eat? - due week two.
  • Awareness of Pleasant or Unpleasant events calendar (no need to hand in - use as journal entries and for class discussion)
  • Awareness of Difficult or stressful Communication calendar (not need to hand in - use for discussion)
  • Observing Impatience/Anger (see p 52 in JKZ) - due week three.
  • Where is the meaning in your life? (see pp 79 and 81 in JKZ)
  • Life as an adventure (see p 91 in JKZ)
  • Let things be as they are (see pp 98 and 99 in JKZ)
  • One out of the above three (e, f, or g) - due week six.
  • Every week, choose one mindfulness practice and write about the experience in your journal. Practices you may want to try this with may include: brushing your teeth, showering, walking from your room to class, washing dishes, other cleaning chores, etc. Try doing the practice more than once during that week.
  • Written Reflections on the quotes from The Alchemist - due week four.
  • “Let YOUR Life Speak” – spend at least 15 minutes each day for a week, sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, and then about ten minutes asking this question inwardly: “what do I hear when I listen to MY LIFE SPEAK”? Write briefly about what you get for each of the days - due week seven.
  • Faith – Please reflect on and write about your perspective on faith. Include your experience/s, question/s, understanding, and issues with faith. What does it mean to you to have faith and what is that faith in? How has your perspective evolved (or remained the same) regarding this subject? - due week eight.
  • For each of the classes that we will discuss chapters from the Thesenga book - week ten, week 11, week 12, and week 13 - please write about one of the questions she poses at the end of each assigned chapter. The questions will be due the same day the readings are due.
  • Reflections on your Vision Quest experience – due week nine.

term paper

Students will write a paper that arises from the gained insights into their own life journey, with particular emphasis on the understanding of the roles of science and spirituality in their daily lives (current and past). It will also include thoughts, insights, and horizons gained in the understanding of science and spirituality and the relationships between the two. Reflections on the degree to which the student sees the two as dualities or in a more unified way are invited.

The paper should also include reflections on how science and spirituality are (and may be in the future) factors in the relationship to self, family, friends, vocation, and community.

The typed paper is due on week 14.

how the grade will be determined

Attendance and Participation * - 20%

Homework - 38%

Journals - 30%

Term Paper - 12%

* What does “Participation” in a Capstone mean?

In a Capstone seminar, participation means taking equal responsibility for the learning of the class as a whole, not just yourself. What you are taking on as a member of this class is the opportunity to be part of an ongoing intelligent conversation about some of the most important problems and choices you face in life.

Therefore, you cannot simply watch and listen to others, although listening with openness and attention is very important. You are invited to share your insights, thoughts, and feelings as they are evoked by the readings and your personal experience in and out of class. You are invited to bring up thought provoking questions, raise hard questions, be willing to address uncomfortable ideas and attitudes, and share your own life experience to make points related to the readings.

For many of us it is rare to venture beyond the obvious and superficial as part of everyday conversations. Talking about serious things makes us uncomfortable - we become uncomfortable personally and afraid socially, and we usually back off from important questions except with our closest friends.

But instead of retreating into ourselves to explore our deepest concerns, in Capstone seminars, we are given the opportunity of talking to other people who are equally uneasy and concerned. We talk in an open and confidential atmosphere where it is not only acceptable to talk about serious things, but it is also expected. For those who truly participate, it is a rare and personally enriching experience.

In short, participation means faithful attendance, being prepared, and sharing thoughts and feelings on a level where dissonant views are welcomed open to respectful examination.

office location

Higgins 365
Telephone 617-552-3565

Office hours - Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and by appointment. I encourage students to bring up any issues of interest, concern, and/or difficulty that may interfere with full class participation.

class schedule

Week One - Introduction

Week Two - JKZ pp iii - 100; Readings 1-4

Week Three - JKZ pp 101 - end; Readings 5-8; The Labyrinth

Week Four - The Alchemist

Week Five - Readings 9-12; The Alchemist continued

Week Six - Let Your Life Speak; Readings 13-16

Week Seven - Let Your Life Speak; Salzberg: Faith pp xiii-97

Week Eight - Salzberg: Faith, pp 98-176; Readings 17-20

Week Nine - Science and Spirituality; Readings 21-25

Week Ten - Thesenga, Chapters 1-3

Week Eleven - Thesenga, Chapters 4-6

Week Twelve - Thesenga, Chapters 7-9

Week Thirteen - Thesenga, Chapters 10-11; Reading 26

Week Fourteen - Closing

list of readings

Introductory Readings - Life Journeys
  • “The Way of Awareness” pp 440-444, chapter 36 in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn 1990 Delta/Dell/Bentam
  • “Touching the Sky” The Boston Globe 6/27/2001
  • “The Way of An Explorer” in Shift: At The Frontiers of Consciousness
    December 2003 - February 2004 pp 18-21.

