UREL #648588, VOL 39, ISS 1
Self-Knowledge Development as a Cognitive,
Affective, Relational and Spiritual Journey
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Self-Knowledge Development as a Cognitive, Affective, Relational and
Self-Knowledge Development as a Cognitive,
Affective, Relational and Spiritual Journey
What do graduate students experience when they have a structured
opportunity for self-study, and on what inner levels do these students
attempt to make sense of themselves? This article explores students’
engagement in self-knowledge development on cognitive, affective,
relational, and spiritual levels. After briefly tracing the evolution
of self-knowledge theories, the author shares 2 case studies that
describe and explain students’ experiences of the course, Education
of Self for Professionals. These case studies illustrate students’ will-
ingness, ability, and need to explore and understand self on mul-
tiple, interrelated levels, and highlight the centrality of spirituality
and relationship in their experiences of self-knowledge development.
KEYWORDS self-knowledge development, self-study, spiritual
Humanistic Educator Gerald Weinstein once asked, ‘‘What does one know
when one knows oneself?’’
This article probes this question, exploring
graduate students’ experiences of self-knowledge development in the
college classroom. The purposes of this article are to:
1. Briefly trace the evolution of self-knowledge theories.
2. Describe and explain students’ experiences of the graduate course,
Education of Self for Professionals, on a cognitive, affective, relational,
and spiritual level.
3. Identify and explore the impact of this course experience on students’
self-knowledge development, both during and after the course.
Terry Murray is an Assistant Professor in the Humanistic=Multicultural Education Program
at State University of New York at New Paltz. His current research and writing interests focus
on self-knowledge development, contemplative practices in teaching and learning, and spiri-
tuality in education. Terry earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University at
Albany. E-mail: email@example.com
Religion & Education, 39:1–17, 2012
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1550-7394 print=1949-8381 online
3b2 Version Number : 7.51c/W (Jun 11 2001)
File path : P:/Santype/Journals/TandF_Production/UREL/v39n1/UREL648588/UREL648588.3d
Date and Time : 19/01/12 and 12:58
The course, Education of Self for Professionals, is designed to expand
participants’ self-knowledge as a pathway for personal awareness, growth,
and change. Evidence from previous students’ experiences of this course
in the form of written assignments, journaling, class discussion, individual
projects, and informal feedback indicate that they tended to engage in this
course on multiple levels. For some students, this course has been experi-
enced on both a cognitive and affective level. Most students have also iden-
tified the importance of relationships in self-knowledge development. In
addition, many students have described their course experience as spiritual.
Durbin describes this spiritual dimension as ‘‘personal knowing.’’
context, spirituality is described as ‘‘the inner experience of becoming a
whole, authentic person who is self-capable of unifying plural dimensions
in which the self lives in an honest, open manner.’’
This article explores
self-knowledge development on these 4 levels: cognitive, affective, rela-
tional, and spiritual. It seeks to describe and explain the nature of these levels
of knowing and their interrelationship. It also explores the potential impact
of a course intentionally designed to support self study on students’ inner
growth and development. Expanding on Weinstein’s question, this article
asks, ‘‘What do students learn when they learn about themselves?’’
Education of Self for Professionals is an elective course in the
Humanistic=Multicultural Education Program in the School of Education at
SUNY New Paltz. This unique program provides graduate degrees for both
public school teachers and professionals working in human services, not-for-
profit organizations, and in higher education. This course was initially
developed by humanistic educator Gerald Weinstein during the 1970s and
1980s. In his pioneering work at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,
Weinstein moved the exploration of the self beyond the realm of psychology
and claimed it as relevant content for educational course work.
Weinstein’s self-knowledge development model had framed the course
for more than 20 years. To strengthen and deepen Weinstein’s logical, linear
left-brain approach to self-study, this model was supplemented in 1998 by
the addition of the Heroic Journey Model, which provides a more creative,
intuitive and symbolic right brain approach to self-study.
