RELIGIOUS and spiritual experiences are very common but difficult to study, so academics at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts have published a book that addresses the problem and shows how to approach the topic from different disciplines.
The edited volume:
‘The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies’ presents an overview of approaches and methods to the study of religious and spiritual experiences, with a range of chapters written by scholars from different disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, religious studies, theology, and biblical studies.
It has been edited by Bettina Schmidt, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).
The book takes the work of Sir Alister Hardy – recipient of the Templeton Prize in 1985 for his work on religious experience – forward, by showing how to study religious and spiritual experiences in the 21st century. The aim of the book is to show how a range of disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, religious studies, theology, biblical studies and history approach the topic of religious experience, what their contributions are to the study of religious experience are and how that approach can be applied.
Sir Alister Hardy, a renowned scientist, approached the complex field of religious and spiritual experience from a similar disciplined and scientific manner in which he approach natural science. Asking people from the public to send him accounts of first-hand experiences with spiritual or religious powers, he established the Religious Experience Research Centre that has been since then at the forefront of the academic study of religious experiences. This book takes his work forward and shows how to study religious and spiritual experiences in the 21st century.
Each chapter in the book presents a different approach, with each author providing insights into the field with an original empirical case study and details about a specific method to study religious experiences.
The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies is linked to the Religious Experience Research Centre which is located on the Lampeter campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The Director of RERC, Professor Bettina Schmidt, organised a conference in 2014 on the study of religious experience and the revised papers of the conference are included in the book, as well as further contributions from international scholars.
“Religious experience is a fascinating but also difficult research area,” says the volume’s editor, Professor Bettina Schmidt.
“It looks at internal experiences that cannot be scientifically proven but, as we show in this book, scientifically studied. This book presents a range of academic approaches to the study of religious and spiritual experience, from quantitative and qualitative perspectives within anthropology, hermeneutical approaches in Biblical studies, theology and philosophy, to the use of cyberspace and the own body during fieldwork. Together they demonstrate the richness of the field of religious and spiritual experience,” continues Professor Schmidt.
Among the contributors are several members of the University’s Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts, such as Dr Catrin Williams, Dr Gary Bunt, Dr Robert Pope, Dr Fiona Bowie and Dr Tristan Nash. Also involved are Dr Emily Pierini and Dr Gregory Shushan who are both honorary research fellows of UWTSD. The book presents the first joint publication of the research cluster Spirituality, Well-being and Health of the Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts.
Professor Peggy Morgan at Oxford University says that the book is ‘a rich and welcome addition to the literature which has something for anyone with a serious interest in this area of investigation’.
Sculpture students to exhibit in New Mexico
Students from Coleg Sir Gâr’s Carmarthen School of Art will be exhibiting their work in a student exhibition of iron sculpture at New Mexico Highlands University in the USA.
No stranger to visiting America, the department has long-established links within an exchange programme at Kansas State University.
The exhibition takes place from August 17 to September 18 at the university’s Burris Hall Gallery.
Lisa Evans, programme director of the degree honours programme in sculpture at Carmarthen School of Art has connections with arts professor David Lobdell at New Mexico Highlands University. She said: “We are thrilled to be invited to this prestigious event and students are currently preparing work which will be molded, cast and finished by the university in the next few months.
“The work is an open brief, we just have to ensure that we use material that can be used to make moulds and be cast in iron.”
Lisa has also been invited as a panel member at the Western Cast Iron Art Conference at the University of Dakota. The panel addresses international and collaborative activities including iron pours, workshops and performance.
Westminster wants to ‘value’ degrees
THE CONSERVATIVE General Election Manifesto was characterised as woefully short on content but long on vague promises of jam today, jam tomorrow, and jam ever after. However, part of its text squirrelled away on page 37, has caused consternation among the UK’s universities.
A reference to the relatively obscure Augar Review into higher education and the Conservatives’ intention to review higher education in light of its content, masks – Universities say – a threat to arts and humanities courses across the UK. The Government’s subsequently announced intention to have Ofsted rank universities by graduate earnings is also under attack.
Among the recommendations of the Augar Review, one stands out above the others. The review makes the case that while subjects like business, the creative arts and social studies have value, the volume of students studying these subjects is more than the value created, while there is a relative lack of provision of courses in subjects like engineering and the physical sciences. In other words, there are too many ‘low value’ courses – the phrase used in the Conservative manifesto – and not enough courses offering a ‘high value’, either to graduates or the taxpayer for their respective investments.
The problem for opponents of the report’s recommendations in that respect is that its finding is undoubtedly true.
There are too many universities offering courses which offer little or no benefit to their graduates, certainly in terms of future earning potential and, too often, those courses are of no relevance to employers and the needs of UK industry. The question used to be how many angels dance on the head of a pin, now it is how many arts and humanities graduates work as baristas on little over minimum wage.
However, the issue of relying upon a solely monetary outcome to measure a course’s overall ‘value’ is problematic.