Mindfulness and Meditation

  • “The Science of Meditation” TIME August 4, 2003.
  • “Mindfulness in Medicine” by D.S. Ludwig and J.K.Zinn. JAMA 2008; 300 (11): 1350-1352.
  • “Getting to AHA! – Between where you are and who you are is a magical place called the maginal zone. Here’s how to get there.” By Trebbe Johnson pp 43-47 in Spirituality and Health July/August 2008.
The Body-Mind; Feelings, Physicality, and Mental States
  • “Buddha Lessons - A technique called ‘mindfulness’ teaches how to step back from pain and the worries of life” Newsweek September 27, pp 48 and 51, 2004.
  • “Health for Life: Newsweek 9/27/2004
    • Brain Check” pp 45-47
    • Forgive and Let Live - Revenge is sweet, but letting go of anger at those who wronged you is a smart route to good health. p 52
    • For a Happy Heart - Depression, loneliness and anger all take a toll on your cardiac health. New research shows what can help.” pp 54-56
    • Combination Therapy - Mind-Body techniques may not cure cancer, but they make living with it a whole lot easier. pp 66-67
    • The Serenity Workout - Regular exercise can strengthen the mind as well as the muscles, and studies show it improves mood, too. pp 68-69
    • Altered States - Hypnosis can help with problems from anxiety to pain p 76
  • “The Influence of anger expression on wound healing” by J. P. Gouin et. al. in Brain Behavior, and Immunity 22 (2008) pp 699-708.
  • “Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart” by Rollin McCraty et al. in The journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol. 10, No. 1, 2004 pp 133-143.
Physiological Effects of Stress and Meditation
  • “Stress-associated immune disregulation and its importance for human health: a personal history of psychoneuroimmunology” by Ronald Glaser in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 19 (2005) 3-11.
  • “Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress” by E.S. Epel et. al. PNAS December 7, 2004. vol. 101 no. 49 pp 17312-17315.
  • “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness” by Sara W. Lazar et al. In NeuroReport vol. 16 No. 17, 28 November 2005.
  • “Mindfulness meditation training effects on CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infected adults: A small randomized controlled trial” by J.D. Creswell et. al. in Brain Behavior, and Immunity 2008 on line.
  • “Long-term meditators self-induce high amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice” by A. Lutz PNAS vol. 101#46 16369-16373, 2004.“Relaxation Response Can Influence Expression of Stress-Related Genes” 04 July 2008.
Science and Spirituality – what are they?
  • A Re-examination of the Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science: Why Is It Necessary?" by Harman, Willis. Chapter 1 in New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Edited by Willis Harman and Jane Clark. Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1994.
  • “Searching for the God Within” by Sharon Begley Newsweek Jan. 29, 2001 p 59.
  • “How God Invites Us to Grow” by Rev. Richard J. Sweeney Boston College/C21 Resources/ pp 16-17. Fall 2006.
  • “A ‘citizen of the world’ found right on campus” by Maria Lagorio The Heights November 6, 2006.
  • “Religion and the Brain” by Begley, Sharon. Newsweek May 7, 2001, pp 52-57.
  • “The Mystery of Science and Spirit”. By Ravi Ravindara Yoga International April/May 2001, pp 66-71.
  • "Towards a New World View" an interview of Barbara Brennan by Russ DiCarlo in EarthStar June/July 1997.
  • “The Experiments of Dr. Oz” The New York Times Magazine, July 30, 1995.
  • Qi Gong - Can it Affect Cancer Cells and Promote Healing” by Garret Yount IONS Connections Sep. 1997
  • “Focus on Work” by Yvonne V. Chabrier New Age Journal July/Aug 1998 pp 93-108.