The Heroic Journey model, as developed by Campbell, is a metaphor-
ical expression of the process of living and responding to the world in which
Because the archetypal pattern described in this model reflects
human experiences across time and cultures, it frames myths, stories, and,
most recently, films about these experiences. Graduate students enrolled in
Education of Self for Professionals experience the stages of the heroic journey
through their readings, assignments, reflection, and through structured
Over 15 weekly 3-hour classes, students are introduced to this model in
the early weeks of the course through readings and see the stages of the jour-
ney illustrated in films. With this background, the students journey through
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the stages of the model, individually and in small groups—their Company of
Expressive arts are used extensively throughout this course. Students
develop and share life maps, create and decorate life masks, and work in
groups to design and present original myths that authentically reflect the Her-
oic Journey model and that focus on issues and challenges relevant to them.
Finally, in preparation for the culminating class, each student creates a
unique way to summarize and share her or his course experience. In the past,
these presentations have included original poems, music, spoken word, short
films, and visual arts creations. Assigned readings and reflective papers
complement these expressive arts experiences.
Another important dimension of the course is the experience at the
heart of the course journey, which Campbell refers to as the Heart of the
In the context of this course, students are challenged to explore
critical topics and identify and confront personal issues and patterns of
behavior that arise for them through these explorations. These challenges
include revisiting their childhood and considering the influences of parent
tapes, examining their gender identity, and finally, reflecting on their experi-
ences of and responses to their individual passages through adult develop-
ment stages as described by Hollis.
THE ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION OF
The foundations of the formal practice of self-study are ancient. In around
200 BC, the mystic rishi, Patanjali, began his classic yoga sutras with the lines:
‘‘And now the teaching on yoga begins. Yoga is the settling of the mind into
silence. When the mind is settled, we are established in our essential nature,
which is unbounded consciousness.’’
This quest for the self and its broader
place in the universe has captured humans’ attention over the millennia.
Mythology across cultures has described the fantastic adventures of heroic
journeyers in search of self-discovery, transformation, and resurrection into
new, higher ways of being.
The science of self-knowledge development has broader roots, though,
than in the origins of yoga. Socrates observed, ‘‘The unexamined life is not
worth knowing.’’ The Buddha said, ‘‘One who conquers himself is greater
than another who conquers a thousands times a thousand on the battle
field.’’ The Christian philosopher, St. Augustine, wrote, ‘‘People travel to
wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, ...at
the circular motion of the stars, yet they pass themselves by without
wondering’’; and American philosopher and transcendentalist writer Henry
David Thoreau asserted, ‘‘Explore thyself! Herein are demanded the
eye and the nerve.’’ As the philosophical and spiritual foundations of
Self-Knowledge Development as a Journey 3
self-knowledge development have evolved over time and across cultures,
there has been a consistent emphasis on necessity of this intentional, inward
With the emergence of the science of psychology in the late 1800s, the
self emerged as a central focus of this new science. In the twentieth century,
the concept of self was explored from diverse perspectives by Freud,
Horney, Rogers, Maslow, Jung, and others.
In his pioneering work at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,
Gerald Weinstein identified the self as an element of human self-concept
and experience, and as a valid area of educational study in support of per-
sonal and social development and growth.
In making this claim, Weinstein
began to actualize the theoretical call to arms that psychologist Arthur Jersild
had sounded in 1952 in writing about self-knowledge and education. Jersild,
like Weinstein, believed that instructors could facilitate processes through
which students could authentically and productively explore the self, cre-
ating and directing their own personal journeys.
Weinstein defined self-knowledge as knowledge of one’s character,
power, strengths, limitations, and potential.
This simple definition built
on Maslow’s discussion of self-knowledge as an active internal process
through which one gains an informed awareness of her=his feelings of
unhappiness and confusion and the source of these feelings, and then moves
toward positive transformation of these states as part of a personal growth
In refining his approach to self-knowledge development, Weinstein
developed an increasingly rational and cognitive perspective toward his
understanding of and approach to self-study.
He focused on the identifi-
cation of individual’s dissonant patterns of feeling and behavior and the
creation of positive behavioral and attitudinal redirections. Working with a
humanistic colleague, Alfred Alschuler, Weinstein emphasized the empirical
nature of self-knowledge development.
