Eastern Mennonite University


Conference Context

Attachment theory has roots that run deep in the fertile history of human reflection on lived experience, but its first articulations emerge out of the tragic circumstances of post-World War II orphans in London. John Bowlby worked with these children and began to formulate attachment theory to give an account of the different patterns of emotion and behavior that he was noticing. He defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” and began to identify some of the relational dynamics of that connection when it is secure and when it is not secure.

For a while, attachment theory was only one of many human development and psychology theories, but recent findings from neuroscience of emotion is not only confirming attachment theory but also providing further insights into consciousness studies, our sense of self, and the dynamics of our interactions with others and the world. Moreover, in the area of family therapy, attachment theory and Emotion Focused Therapy is the fastest growing orientation among counselors and it is one of very few evidence based treatments for couples in distress.

Anabaptist Perspective

What do we mean by an “Anabaptist perspective”? Some of the conference speakers come from an Anabaptist faith tradition or have an appreciation for that theological stream. In American contemporary religious life, Christian church denominations such as the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Brethren and others are part of this faith tradition. We consider an Anabaptist perspective to be diverse, inclusive, and containing these elements:

• To be life giving, not death-dealing. As an ethic of peace, Anabaptism avoids being hurtful and violent. With the Anabaptist-Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is held up as the model best depicting this orientation in life.
• To be concerned with both effective service and faithfulness. Belief and practice, as well as means and ends, are all woven out of the same life-giving fabric. Anabaptism is a relational ethic in which we, both individually and corporately, become what we do. The quality of our life work is shaped in the context of the Christian communities in which we participate. Within historic Anabaptism, this is an ethic of discipleship that is rooted both in the teachings and examples of Jesus.
• To be loving and vulnerable in following Christ. To obediently follow Jesus as “lanterns of righteousness” in the world calls us to step outside of societal and cultural influences. In historic Anabaptism, the vulnerability was referred to as the freedom and courage to “bear one’s cross.”

In this conference we want to emphasize the insights and contribution of Anabaptist perspectives on forming and shaping attachment discussions.

Rationale for Conference

No serious integration of Bowlby’s ideas and findings of the neuroscience of attachment have yet happened by any of the three major Christian traditions (Catholic, Reformed, and Anabaptist). As an exploration of the integration between the science of attachment and the theology of peace, this conference is an absolute first. The conference also leads by providing a space for a remarkable cross-section of students and professionals in a broad variety of disciplines: education, science, psychology, nursing, theatre, couples therapy, neuroscience, conflict studies, philosophy, organizational development, social work, and ministry (just to name a few).

The mission of the Shenandoah Anabaptist Science Society (SASS) is to integrate science and theology. This work is fresh and new. We believe that Anabaptists are uniquely suited to engage attachment theory because of our deeply held sense of connection to community and to God, a connection vibrant and safe enough to sustain a witness to peace in a violent world. We expect the following will emerge out of the interchange between attachment theory and Anabaptism:

• Discovering together more fully what it means for humans to thrive and to live in peace with one another.
• Understanding more clearly the dynamics of interpersonal and social conflict and its transformation.
• Being challenged to follow Jesus and to commit ourselves to the vision of the coming kingdom of God.


Metanexus Institute, an organization of the Templeton Foundation
Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
The Graduate Counseling Program at EMU
Student Government Association at EMU
Shenandoah Anabaptist Science Society (SASS)
Daniel B. Suter Endowment in Biology