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Andrea Hollingsworth
Implications of Interpersonal Neurobiology for a Spirituality of Compassion


Interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) is a growing transdisciplinary field that focuses on ways in which relationships fundamentally shape and change the architecture and functioning of the human brain and mind. In this essay, I argue that IPNB points to a specific set of scientifically-demonstrated conditions that appear to encourage the emergence of empathy; and further, that this set of conditions, when gathered together, may constitute the core components of a “spirituality of compassion.”

I begin by discussing definitional and methodological issues. Here I offer definitions of “spirituality,” “empathy,” and “compassion,” and describe my adherence to a postfoundationalist approach to transdisciplinarity. Following this, I introduce IPNB by delineating its key tenets and demonstrating ways in which IPNB sheds light on important aspects of human empathy and compassion. Drawing on this analysis, I then introduce four specific conditions that appear to have profound potential to encourage the emergence of empathy in individuals and groups, and suggest that these criteria may function as central elements of a spirituality of compassion. Next, in order to demonstrate how this set of conditions might function, I offer a case study in which I describe the Native American Ojibwe practice of the “talking circle,” and assess it through the lens of my IPNB-derived spirituality of compassion. I conclude by addressing some questions that remain unanswered and by suggesting areas for future research.

Andrea Hollingsworth ( received her MA in Marriage and Family Therapy from Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, Minnesota) in 2005, and is currently a Ph.D. student in Constructive Theology at Loyola University Chicago. Her research interests include interdisciplinary method, psychology of religion, feminism, altruism, spirituality, and pneumatology. She has presented scholarly papers at local, national, and international academic conferences, and has published book reviews and essays in several journals—including an article forthcoming in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. In addition, she is co-author of The Holy Spirit (with F. LeRon Shults), which will be published in Wm. B. Eerdmans' "Guides to Theology" series in the Fall of 2008. She and her husband Ryan have been married for nine years, and reside in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.


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