Contemplative Approaches to Reading and Writing: Cultivating Choice, Connectedness, and Wholeheartedness in the Critical Humanities


  • Dorothe J Bach University of Virginia
  • John Alexander University of Virginia


reading, writing, contemplative pedagogy, presence, relational connection, comparative literature


This article describes an approach in which two humanities instructors use reading and writing as a means to help students connect to their minds as objects of contemplation, experience alternative ways of being and relating, and consider how they make meaning from experience. To derive conclusions from this approach, they analyze student work and student feedback from a 3000 level elective comparative literature course, “Spiritual Journeys in Young Adult Fiction.” The results show that students cherish the opportunity to inquire into their habitual ways of relating to their academic work and to each other. They find a greater sense of choice, connectedness, and wholeheartedness, and rediscover their love for reading and writing.

Author Biographies

Dorothe J Bach, University of Virginia

DOROTHE BACH, PhD, RYT, is Associate Professor and Associate Director at the University of Virginia’s Teaching Resource Center where she has supported faculty in their role as teachers for over 13 years. She has published on the challenges of retaining diverse faculty and a variety of teaching issues such as course design, using social media for learning, contemplative pedagogy and learning portfolios. In the past years, she has sought different avenues for bringing contemplation into her work with faculty and students. With John Alexander, she created the Contemplative Pedagogy Program for instructors seeking to integrate contemplation into their classrooms. With Susan Bauer-Wu, she co-teaches “Mindfulness and Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally” in which undergraduate students experientially and academically explore secular contemplative practices that foster self-awareness, emotional regulation, mental stability, and prosocial mental qualities, such as compassion, generosity and gratitude. Dorothe regularly presents nationally and internationally on educational development and teaches yoga in her community.

John Alexander, University of Virginia

JOHN ALEXANDER is associate director of SHANTI (Sciences, Humanities and Arts Network of Technological Initiatives) at the University of Virginia. He has taught and worked in the areas of mindful reflection and reflective writing throughout his career. He applies mindful practice in community building, for example in recent years, in coordination with Dorothe Bach, bringing together faculty at UVa who are integrating contemplation into their teaching. He is currently researching the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City. His primary practice of mindfulness for the last twenty years has been shape note singing, a uniquely American folk form which has been continuously active since the 1800’s and currently growing in popularity among young urban professionals. He and his wife, Diane Ober, have written a chapter on the development of The Shenandoah Harmony (a noteworthy new shape note tune book) which will be in a forthcoming book on white gospel music to be published by the University of Mississippi Press.


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