Contemplative Environmental Studies: Pedagogy for Self and Planet


  • Paul Wapner


Environmental studies, Contemplative Pedagogy, Anthropocene, Reflection, Engaged Learning, Course design


Environmental problems are among the most profound challenges humanity has ever faced. How can we best educate students in this moment of environmental intensification? What skills, virtues, and sensibilities do they need to investigate, appreciate, and respond to environmental degradation? This article makes the case for adding contemplative practices to the pedagogical toolbox. It explains the connection between our internal lives and environmental degradation, and how contemplative practices can unlock faculties for advancing environmental inquiry and engagement. It describes how contemplative practices can, for instance, help students analyze the causes of environmental harm by enabling them to notice internal grasping, and fashion appropriate responses by short-circuiting reactivity and attachment to specific outcomes. The article also argues that, while contemplative practices can help students (and professors) better address environmental issues, environmental engagement can also benefit the contemplative life. Climate change, mass extinction, and other environmental dilemmas represent novel challenges to our species and thus addressing them may open new chambers in the heart whose exploration can deepen one’s contemplative experience.  In addition to pointing out the benefits, the article also notes limitations of using contemplative practices to expand environmental studies.


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