Ashtanga devotees Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones of Greenwich, CT have bequeathed a $12 million gift to the University of Virginia to found the Contemplative Sciences Center, a collaborative endeavor fostering interdisciplinary inquiry and research among humanities scholars, medical and nursing practitioners, clinical and education researchers, and contemplative practitioners, among others.
University of Virginia alum Paul Jones notes that “U. Va. has had, for a number of years, remarkable expertise in different sectors. What we need now are threads to tie them together and weave them into a greater whole. Our goal with this gift is to enable the Contemplative Sciences Center to function as an integrative force that pulls together disparate parts of the university.”
The center will introduce contemplative practices—including yoga—into a variety of academic research settings. This includes curricula development, basic and applied research, and assessment of contemplative practices’ real-world applications.
The Joneses’ vision for the center derives from a keen desire to honor the life and legacy of their late teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and their abiding commitment to Ashtanga yoga. By setting the center up as a critical interdisciplinary nexus, they are well-poised to capture the broad impact contemplative practices are thought to exert on numerous domains. Furthermore, it’s an excellent opportunity to explore the possibilities of contemplative science and practice in a higher education environment.
Sonia Tudor Jones comments, “At this juncture, our educational system needs to consider new ideas and practices for the mind and body that can complement its traditional valuation of critical thought and debate. We think contemplative and yogic traditions offer transformative possibilities in this regard and hope that our gift will enable U.Va. to engage in an extraordinary experiment aimed at reassessing learning and well-being in relationship to these traditions.”
Where do they envision the center heading in the next 5-10 years? Their hope is for U.Va. to serve as an international leader in contemplative studies that will facilitate discussion, study, and integration of eastern practices, ideas, and values into higher education and society at large. To this end, there are plans to host a “contemplative-in-residence,” award research funding, offer courses from yoga and contemplation instructors, and facilitate an annual contemplative summit and speaker series.
The Joneses’ generosity is unprecedented, as are the scope and potential impact of their vision. U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan notes the new center “will be an academic center for teaching, research, social engagement and practice as they relate to all facets of contemplative studies.” Despite the Joneses’ deep commitment to Ashtanga, the President implies that the center will study other forms of yoga and meditation. It will officially launch in October.
How could this type of advanced academic research change the perceived role of yoga and meditation in our society?
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