In a major speech on the topic of value in higher education, UUK President Professor Julia Buckingham called on the government to broaden its definition of ‘value’ beyond a student’s expected future salary alone and to recognise the less celebrated, yet vital benefits of studying for a degree. She also issued a rallying call to the sector to do more to address concerns around value and respond more effectively where there are legitimate concerns.
To support the government in adopting a new approach, UUK is outlining proposed new measures against which it believes universities can demonstrate the success and contribution of their courses. These include the proportion of graduates working in essential public services, the number taking positions in sectors and regions with skills shortages, or the likelihood of a graduate starting their own business.
Universities UK claims, in adopting a new approach, universities could assess and illustrate the wider benefits to students of university life; such as their life satisfaction, personal health, and opportunities to get involved in volunteer work.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “While universities need to work collectively and respond more effectively to legitimate challenges around the value of some university degrees, the government also needs to broaden its current narrow definition of success based on salaries alone. This is a blunt tool which does a disservice to students and recent graduates while failing to consider the wider student experience.
“A much broader approach which takes account the other benefits of a university degree would better reflect what is important to students, parents, employers and society.
“We need to look beyond an individual’s P60 and think about the total package of what they have learned and achieved through their time at university.”
That is all well and good. However, Universities UK’s MadeatUni campaign – intended to show the value universities deliver back to society – contains barely a handful of examples, in over 100 offered, which directly reference value-added to communities by either creative arts or humanities graduates. Its focus is relentlessly upon science, medical, and other public service degree graduates.
Somewhere, it could have mentioned research published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research barely a month after the Augar Review. It reported the arts and culture sector contributes £10.8billion a year to the UK economy. The Treasury gains £2.8bn from the arts and culture sector through taxation. It generates a further £23billion a year and 363,700 jobs.
And, even during the depths of austerity, productivity in the arts and culture industry remains greater than that of the economy as a whole.
The impact on some Welsh Universities, should the UK Government proceed with its plan, could be grim. Not only do Welsh graduates generally earn less because wages in Wales are lower than in England, but also arts and humanities graduates from Welsh universities generally earn little more than had they not bothered to incur debt by going in the first place. Wales – particularly rural Wales – is already subject to a ‘brain drain’. If students see they can earn more by studying, for example, at a middle-ranking English University than a Welsh one, the ‘brain drain’ could accelerate.
Some long-standing courses and the viability of Welsh institutions would also be threatened. Even the most desperate of English-based students trying to find a University through clearing might baulk at paying tens of thousands of pounds to attend an arts or humanities course in Wales which would add little or no value to their prospects
On the other hand, Welsh Universities could exploit a significant difference between them and their English counterparts. Welsh Universities score well in a particular index which appeals to modern students: wellbeing.
According to a poll commissioned last year by Universities UK, only one-third of students and recent graduates decided to attend university to get a higher salary than they otherwise would have.
Modern students, it appears, are more interested in wellbeing and a good experience of being at University than netting a big paycheck once they’ve completed their courses.
Extra funding for further education colleges
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has revealed details of the additional £23m it will provide to Further Education colleges, including sixth forms and Adult Community Learning, for the next financial year.
It confirmed college staff will receive a 2.75% pay rise after the Welsh Government provided funding of £6m to ensure college teachers receive the same pay as school teachers.
The Welsh Government will also provide an additional £2m to develop mental health and well-being support in colleges across Wales. Up to £80,000 will be made available to individual colleges to support both students and staff. Up to £800,000 will also be available to support collaborative projects between colleges.
The Welsh Government will continue its £10m Skills Development Fund, designed for colleges to address gaps in job-specific skills in their areas, as identified by local employers. £5m will again be available for colleges to invest in staff professional development, including developing digital and Welsh-language skills.
Kirsty Williams, the Education Minister, said: “Our further education colleges play a vital role in post-16 education in towns and cities all over Wales, as well as the wide range of services and employment opportunities they provide to local communities.
“Ensuring students of all ages can access mental health support is one of my priorities and I’m pleased we’re providing additional funding for colleges to develop their front-line support services.
“It’s also been an important principle for me that Further Education staff receive parity of pay with school teachers, so I’m delighted that this year’s pay increase has been agreed.”
Dafydd Evans, Chair of the Colleges Wales Principals’ Forum, said: “We are pleased to offer all FE staff a 2.75% pay rise and an additional rise to those entering the teaching profession.
“Our ongoing partnership with the Welsh Government will enable learners and employers to gain the skills they need while ensuring that FE colleges provide dynamic and rewarding careers for staff.”
NEU Cymru welcomed the extra funding for FE.
David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru said: “The pay rise for those working in FE in Wales is welcome. As well as extra support for much needed mental health provision. We hope that the support for mental health services will extend to those education professionals employed in FE. We know they work hard and need support.
“Pay parity with teachers was always the Commitment to the Welsh Government, as recognition of the parity of the roles. Education professionals in the FE sector are under a lot of pressure, but we hope this will go some way towards helping support FE into the new Century.
“We look forward to seeing the details and hope the funding will enable FE to continue as a much-valued service, supporting young people in Wales.”
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