Despite his focus on the rational and cognitive dimensions of self-
knowledge, Weinstein also understood personal knowledge as ‘‘internal,
subjective, and affective.’’
This awareness of the emotional dimensions of
self-knowledge development has gained increasing attention in the litera-
A definition of emotional literacy from Steiner’s work describes
emotional dimensions of the self and the importance of the self-knowledge
development process: ‘‘To be emotionally literate is to be able to handle
emotions in a way that improves your personal power and improves
the quality of life for you and —equally importantly—the quality of life for
the people around you.’’
For these theorists and others, the affective domain is an integral
dimension of the self. The development of one’s emotional literacy supports
movement from self-awareness to self-knowledge, and then on to action
toward personal growth and development.
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This emphasis on conscious awareness as a potential outcome of
self-knowledge development reflects a third dimension of contemporary
academic inquiry into self-knowledge development. A diverse range of con-
temporary theorists have explored the holistic, intuitive, and contemplative
aspects of self-study.
All of these authors inextricably link the attainment
of self-knowledge with the broader acquisition of consciousness and recog-
nize this acquisition as a spiritual process. These authors all have drawn on
Eastern philosophy and psychology which visualize humans as having 4
‘‘interpenetrating bodies of increasing density from spiritual, through mental,
emotional, and physical.’’
As Hill further observed, in supporting self-
knowledge development, we tend to focus only in the lower 3 (mental,
emotional, and physical), emphasizing personal satisfaction and avoidance
of pain. For Hill, real personal satisfaction, happiness, and growth are found
by looking beyond this ‘‘ordinary self’’ to one’s higher or ‘‘fundamental self.’’
It is important to recognize that the work of humanistic psychologists
Clarke Moustakas and Abraham Maslow presaged a re-emerging emphasis
on spirituality in self-knowledge development that is grounded in an inte-
gration of eastern and Western psychology.
Moustakas reacted to the cur-
rent cognitive focus in the study of the self. He wrote, ‘‘We live in an age of
reasoning where the self is a self system, a series of rationalities and concepts
which describe and define.’’ In contrast to this prevailing view, he described
a holistic level of the self as ‘‘a spiritual, mystic, transcendent dimension,
simply man being man.’’
As a founder of both humanistic and transpersonal psychology, Maslow
also recognized and explored this higher dimension of the self, or as he
termed it the ‘‘real self.’’
As his concept of self-actualization evolved, he ulti-
mately theorized that individuals ultimately strove to move beyond self, and
that self-actualization is ‘‘essentially transpersonal in nature.’’
Drawing on indigenous ways of knowing and relational psychology,
feminist theorists have identified an additional dimension of the self. Wright
has termed this level of self as connected self or self-in-relationship.
ing on the work of Nancy Chodrow, Jean Baker Miller, Carol Gilligan, Judith
Jordan, and other feminist theorists, Wright emphasized the importance of
establishing healthy, integrated relationships with self, others, and the world
in the development of one’s conception of self.
assertion, Jordan observed that ‘‘growth occurs in becoming part of relation-
ship rather than apart from it.’’
This brief review of the literature on self study and self-knowledge
development establishes the need to consider the nature of the self and
the process of self-knowledge development on at least 4 interrelated levels:
cognitive, affective, spiritual, and relational. It is helpful to apply Hill’s
concepts in understanding the self as being composed of interpenetrating
bodies of increasing density from spiritual, through mental, emotional, and
physical. Though Hill does not recognize the relational dimension of self,
Self-Knowledge Development as a Journey 5
it is important to add this additional relational level given the body of
literature that supports this dimension.
GRADUATE STUDENTS’ EXPERIENCE OF
Recently, there has been a rapidly expanding scholarly interest in the
spiritual dimensions of teaching and learning.
Much of this writing and
research has focused on the role of the teacher in fostering an exploration
of spirituality in the classroom. The national research conducted by
Alexander and Helen Astin at UCLA, titled The Spiritual Life of College
Students: A National Survey of College Students’ Search for Meaning and
Purpose added a critical complementary focus on the role of spirituality in
college students’ learning experiences.
