BPMH is a radically interdisciplinary undergraduate Minor that allows students to choose from a wide range of courses in Buddhist Studies, cognitive science, medical anthropology, psychology of religion, health psychology, and sociological analyses of physical and mental health.
Since its founding in 2007, this undergraduate Minor Program has grown exponentially. Many BPMH courses typically have long waiting lists. Enrollment in the Minor has risen dramatically since the inception of the program, from 34 students in 2007-08 to 308 students in 2020-21, making the Minor program the second largest program at New College. Enrollment in the BPMH minor currently accounts for 32% of students enrolled in all New College academic programs and 56% of students enrolled in New College minor programs.
Our Program’s Rationale
BPMH is an interdisciplinary (or transdisciplinary) Minor that specifically responds to conversations between scientists, academics, activists, clinicians, and religious practitioners about how Buddhist ideas, practices, and communities may contribute to individual, communal, psycho-social, and ecological health. Global mental health professionals explore how psychotherapy and Buddhist practices are mutually supportive; scientific research addresses how mindfulness and other Buddhist-inspired therapeutic methods may enhance health and well-being; and global movements of contemplative activism are led and inspired by Buddhist engagement with systemic oppression, climate justice, and decolonization. These are some of the issues addressed in our courses.
Our program is increasingly popular among university students who
- are interested in global and diverse models of mental health and well-being;
- benefit personally from the self-reflective, meta-cognitive, and phenomenological study of Buddhism, psychology and mental health; and
- can obtain employment or pursue a graduate career in this field (i.e., contemplative studies programs, scientific study of mindfulness, and any other professions that engage mindfulness, contemplative and compassion modalities, and community and social activism).
Not only is the program’s subject matter unique, but also the pedagogical approaches found in the BPMH program are exceptional at the University. Alongside transdisciplinary quantitative and qualitative research, we target skills in meta-cognitive, contemplative, and phenomenological reflection, teaching critical capacities for salutogenic self-examination in contexts of relational, intersectional, and global interconnections.
For example, many of our courses focus on developing students’ skills in meta-cognitive and phenomenological reflection. This typically means that much of what is discussed in courses is easily seen to be immediately relevant to students’ lives (i.e., it is ‘experience-near’). BPMH courses develop capacities for self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-examination in contexts of relational, intersectional, and global interconnections. Many BPMH courses draw on contemplative pedagogies, which “shifts the focus of teaching and learning to incorporate ‘first person’ approaches [that] connect students to their lived, embodied experience of their own learning. Students are encouraged to become more aware of their internal world and connect their learning to their own values and sense of meaning which in turn enables them to form richer deeper, relationships with their peers, their communities and the world around them.”
There are many research opportunities for students in our courses. As a transdisciplinary program, our students learn about social, natural, humanistic, and health science methods, topics, and practices beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. Our fourth-year courses offer rigorous research opportunities: “BPM432H1 Advanced Research in Meditation, Psychology and Neuroscience” and “BPM438H1 Mindfulness Meditation: Science and Research,” for example, each offer training in assessing and conducting scientific research. Throughout the program, other courses offer opportunities to do research using phenomenological, historical, ethnographic, creative, and other methods.
Finally, and importantly, in both theory and practice, the BPMH program strongly and directly aligns with the recommendations of the Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, December 2019, which addressed the growing and serious mental health crisis of our students. In our courses, students discuss how distress and wellbeing are shaped by culture, experience, and opportunity, and they learn about how diverse models of collective and individual wellbeing may evolve in their lives.
Although contemplative science programs are growing rapidly across North America. the BPMH program is currently the only public university undergraduate program of its kind in Canada.