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Understanding mindfulness in modern life

20 July 2017

Mindfulness meditation

Cardiff University has been successful in receiving a Research Project Grant from the Leverhulme Trust directed by Dr Steven Stanley from the School of Social Sciences.

Beyond Personal Wellbeing: Mapping the Social Production of Mindfulness in England and Wales will seek to understand the broad scope and implications of mindfulness for contemporary life.

The project, which has been awarded funding of over £214,000, will be a landmark investigation of the significance of mindfulness as a social phenomenon.

While predominantly applied as a form of cognitive therapy for the treatment of stress, anxiety and depression, in recent years mindfulness has moved out of the therapy room and Buddhist retreat centre and into society at large, entering the National Health Service; Westminster, Welsh and Scottish governments; schools, colleges and universities; workplaces; and even smartphone apps.

Mindfulness is now being employed not only as a therapy, but also to ensure national well-being, happiness, and flourishing; productivity, performance, and efficiency; sustainability, creativity and activism. But what does the exponential rise of mindfulness tell us about the social world in which we are currently living?

The Leverhulme Trust
The Leverhulme Trust

Over the course of three years, beginning in October 2017, the project will investigate mindfulness provision in England and Wales, looking at the increasing availability of mindfulness practice, specifically in the fields of health and well-being, education, business, politics, and religion.

The inter-disciplinary research team will identify the who, where, what, and how of the mindfulness-provider community in England and Wales. The project will culminate in a book documenting the results as well as several academic journal articles, workshops, and conference presentations.

The project is led by Dr Steven Stanley, a critical psychologist interested in the study of the psychological and therapeutic cultures of late modernity in relation to neo-liberal capitalism. His research over the last eight years has concerned the ‘contemplative turn’ in science through investigation of mindfulness as a socio-cultural phenomenon.

He is now the single most widely published social scientist of mindfulness in the UK with a growing international reputation. His academic research dovetails with his nearly 20 year engagement with meditative practices.

Dr Stanley said “Its widespread dispersal has led commentators to label mindfulness as a 'movement'. Despite this rapid expansion, there remains a lack of empirical research documenting and analysing this burgeoning cultural field...”

“Our multi-disciplinary team of social science researchers and a humanities scholar – experts in the study of mindfulness, Buddhism, spirituality, and emotion management technologies – will provide a much-needed social scientific assessment of the mindfulness ‘movement’ as one of the most striking social phenomenon of our times.”

Dr Stanley will work in collaboration with Dr Alp Arat, a sociologist of religion and committee member of the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion study group; Dr Peter Hemming, a lecturer in Social Sciences at Cardiff University; and Professor Richard King, Professor of Buddhist and Asian Studies at the University of Kent.

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