Although the Astins’ research
focused on undergraduate students, this article focuses qualitatively on stu-
dents’ engagement in a graduate course that is consciously structured to
provide opportunities for self-study on cognitive, affective, relational, and
spiritual levels. In particular, it explores the perceptions of those students
who defined this course experience as a spiritual one. In doing so, it extends
the Astins’ work in a very human and personal way.
The author of this article, a graduate-level instructor in an educational
studies department, taught Education of Self for Professionals for many years
using Weinstein’s traditional model for the course.
After incorporating the
Heroic Journey model, he recognized that students were engaging in this
opportunity for self-knowledge development on many levels. In light of this
recognition, this qualitative study was designed to record and make sense of
the experiences of students who had taken this course over the previous 9
years. Its purpose was to describe and explain participating students’ percep-
tions of the levels at which they experienced the course. The researcher also
explored the subsequent impact of their course experiences on their life and
Eighteen students who had taken this course were interviewed using a
standardized, open-ended interview format. The 1-hour transcribed inter-
views were analyzed using a sociological thematic analysis, and key themes
were identified and explored.
Through an analysis of these interviews, the researcher found that:
. Study participants highly valued the opportunity to focus on themselves as
an integral component of their graduate-level education. They also valued
the sense of agency that they felt in piloting their own process of self study.
. All participants described their engagement in the course as both cognitive
and affective but made individual distinctions as to their initial level of
engagement—cognitive or affective. They also described the complex
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relationship they recognized between their cognitive and affective levels of
engagement in the course.
. When asked to self-define ‘‘spirituality’’ and consider their engagement in
the course on this level, all but one of the study participants identified their
experience of this course as spiritual in nature. This student acknowledged
that she had consciously not allowed herself to go to this level of involve-
ment because she was not psychologically ready for this deep level of
self study. The participants who did engage in this course on a spiritual
level described their experience and learning as ‘‘empowering,’’ ‘‘self-
revealing,’’ ‘‘profound,’’ ‘‘difficult,’’ ‘‘magical,’’ ‘‘life-guiding,’’ ‘‘compassion-
ate,’’ ‘‘eye-opening,’’ and ‘‘validating.’’
. Though questions related to the relational dimensions of this self-study
experience were not included in the interview guide, all of the study par-
ticipants discussed the relational dimensions of their course learning and
identified peer interaction, feedback, and support as critical elements in
their self-knowledge development experience.
. The conscious addition of holistic, intuitive, creative, and mythic appro-
aches in structuring this course fostered deep levels of self exploration
and learning, far beyond what participating students had experienced in
other college courses.
. Many participants described the acquisition of critical tools and models
through their course experience and discussed how they were able to
apply these in a range of real-life situations. They also described the
acquisition of attitudes of self-confidence, self-affirmation, and self-
empowerment, as well as compassion, which supported their future learn-
ing and growth.
The stories of Kate Bachman and Seth Rivera-Wilson that form the body
of this article powerfully illustrate these key themes. They provide rich
descriptions of 2 students’ experiences of this course and their subsequent
learning and growth. These stories are illustrative but not definitive. They
paint verbal pictures of what is possible when students are supported in
consciously exploring the self.
‘‘It surprised me that I wasn’t who I thought I was, or wasn’t where I thought
I was.’’ Early in Kate Bachman’s interview, she shared this insight as she was
describing why the course was personally ‘‘enlightening.’’ For Kate, this
course provided a powerful opportunity to develop attitudes of empathy,
compassion, and acceptance of herself and others.
At the time of the interview, Kate was a 34-year-old wife, mother of 2
children, secondary English teacher at an area high school, and graduate
student. She described herself as ‘‘happy-go-lucky,’’ ‘‘pretty optimistic,’’
Self-Knowledge Development as a Journey 7
and shy. She also acknowledged that she was very serious, reflective, and
conscientious about work and graduate school, and about life in general.
Describing aspects of the course that were particularly beneficial for her,
Kate returned to the topic of compassion. She explained,
a class like this makes you face a lot of unresolved issues. Mine happens
to be with my mother, primarily. And just the whole concept of forgiving
your parents ...I think that it just really helped me to see where she was
coming from and made me a lot more, I don’t think forgiving of her, just
As Kate continued, she described the transfer of learning that occurred when
she applied this new self-knowledge to her relationship with her daughter.
