Theoretical and Methodological Challenges in Mindfulness Research

January 2016

Contemplative science focuses on investigating the clinical efficacy and basic mechanisms of very specific forms of mental training that involve meditation. The field of contemplative science is rapidly growing and integrating into the basic neurosciences, psychology, clinical sciences, and society-at-large. The majority of current research in the contemplative sciences has been divorced from the soteriological context from which these meditative practices originate and has focused instead on clinical applications with goals of stress reduction and psychotherapeutic health. The formal systems of meditation that are found in contemporary settings have roots in Buddhist traditions with a rich taxonomy of experience, training, and explicit goals for reducing suffering and notions of awakening. Over the last several years, various lines of research have examined contemporary conceptions of mindfulness, a central concept in Buddhist traditions, and some have argued that contemporary conceptions, especially as found in psychotherapeutic contexts, deviate significantly from Buddhist approaches. As the field of contemplative science grows, there are theoretical and methodological challenges that need to be addressed through a comprehensive focus on confronting such discrepancies. A central challenge is to facilitate research initiatives that incorporate insight from across basic science, clinical science, and philosophical disciplines. This seminar assembles researchers and scholars from across such disciplines to begin a discussion for the creation of a comprehensive research initiative.