The University of Melbourne is establishing a Contemplative Studies Centre, which will be the first point of entry into the world of mindfulness, meditation and contemplative practice at the University.
Contemplative studies focus on the variety of religious, spiritual, and secular practices – such as meditation, mindfulness, and prayer – and is at the very heart of what it is to be connected to ourselves, one another, and the world. These practices help people from all walks of life to facilitate wellbeing, and to aid in the development of a meaningful, balanced life.
The Contemplative Studies Centre will be led by Dr Nicholas Van Dam, a recently appointed fellow of the Mind and Life Institute and hosted within the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. It will have offerings for all audiences, including the general public, students, staff, faith leaders and practitioners.
Dr Van Dam said the last 30 years has seen a boom in contemplative practices. However, despite increased popularity, enthusiasm for the practices has outpaced the evidence for how best to use them and commercialisation has jeopardised the potential of these ancient practices in the modern world, excluding those most knowledgeable about how to implement and optimise them.
“In Australia, like the rest of the world, we’ve seen massive growth in meditation and mindfulness practices in schools, workplaces and in just about every aspect of life,” Dr Van Dam said. “The foundations of the practices have often been left behind; platitudes and optimistic thinking have replaced authentic self-exploration and opportunities for people to find balance.
“While there’s no doubt these practices can be transformational, helping people and society to thrive, we need evidence-based research and guidelines to determine how they are best used and when.”
The internationally focused centre will bring together experts from around the world to critically assess contemplative practices to help people discern between the plethora of offerings to ensure connection to authentic practices and optimal outcomes for all.
It will draw on knowledge and expertise from across the University including the Faculty of Arts and the Melbourne School of Graduate Education, to deliver ground-breaking research, innovative educational offerings and a world-class engagement series. It will also offer an opportunity for authentic practice, guided sessions and a place for inter-faith and wisdom discussion.
Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell said the University is extremely grateful to Martin and Loreto Hosking for the incredibly generous donation to establish the Contemplative Studies Centre. He said the new centre represents a breakthrough to develop contemplative study, research and practice in the Asia-Pacific region and create purposeful change for our communities.
“Considering the quite extraordinary year that we have all experienced, there is a real need for greater focus on mindfulness and wellbeing in our society. Through the new centre we hope to assist many people who would most benefit from mindfulness and meditative practice,” Professor Maskell said.
Mr Hosking said he has been interested in unlocking the benefits of meditation and contemplative studies for a number of years. “I know the personal benefits of meditation and believe the introduction of study in this area will have a profound impact on our future leaders, professionals and educators.”
Professor Sarah Wilson, Head of the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said the University is committed to achieving exceptional research quality and impact that translates to benefits for people’s everyday lives.
“The research of Dr Van Dam in mindfulness and meditation is world-leading and his interdisciplinary approach will equip the future generation of thought-leaders with the necessary skills to navigate the complexities our society currently faces,” Professor Wilson said.
“The long lockdown during the pandemic has shown us that now, more than ever, we need skills to help us engage in contemplative practices that enhance our wellbeing and mental health.
“This exciting new centre is a timely gift to our whole community, as it brings the latest research evidence and an interdisciplinary approach to guide us on the most effective ways to contemplate and navigate the complexities of our lives.”
The centre will be located within Melbourne Connect, a newly completed, purpose-built innovation precinct at the University of Melbourne, ensuring industry collaborations and community engagement is at the heart of its research partnerships.
Melbourne Connect is delivered in partnership with a consortium led by Lendlease, bringing together world-class researchers, start-ups, government, industry, artists, and Science Gallery Melbourne, right in the heart of Carlton and next to the Parkville precinct.
Three Springs Foundation and the Hoskings have also donated funds to Monash University for a Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies, to be established within the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies in the Faculty of Arts. Together these two centres are positioning Victoria, and indeed Australia, as world leaders in this space.