And then even with my own kids, it’s funny because now I have the fore-
sight to tell them, ‘‘Listen, just so you know, I’m going to screw up
occasionally and I’m really sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me later’’ ...Yeah,
Yeah, and they laugh at me. They’re like, ‘‘You’re so silly. We love you.’’
You know what I mean? I don’t ever want them to grow up thinking it
was their fault.
In developing their theory of self-knowledge, Weinstein and Alschuler
created a 4-stage model of self-knowledge development. These four stages
are elemental self-knowledge, situational self-knowledge, patterns self-
knowledge, and transformational self-knowledge.
According to Weinsten
and Alschuler, individuals who have reached the transformational stage of
self-knowledge development are able to describe how they consciously
monitor, modify, or manage their inner patterns of response. These indivi-
duals have the capacity to ‘‘create their inner states.’’
Considering Kate’s description of what she has learned about being
compassionate, it is evident that through learning about her relationship with
her mother, she has been able to modify her patterns of response in relating
to her children. In the context of Weinstein and Alschuler’s model, cogni-
tively and affectively, she seems to be operating at a transformational
When she elaborates on her use of the terms challenging and difficult to
describe her experience of the course, Kate’s comments illustrate the inte-
gration of the cognitive and affective levels of her experience that was so
common in participants’ responses during interviews:
[The course was] challenging in that it made you think outside the box,
made you think differently about things that you just always take for
granted in your life. Like I said, there were things that I thought I had
dealt with, and [the course] sort of made me think twice about those
8 T. Murray
things in my past, and then just difficult because some of the stuff you
don’t want to think about, you don’t want to dredge it up. And it does,
it gets emotional when you think about [these things].
Kate describes a learning process that balances thinking and feeling and that
understands the experience of learning as a cognitive act and the experience
of reflection as the point where emotions are ‘‘attached.’’
This research did not presume that students had experienced this course
on a spiritual level. Rather, it allowed for this possibility. The topic of
spirituality in self-knowledge development was approached by asking part-
icipants for their personal definitions of spirituality. Based on these personal
definitions, they were asked if any aspects of their course experience were
what they would consider spiritual. Kate responded to these questions by
saying: ‘‘I think that spirituality is more something that you have to find on
your own and it’s not going to come from one place. It comes from just kind
of a lifetime of experiences and each one teaching you a little bit more.’’
Kate elaborated on these general comments by describing this struc-
tured experience of self-knowledge development:
I think that there’s definitely spirituality in exploring the self, and, like,
the healing part of it. I think these would be a little more in the realm
of spirituality. I kind of, sort of, stayed away from my whole relationship
with God because it’s something I’m always thinking about, but I’m not
really sure about.
As Kate discussed this topic, her thoughts continued to spiral in toward
a clearer personal definition of spirituality:
I think anytime you get closer to the level of humanity, you’re going to
become more spiritual. I think that the more that you can kind of get
in touch with who you are and who other people are and sort of see
how everybody’s connected, it’s only going to help.
Atchley provides a broad, inclusive definition of spirituality that can be
applied in considering Kate’s response:
[Spirituality is] an intense aliveness and deep sense of understanding that
one intuitively comprehends as having come from a direct, internal link
with that mysterious principle that connects all aspects of the universe. As
awakened spiritual beings, we feel our interconnectedness with all
things, past present and future.
Though her discussion of spirituality is tentative and emerging, Kate’s
descriptions reflect her understanding of and need for connection. Her
conscious actions in letting go of her past relationship with her mother
Self-Knowledge Development as a Journey 9
and her self, and establishing a new, more positive relationship with her
daughter seem to be based in this deeper spiritual search. Kate is consciously
striving to be awake, present, and proactive in her life.
