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GSSW Plans Forum on Spirituality in Social Work


By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 15, 2011

The Graduate School of Social Work is expanding its annual alumni celebration into a school-wide conference that will explore spirituality in social work. The event, which takes place Jan. 13 from 8 a.m.-noon in McGuinn 121, will include a keynote address by Edward R. Canda — whose research interests bridge religious studies and social service — as well as workshops and the presentation of the GSSW Distinguished Alumni Award.

Organizers say the wider scope of the event, which is co-sponsored by the GSSW Diversity Committee, will strengthen GSSW alumni connections with faculty, staff and students. It also is keeping with the Diversity Committee’s mission to engage the school community on social work-related issues in increasingly diverse populations, they said.

The committee holds a series of events during the academic year to encourage reflection and discussion on a particular area of focus, such as race, sexual orientation, immigrants and refugees, and poverty. This year’s concentration on spirituality stemmed from a 2010 survey of GSSW students, said GSSW Professor Paul Kline, chairman of the Diversity Committee.

“It was an area in which the students said they felt least prepared,” said Kline. “Their enthusiasm for what we’ve been doing on diversity matters has been considerable, so spirituality seemed an obvious choice. And obviously it dovetails with Boston College’s mission and Jesuit, Catholic ethos.”

Kline said this academic year’s exploration of spirituality in social work began with a lecture for new students held during the school’s 75th anniversary celebration in September. A faculty retreat later in the fall was the venue for discussions on integrating spirituality into the school’s academic and non-academic life.

The Jan. 13 conference offers an opportunity “to have a conversation not only between students, faculty and staff, but with our alumni, who as professionals out in the field have a very valuable perspective. We believe we all have much to teach each other.”  

Helping spur that conversation, Kline said, will be the keynote by Canda, a faculty member at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. Canda studied the anthropology of religions, art, and art history as an undergraduate, and earned a master’s degree in religious studies focusing on East Asian religions and comparative religions. His MSW and PhD degrees at The Ohio State University involved study and practice on cross-cultural and spiritual issues.

“Edward Canda is experienced in looking at spirituality outside of faith traditions, and outside of Western views,” said Kline. “He has been a strong voice in urging the social work profession to recognize the significance of spirituality for the clients and communities it serves.”

Kline praised students for being “active participants in visualizing, shaping and creating this event.”