Interests in Spirituality

Encountering the Divine

Blog Post - Spirituality: Can we find room for it in the classroom?

Read my most recent guest blog post for the Illinois Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (ILAECTE)  here

Jounal Article - Spirituality and Humour

My most recently published article is available online here. It should be in press to come out in the next volume of the International Journal of Children's Spirituality. 

Journal Article - Reviewing the Research

An article I wrote last year to present at the 5th Global Conference: Spirituality in the 21st Century, in Lisbon, was recently published in the International Journal of Children's Spirituality. You can find it here


Edited Book - Spirituality: An Interdisciplinary View


I collaborated with two colleagues in editing the book from the 5th Global Conference: Spirituality in the 21st Century. You can find it here

Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez

Interesting article about the Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, a Venezuelan miracle worker, whom we all should admire for his relentless work with the poor. 

My book is out!

I heard from my publisher last week, and my book is out! Well, it is out in pre-sale; the hard-copy version is set to be available in July. The digital version is already available in Amazon, and you can find it here. If you are interested in ordering the hard-copy on pre-sale, the information is below.


Journal Article - Sharing My Spirituality

Last year, I wrote and submitted an article on my journey with spirituality, and how as a higher ed educator I have incorporated it into my classes, and explored the topic with my students, teacher candidates. I revised and resubmitted this article after presenting it at a conference last Fall, until it was accepted for publication, and I just received an email notifying that the online version is now available.

The first 50 copies of the online version can be shared by the author without cost to those interested. After that, the abstract will still be available, yet to read the full article and download it, there will be a cost. If you are interested in the article, you can find it here. And, if you have any comments on the topic or article, or feel compelled to share your journey with spirituality, please do so in the comments section.

NY Times - Separation of Church and School

Katherine Stewart wrote this article in the NY Times on June 11, 2011. And it made me think once more, about the place spirituality has, or does not have, in schools. I totally agree that religion, any religion, should not be practiced in a public school settings, or sponsored by moneys raised for the purpose of public education. What I fear though, is that by enacting this, spirituality and spiritual development will also be banned from schools, and thus children's right's to holistic education, to nourishment of their holistic development areas, will be not be provided. 

Children develop and grow cognitively, linguistically, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Since we tend to lump spirituality and religiosity in the same group, by saying religious practices do not belong in schools, I fear we are also openning the door for spirituality to be asked to walk out as well. Where then are the big questions such as "where do we come from?" "what are we here to do?" "do we have a purpose?" "what is it?", addresses, heard, and discussed? Where can children ponder, wonder, be in awe, and have space and time to address spiritual matters? If these discussions do not belong in schools, as they have not for many years now, where are they being addresses? 

Our children are encouraged to grow and develop cognitively and linguistically in schools, spiritually they seem to have been left to their own devices. And then we wonder why and how is it that we are now immersed in so many wars. Is this really the country we want? How do we expect our children to grow up to be better than us, and make better decisions for our country as adults, if we do not provide the guidance and nourishment they need spiritually to become the people we so needed them to be? Yes, go ahead, ban religion from schools, doctrine and proselytism does not belong there, but make room for spirituality, children bring it with them into the classroom every day, regardless of our narrow view of it as tied to religious practices. Help them develop spiritually and discover their purpose; they don't have to struggle as much as we did, we can do better by them. 

The Economist - The good god guide

Interesting article in The Economist about the role of religion and some research done on what it means to people.

Chronicle - The Bible is dead; Long live the Bible

Interesting article in the Chronicle from April 17, 2011. Is the Bible dead? Or is coming back?

Speaking of Faith - Speaking with Robert Coles

Krista Tippett, from Speaking of Faith, presents The Inner Lives of Children, an interview with Robert Coles in 2000, and reports it back today because it still resonates so much with current circumstances. It's great to listen to. Here it is.

NY Times - An ancient monument to the soul

A recent discovery of a monument to the soul was found in Turkey, which reveals the belief that the body and the soul were actually considered separate. To read more go here.

NY Times - The Cross-Cultural Classroom

September 25, 2008, 9:12 pm

In my previous post, “Student in a Strange Land,” I mentioned briefly that our school, the International Community School (I.C.S.), works with a very diverse population of students and families. I.C.S. represents over 40 different countries and 50 languages. One of the communities we serve is Clarkston, Ga., which is home to about 26,000 refugees. It is often said that Clarkston is one of the most diverse square miles in the United States. A community as diverse as this presents a complex challenge: In a place with so many different values and belief systems, what role should an educator play?

It is important for me as an educator to have a cultural awareness of the students’ lives and backgrounds. Without this awareness, my sensitivity and compassion for each child would not be able to develop. My studies in anthropology have helped me view life through a cultural lens. But what is culture?

I often think of culture in terms of the “iceberg concept” commonly used in educational studies, with its small visible tip and huge mass below the surface. Most people tend to view only the surface aspects of culture — observable behavior — sometimes known as the five F’s: food, fashion, festivals, folklore, and flags. But of course culture goes deeper than that. It is the other 95 percent below the surface of which we need to be aware.

Deep culture (below the surface) includes elements such as child-raising beliefs, concepts of self, beauty and personal space, religious rituals and perspectives, eating habits, facial expressions, eye contact, work ethic, approaches to problem solving and interpersonal relationships, moral values, cosmology, world views and personal discipline — to name (more than) a few.