As a fairly private person, Kate did not recognize relationship as central
to her self-knowledge development in this course. She did, however,
acknowledge both the importance of group feedback and support, and the
challenges of being part of a Company of Travelers in the course. In describ-
ing the role of her classmates in her course experience, she commented, ‘‘it
was an environment that was supportive, that nobody was going to fault
anybody. There was like a feeling of compassion and just a feeling of accept-
ance, and it was near the beginning [of the course]. That kind of when things
solidified [in the course].’’
Kate’s comments reflect what Wright describes as ‘‘connected self’’ or
Qualities that Wright identifies as aspects of this
dimension of self are openness, empathy, and responsiveness. Kate’s
description of her group’s dynamics and how she responded to the chal-
lenges of being in this group reflect these qualities.
As described in the introduction to this article, the inclusion of holistic,
intuitive, creative, and mythic approaches to teaching and learning was a
conscious choice in restructuring this course. Gauging the impact of these
additions was an important aspect of this research. When asked which course
components were particularly helpful and supportive of self-knowledge
development, Kate specifically identified the Heroic Journey Model. Kate
described the importance of the Heroic Journey Model, which is used to
structure and guide students’ experiences in the course. She discussed its role
in the course, saying,
The Heroic Journey Model was relevant in a lot of ways becaus e I do very
well with metaphors, so I can see the connections in so many different
mediums ...You can see how the journey’s played, where you can kind
of see the steps laid out. But then just in life in general, you can think
about where you are in different parts of your life and you can kind of
see whether you’re under, whether you’re in the abyss (labyrinth) or
whether you’re getting that restless feeling where you need to start doing
something (crossing the threshold).
Kate, like many of the students who have experienced the Education of Self
for Professionals course, related powerfully to this model and found it
applicable to their broader lives. In her comments, she describes her use
of the model as a tool for monitoring her life experiences and for gaining
some perspective on them.
Campbell’s Heroic Journey Model is cyclical and includes 3 basic stages:
separation, initiation, and return.
Just as the mythological adventurers
Campbell uses to illustrate the model are challenged to identify what they
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have learned on their journey and what they will take back with them to their
everyday life, participants in this study were asked to identify and describe
any concrete ways that they were able to apply what they had learned
through this course in their lives. Perhaps the most compelling description
of what Kate gained from her experience of self-knowledge development
is a summary comment that she made during her interview. Asked to
describe any conscious attempts to incorporate aspects of this course in
her life and work, she reflected,
I don’t even know how hard I’m trying. I think that just because I chan-
ged and my perspective changed; it’s not like it’s going to go back to the
way it was. I think once you have that self-awareness, it just becomes
who you are now, at this point in your life. So now it’s not, I’m not the
Seth Rivera-Wilson couldn’t remember the exact moment, but early in the
course, he ‘‘bought into it.’’ He decided to take the risk of jumping into
the course full force. He remembered saying to himself, ‘‘Okay, I’ve started
to travel down this road; I can do it ...I am going to make the journey;
I am going to be the hero.’’
At the time of this interview, Seth was 28 years old, married, and worked
as a complex director at a public college. He had decided to take this elective
course on the recommendation of a student who had already taken
Education of Self for Professionals and because of his confidence in the
Asked to identify adjectives that described his course experience, Seth
[It was] unique in that the subject ma tter was largely ME. You know, how
I related to the materials. But this was kind of even more so in that WE
are the materials. How do we view ourselves ? Where are we on the path?
That was very unique and interesting.
Seth’s descriptions of his deep engagement in the course at an early stage pro-
vided a natural segue into a reflection on self-exploration and self-knowledge
development on cognitive and affective levels. When asked, ‘‘Can you
describe on what levels you found yourself engaging in this course?’’ Seth’s
reply reflected the same degree of cognitive=affective integration as Kate’s:
[There] was just a ton of crossover between the intellectual and emotion-
al. Um, I think that the intellectual would come out when I was thinking
about how I was going to express the emotion, and, you know, in the
Self-Knowledge Development as a Journey 11
assignments we expressed how we felt about things ourselves ...How is
my mask going to be representative of how I perceive myself?
Seth’s comments illustrate how difficult it is for someone to recreate an
experience and isolate his=her cognitive and affective processes. Particularly
when focusing on the self, this distinction is sometimes elusive. Seth had dif-
ficulty determining whether his course learning was intellectual or emotional.
