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In the New Millennium: The Role of Spirituality and the Cultural Imagination in Dealing with Diversity and Equity in the Higher Education Classroom


by Elizabeth J. Tisdell — 2007

Background Context:

There has been much recent discussion on the role of spirituality in higher education, and much emphasis in the past 20 years on the importance of attending to diversity and equity concerns, though for the most part these discussions have been separate. This paper takes up the suggestion of scholars such as Barbara Wallace who noted that it is time for a new approach to critical multicultural teaching in higher education, to one that emphasizes social justice, an end to oppression, and spirituality

Focus of Study:

The purpose of this paper is two-fold: (1) to discuss the role of spirituality (and its similarities and differences to religion) in engaging the notion of “the cultural imagination”; and (2) to discuss how one can draw on spirituality and the cultural imagination in the higher education classroom in dealing with cultural or diversity and equity issues.

Research Design:

This discussion draws on the combined insights of the following: an earlier qualitative study exploring how spirituality informs the work of 31 educators from different cultural groups teaching classes dealing with diversity and equity issues and how they draw on it in the classroom; the insights of many recent authors who discuss the importance of attending to both imagination and spirituality in higher education teaching without pushing a religious agenda; and those who draw on cultural story, image, symbol, poetry, and art as a part of their teaching about diversity and equity issues.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

In the ongoing process of meaning-making about culture, individuals re-weave new patterns of meaning by combining new threads of cultural and other experience with the old threads. This process is engaging cultural imagination. Image, symbol, music, ritual, art, poetry, often touch off memory in conscious and unconscious ways, which sometimes connects to spirituality. This paper explores how one can combine these ways of knowing that are a part of cultural imagination, with the intellectual and critical analysis aspects of higher education to facilitate greater student learning and greater equity in society.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 3, 2007, p. 531-560
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12223, Date Accessed: 12/17/2017 10:18:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth Tisdell
    Penn State University, Harrisburg
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH J. TISDELL is Associate Professor of Adult Education at Penn State University, Harrisburg. Her research interests include the role of spirituality and imagination in culturally responsive and transformative education, spirituality and culture in adult development and adult learning, critical multicultural and feminist issues in adult and higher education, and critical media literacy. She is the author of the book , Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education (Jossey-Bass, 2003), and numerous book chapters and journal articles. Her work has appeared in several journals including the Adult Education Quarterly , the Journal of Transformative Education, and the Journal of Adult Development.
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