From the Heart: Testing the Efficacy of Heart-Centered Contemplation
December 31, 2021 - December 30, 2025
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Director: Miguel FariasInstitution: Coventry University
Contemplative science has gathered robust evidence that some techniques adapted from the Eastern religious traditions have therapeutic benefits across various physical and mental health domains. But thus far there hasn’t been a sustained attempt to test the potential benefits of Western contemplative practices. This project aims to address this gap, asking, Can the practice of heart-centered spiritual exercises from Christian and Muslim traditions increase human flourishing by positively impacting one's health and interpersonal behaviors?
Led by project director Miguel Farias of Coventry University and Inti Brazil of Radboud University, the project presents three novelties in contemplative science research: first, it aims to expand the current contemplative science by focusing on techniques which were developed within Western religious traditions; second, it retains these practices' original other/God-centered focus; and third, it uses techniques which include core elements of heart visualisation and elicit strong emotions (in contrast to contemplative practices that typically have a calming effect on affective states).
Based on two spiritual practices, the Christian Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Islamic Brilliance of the Hearts, the project will first develop an 8-week contemplative practicewith Christian and Muslim participants to be taught and delivered via one initial face-to-face session and then through a new From the Heart app. The effects of this intervention will then be explored through a randomised controlled trial comparing the two exercises to a mindfulness-based stress reduction control condition and a waitlist condition. Psychophysiological, cognitive, social functioning, and self-report outcomes, including heart rate variability, pain tolerance, attention, prosociality, forgiveness, stress, anxiety, and depression will be assessed at three timepoints.
Project outputs will include five academic articles, two popular science articles, a four-episode podcast series with Oxford University Press, and an app for daily 8-week Christian and Islamic heart-centered meditations.
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