Although Kate spoke of connecting the cognitive and affective and ‘‘attaching
affect to cognition,’’ Seth described intellectual and emotional ‘‘crossover.’’
Although it is helpful as a researcher to isolate these two levels of the self,
it is also helpful to remember Jersild’s description of the self as ‘‘a composite
of thoughts and feelings which constitute a person’s awareness of his individ-
ual existence, his conceptions of who he is and what he is.’’
When asked, ‘‘How would you define spirituality?’’ Seth’s initial
response was, ‘‘That’s a tough one.’’ But his subsequent response was deep
I think that spirituality is a connection to something larger, something
unidentifiable, but feeling connected to it, none-the-less. It’s strange that
you ask this because I would always characterize myself as spi ritual, only
because I grew up non-denominationally religious, but I always felt
Seth continued, clarifying the distinction he made between a spiritual level
and an emotional level:
When I think, when I think of my emotional level, I can typically identify
my emotion, for the most part, you know, but my spiritual connection to
things ...I feel as though I have a spiritual connection to family, and to
nature ...It’s unidentifiable what that feeling is or what that connection
is, but that we kind of work in concert; we affect each othe r ...on a level
Seth’s thinking is productive here as he attempts to describe the differences
he perceives between his internal emotional and spiritual processes. Drawing
once again on Achtley’s definition of spirituality, and comparing Seth’s com-
ments to Kate’s, the common focus on connection is clear.
tion of the indefinable nature of spiritual connections evokes the sense of
mystery in this definition. It is also striking that Seth differentiates between
attachment on an emotional level and connection on a spiritual level. Yogic
science would support this distinction, understanding attachment as depen-
dency and connection as transcending.
Self-disclosure and intellectual=emotional risk taking were critical
learning dimensions in the course’s self-knowledge development process.
Personal sharing is surely a relational act that is fostered through group
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experiences of trust building. When asked, ‘‘What did you experience in
disclosing on a level that was risk taking?’’ Seth responded,
It was sort of like you go skydiving. The first time is tough, but after that
you know what to expect, and strangely, I didn’t know what to expect
when I was going to look at my self. But I think that in taking the risk,
I felt okay, the results didn’t hurt me and I learned about myself; I learned
something about my partner in the activity ...[Then] we could go deep
and there would be sharing. I’m guessing here, but I think a lot of people
went out on a limb on those first activities, and the group kind of came to
the next activity with that sense of—okay, we’ve started to travel down
this road and we can do it.
Seth’s shift from speaking in the first person—‘‘I felt okay,’’ ‘‘I learned some-
thing,’’ to the third person plural—‘‘We could go deep,’’ ‘‘we’ve started,’’ ‘‘we
can do it’’—is striking. He recognizes that though this is a journey of self-
knowledge; his journey is interconnected with the journeys his classmates
are also experiencing. Johnson and Johnson described this act of mutual
dependence and support as ‘‘positive interdependence.’’
inherent in these interdependent partner and group relationships is essential
as class members learn about their self through active listening to others and
guided discussion, and through invited feedback.
Throughout the interview, Seth made specific references to activities
and models in the courses that supported his self-exploration, including per-
sonal map making and life mask creation. But his description of the impact of
walking the classic 7-circuit labyrinth that had been created by students and
the instructor on the college grounds was particularly evocative. Recalling his
walk through the labyrinth, he recounted,
I won’t forget doing the labyrinth out on the quad and about placing in
my mind as we took steps – What am I passing now? Where am I in my
life? What in my life am I walking past? That was incredibly power-
ful ...yeah, thinking about—Where am I now? Where have I been? Wh at
can I take with me where I want to go? I just think that’s invaluable . The
model of the labyrinth is really useful.
The opportunity to literally experience a labyrinth walk was an inten-
tional addition to the course. Having metaphorically experienced the labyr-
inth through Campbell’s model and moving into the Heart of the Labyrinth
through confronting key life issues, students had an opportunity to literally
experience a labyrinth.