The children that come into my classroom each year have such a variety of life paths. Looking at their cultural backgrounds with the “iceberg concept” in mind has helped to keep me aware of the aspects of their lives that are not in plain view. And the more I work with the students at I.C.S., the more my awareness of these subtle realms increase.

Developing cultural competence is a process of inner growth. In order for me to be as effective as possible with the students I work with, I must continuously engage in a process of self-reflection. To be able to know others, especially diverse others, one must know the self. So the growth of a culturally competent educator starts there. We must look within for a deeper understanding of who we are before we can adequately address the needs of our students.

This investigation should include our core beliefs, hidden biases and our religious perspectives. Developing cultural competence is also a process that comes with experience and engagement, and with sometimes painful lessons that highlight our limitations and prejudices. To learn about the backgrounds of the students in my class takes time and effort; it involves reading about their countries of origin, visiting their homes and meeting family members, connecting with parents, developing relationships with community members and organizations, and going to cultural and religious festivals. By learning about my students’ lives outside the classroom, I am more prepared to work with them in the classroom.

Schools don’t exist in vacuums; they are situated within communities. Community involvement helps me understand the socio-cultural backgrounds of my students’ lives and build bridges between the home and school. This exposure helps challenge my own perspectives and biases.

An example that comes up quite frequently is the issue of religion. Children at I.C.S. come from a myriad of religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism, and the Baha’i faith. Children are usually very open to discussing their beliefs, prayers, places of worship, dances and values with their friends. They excitedly exclaim that “God lives in the sky” or “God lives in us” or “Allah lives on a cloud near the moon.” Their discussions about their religious beliefs are usually cheerful, lighthearted and innocent.

But sometimes these kindergarteners get into heated debates. I usually remain in the background and allow them to express their opinions in a safe place. One day, during one of these debates, I was caught off guard. I was moving around the classroom checking students’ writing when a question popped up out of nowhere. One of my American students, David, called out, “Ms. Shunnarah, can an elephant be a god?”

I froze. This was one of those moments when the cultural iceberg was tapped, challenging my Judeo-Christian upbringing. I remembered from my studies of Hinduism in college that there is a religious entity known as Ganesh, who takes the form of an elephant. Ganesh is one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India. He is widely known as the “remover of obstacles” and “lord of beginnings” and is associated with creativity, the arts and sciences, intellect and wisdom.

This information about Ganesh came to me quickly and I am glad that it did, because I could have carelessly dismissed David’s comment as silly. Instead, I told him yes, and described Ganesh and his place in the Hindu religion. After I said this, I noticed that one of my students from India, Abhra, pulled out his own drawings of Ganesh from his backpack. He had been discussing his beliefs with David, when David had called out the question. This small bit of knowledge I had retained turned out to be important. After my response, Abhra smiled; his religious beliefs and identity were acknowledged. This is just a small example of the kind of cross-cultural interaction that goes on every day in our class.

Later Abhra’s mother came to me and said that I had made her son happy because I knew about Ganesh. What would have been the unintended consequence if I were not aware of Ganesh? What if I had responded from my own personal biases and religious perspective? What would have been the outcome for my student Abhra? Would he have been ashamed? Would he have kept his pictures hidden, damaging his sense of self?

This journey of establishing a multicultural learning community in my classroom with a foundation of respect for all cultures is ever changing and evolving. Children bring to the classroom rich cultural life experiences, so why not tap into it? This involves a continuous process of research about the lives of the children in my classroom, as well as of my own interpretations and perspectives. The varied nuances of culture are complex and continually changing, but it makes our classroom a natural place to learn.

Go here to see the original article.

NY Times - The Crisis of Faith

There was a piece in the NY Times today about political campaigning, and how politicians use their religious knowledge and beliefs to entice voters. In the article, there's mention of the separation of Church and State and how it is necessary for a democratic society. I truly believe Church and State need to be separated, what cannot be done is separate Spiritual and State, not while we have humans in office. If this interests you and you want to read more go to the main source.

NY Times - Taking Science on Faith

Published: November 24, 2007
Until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

NY Times - The Political and the Divine

I read this book review this morning in the NY Times... quite interesting. A Columbia University Prof Mark Lilla wrote a book called The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. He defends the notion that maybe the separation between Church and State wasn't the best of ideas. Check it out, you might find it interesting.

NY Times - A Saint's Dark Night

I recently read this article on Mother Teresa's faith and her struggle to still believe in God while she saw and lived so close to so much pain and suffering. You might find it interesting.

Spirituality in Classrooms

Here you will find a Literature Review I did on nurturing spirituality in classroom settings, and on how we can foster spirituality in children under our teacher role (Spring 2006). This graph summarizes my findings in the literature:

The literature is divided between those who believe that spirituality and religion cannot be separated (Haynes, Baer & Carper, Scherer) and those who propose a separation of religion and spirituality to be able to foster children's spirituality in classroom settings (Palmer, Suhor, Wesley, Prentice, Brown, Carlson-Paige, Lantieri, Miller, Phenix) in EC Classrooms.pdf

NY Times - Teach, Don't Preach, The Bible

Here's an article by Bruce Feiler titled "Teach, Don't Preach, The Bible" published in the NY Times, December 2005. It's about including learning-teaching the Bible in US public schools. The only catch is you have to buy it in order to read it : (

Definitions of Spirituality and Spirituality and Children

This is a Literature Review on Spirituality and Children I did last Fall semester 2005. I hope you find it useful. Lit Review.pdf

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