History of Our Commission
Conversations to explore interest in developing an ACPA task force focused on issues of meaning-making, spirituality, faith, religion, and secular humanism began at the 2008 ACPA Convention in Atlanta. A small group of interested people participated in a conversation over breakfast. From there, a work group formed and crafted a proposal to establish the ACPA Task Force for Spirituality, Faith and Religion (TFSFR). Just prior to the 2009 Convention in Metro D.C., the Task Force for Spirituality, Faith, and Religion received final approval to begin the work of becoming a Commission.
Dafina Lazarus Stewart, Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University, accepted the invitation to serve as the interim chair for TFSFR from 2009-2011. She was joined by 15 other professionals, who represented a variety of institutions, years and experiences in the field, and spiritual worldviews to form the inaugural directorate. The group was officially recognized as the Commission for Spirituality, Faith, Religion, & Meaning (CSFRM) in March 2010 by ACPA’s Governing Board.
Talking about Spirituality, Faith, and Religion in Higher Education
A common definition and understanding of spirituality needs to be offered. For many years, researchers, authors, clergy, and common people have offered multiple definitions for the term “spirituality."
However, conversations can be stifled as some people may wonder if their identities, beliefs, and life experiences are excluded by the way spirituality is contextually defined. It must be acknowledged that the identities, beliefs, values, and life experiences of many have been excluded, denigrated, and/or oppressed in the name of one group’s definition of the correct way to make meaning in the world.
As members of ACPA who are deeply committed to pluralism and social justice and to disrupting systems of oppression and marginalization, we must articulate a vision and understanding of the means that various individuals use to pursue deeper meaning that seeks to engage others across differences rather than to demonize and vilify others in the name of a singular religious or faith tradition.
Pluralism and social justice require serious engagement with differences that will challenge us, make us uncomfortable, and provoke us to reexamine our own strongly held beliefs. This is as important and necessary for consideration of ideas and perspectives that have been privileged as it is for those ideas and perspectives which have long been excluded. Out of such cognitive, affective, and existential dissonance, real learning is achieved and real community is built.
Within this commission we explicitly seek to include and engage multiple perspectives on meaning-making, religion, faith, and spirituality that bridge the East with the West, privileged with marginalized cultures, atheists and agnostics with religious orthodoxy.
CSFRM offers the following definition of spirituality on which our work as a commission would be based:
“Spirituality involves the internal process of seeking personal authenticity, genuineness, and wholeness” (Lindholm, 2005, p.76) through multiple forums and paths, including faith and religious traditions, and other forms of meaning-making. As such spirituality, faith, and religious expression are taken collectively to represent people’s searches for meaning and purpose, interconnectedness and community, identity and transcendence. Spirituality is our “search for the sacred” (Pargament, 1997), that which is of deep value and through which we anchor ourselves in the world around and beyond us. We recognize that spirituality is not a term that resonates positively with everyone, particularly perhaps with those whose search for meaning and purpose lead them on secular, non-deistic paths. We assert therefore that CSFRM is talking about a meaning-making that is not limited to religion or belief in a non-material reality, but whatever the object or pathway is, all of our meaning making involves having trust and confidence (what some might call “faith”) in certain things, ideas, people and not in others.