As Seth’s comments illustrate, this provided a
powerful experiential and reflective activity. As referenced earlier in this arti-
cle, Hill identified four interpenetrating bodies: spiritual, emotional, mental,
Seth’s reflection and learning as a result of his physical
Self-Knowledge Development as a Journey 13
movement through the labyrinth suggests that there is a physical dimension
of self that deserves further exploration.
For Seth and Kate, as well as for many other students interviewed, the
course models, including Campbell’s Heroic Journey model, Pearson’s arche-
types, and the labyrinth, proved to be powerful, productive tools.
students described applications that they had made both during and after the
course. Beyond providing metaphorical and symbolic ways to explore and
describe their selves, these models provided practical tools that could be
drawn on for reflection, as well as for life planning, problem solving, and
‘‘WHAT DOES ONE KNOW WHEN ONE KNOWS ONESELF?’’
In closing the circle, this article returns to Weinstein’s question.
As Kate and
Seth’s stories have briefly but richly described, if students actively engage in a
process of self-study, they discover that they are in an evolving process of
becoming. This process unfolds on complex, interrelated levels—cognitively,
affectively, relationally, and spiritually. These 2 case studies illustrate stu-
dents’ need, willingness, and ability to explore and understand self on all
these levels. Through this process, students recognize that it is possible to
productively explore their inner as well as outer world, and that they can
acquire the concepts and tools to guide their own as well as others’ growth
This article has also described the centrality of spirituality and relation-
ship in students’ experiences of self-knowledge development. The Astins’
longitudinal study of the spiritual development of college students affirms
that undergraduate college students have a high level of spiritual interest
and that they are ‘‘searching for deeper meaning in their lives, looking for
ways to cultivate their inner selves, seeking ways to be more compassion-
Kate and Seth’s comments provide anecdotal evidence that graduate
students are also interested in spirituality, but more importantly, they are
interested in their own spiritual development.
Astin’s study also reveals that many of today’s college students have
high expectations that their college experience will support their emotional
and spiritual, as well as their academic, development.
Seth and Kate
appreciated the holistic opportunities for personal growth and development
that this course provided, opportunities that other college course work did
not provide. In describing his experience of Education of Self, Seth clearly
makes this distinction:
I think that it is super discouraging to be sitting [in a classroom] and thin k-
ing—‘‘I don’t get this.’’ I think about my experiences in other college
courses and saying—‘‘I don’t get it; it’s not connecting for me.’’ But I
14 T. Murray
really feel like the light bulb went off for me in this course. I get it. I
connect. I understand my life’s journey, and that’s powerful.
If colleges and universities are truly committed to educating the whole
person, to nurturing transformation and movement toward ‘‘real self’’ or
‘‘fundamental self,’’ then higher education faculty are challenged to under-
stand and support self-knowledge development processes as they work with
students. They must develop approaches that guide students in making sense
of themselves and their world in totally new and transformative ways. This
article illustrates that this transformative process is very possible in the col-
lege classroom, and that the potential outcomes for students can, indeed,
be life changing.
Kate and Seth’s case studies provide ‘‘thick, rich descriptions’’ of their
experiences of this course and its impact on their subsequent growth and
These case studies, then, are illustrative but not definitive
in describing and explaining the nature and impact of a graduate course that
focuses on students’ self-knowledge development. Further research of this
course with a broader range of students is needed to add important sub-
stance and dimension to this exploration. The researcher sees this article
as an initial foray into this important topic.
A focus on the instructor’s role in structuring and facilitating this
self-study process is also absent, and this is also an important additional
dimension to explore. Though the reader can imagine how a course that sup-
ports study of the self needs to be structured and facilitated, this dimension of
the course also deserves specific attention. As the exploration of an instructor
as researcher, this article has intentionally maintained a focus on the students’
experience of the course. Clearly, the process of facilitating this type of deep
self-study requires specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes. In this context, it
is notable that Astins’ more recent research on spirituality in higher education
has included a focus on ‘‘spiritual life and the professoriate.’’
It is difficult,
perhaps impossible, for higher education to support students’ spiritual quests
if instructors do not understand, value, and respond to this clearly documen-
ted student need by providing meaningful opportunities for this inner
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