The Canadian Society for Spirituality ansd Social Work Beams of light though the clouds

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Research Cluster


We invite comments on this Terms of Reference.  Our intent is that the Terms of Reference will be a ‘living document’ subject to ongoing discussion (including web mediated discussion) and evolution. 


  • The primary objective of the Spirituality and Social Work Research Cluster is to establish a dynamic network of researchers, practitioners, community agencies, national organizations, students, and academic centres concerned with the incorporation and influence of spiritually-influenced social work and related helping approaches.  The network will develop research capacity by facilitating connections amongst cluster members, and will improve knowledge sharing by making research and its results more widely accessible and available to the general public.
  • To develop a conceptual framework for a spiritually-infused delivery of social services, organizational development and societal change, social service education, and social policy development. 
  • To develop the website of the Canadian Society for Spirituality and Social Work so that it incorporates a clearinghouse of practice-oriented discussion papers including guidelines for research and practice, accessible and available to all.
  • Serve as a forum for reciprocal knowledge sharing between field and academy.  For example, activities can include the dissemination of research results, sharing research ideas and initiatives, dialoguing amongst interested centres and individuals, mentoring of individuals and organizations regarding research, and encouraging the development of research networks.
  • Expand research partnerships and stratgies that will lead to further research initiatives and funding.


  • Recognize that spirituality is a complex topic and has many definitions.  We view spirituality as a force that moves people beyond seeing themselves as exclusively isolated and independent individuals in an uncaring and competitive environment. Spirituality involves the human quest for connectedness with something transcendent. 
  • We support a view of spirituality that has the following elements (from Forman, 1999; Laurence, 1999).
    • Inclusive and Holistic: the spiritual dimension can not be divorced from people’s realities
    • Connectedness and being in relationship with the inanimate and animate  in the larger universe
    • Deals with inner experience and can have ethical and behavioral expression but also is concerned with social justice
    • Is subjective, non-rational and non-linear appealing to the intuitive, meditative side of ourselves
    • Pluralistic – inclusive of all expressions and lifestyles. Pluralism is more than tolerance – it is a commitment to interdependence and the importance of a relational process in an effort to forge a common life.
  • Support religious and spiritual pluralism which we see as an engagement and participation in diversity. This support goes beyond the mere recognition of diversity and includes an analysis of different forms of oppression, and strives to be inclusive of populations that have been oppressed by mainstream society (for example, Indigenous peoples, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Two Spirited people).
  • In line with an effort to be inclusive, and consistent with the Code of Ethics of the CASW and the NASW, this Cluster supports an exploration of the conditions that oppress people’s lives and we see social work as a profession that strives to bring about individual, community and political justice. 
  • In regard to #4, we support pedagogical practices that expand the notion of pluralism to include discussion of competing worldviews.  All such discussions would be predicated upon the dignity and worth of all human beings.
  • Encourage discussion and debate where differences exist.
  • See the potential for spirituality to be a significant element of higher education where education is more than the acquisition of mainstream knowledge.   A legitimate focus of higher education is transformation which can be achieved through an exploration of the meaning and purpose of life, and of each person’s life in particular.
  • Spirituality can assist educational processes to be transformative – freeing the mind and spirit of bias and stereotype and opening it to the appreciation of new worldviews.

Governance of the Cluster

  • The grant will be administered by St. Thomas University with quarterly reports submitted to the three co-applicants.  The three co-applicants assume overall responsibility for the work of the cluster.
  • As far as possible decisions will involve input from participants and a consensus model will be followed.
  • Effort will be made to allocate the financial resources relatively equally among the three major areas identified for the first year (as stated in the SSHRC application).

Relevant Sources:

  •   SSHRC Research Cluster application
  •   Very Well Connected: Frameworks for Strategic Research Clusters
  •   Laurence, Peter  (1999).  Can religion and spirituality find a place in
       higher  education? 
  •   On Campus 4(5) Nov/Dec.
  •   Forman, Robert (1998). Grassroots Spirituality. Unpublished report for
      the Fetzer Institute.

January 10, 2007