James Coan, Ph.D.: Assistant professor of psychology, member of the Neuroscience Graduate Program, and director of the Virginia Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Virginia.
Social relationships confer a host of advantages for health and well being. A major mechanism underlying these associations is the social regulation of emotion. Specifically, the presence of other people—especially trusted and familiar relational partners—significantly attenuates the activity of neural circuits sensitive to threat. This result has now been observed in several quite distinct samples and appears highly generalizable. The neural mechanisms responsible for attenuating threat responding in the presence of social resources still remain a mystery, but they lead to two important emerging insights about the human brain. First, although we tend to assume that a single individual is the smallest unit of analysis in measuring human behavior, individual behavior—that is, behavior that is independent of interaction with other humans—is probably the exception rather than the rule. Second, the human brain automatically extends representations of the self to individuals with which it is familiar, a process that in turn extends neural processing to other brains, rendering problem solving and emotion regulation less effortful. These two emerging insights have implications, some of which I will discuss, for how we understand a variety of spiritual and religious experiences.
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.: Clinical professor of psychiatry, UCLA’s Center for Culture, Brain, and Development; co-director, Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Mindsight is the ability to perceive the inner workings of the mind in ourselves and others. This vital human capacity is the mechanism underlying social and emotional intelligence and, thus, plays a significant part in promoting well being. Mindsight is a learnable skill. Dr. Siegel will discuss how we can we can trace a new format for identifying mental health as stemming from systems that are integrated – in our internal lives and in our relationships within families, groups, and organizations
We are born to connect with one another. This is reflected in the lifelong neural drive to link what is happening inside of our mental sea with the inner lives of others. The field of science that documents the earliest of these brain-to-brain and mind-to-mind connections is Attachment Research. When we examine the possible neurobiological underpinnings of these important attachment discoveries, we come to understand the deep mechanisms that help define the self in relationship. Seeing the connections between the mind, the embodied brain, and our relationships lets us come to view the “self” as a plural verb rather than a singular noun. Being open to one’s own inner life with kindness, connecting to another person, being a part of a group, being a member of a larger community, and having a sense of meaning that emerges from interconnections with a larger whole each form the foundation for a sense of “we” that is at the core of a spiritual life.
John Paul Lederach, Ph.D.: Professor of International Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.
Individuals and communities that must respond to protracted and violent conflict face an extraordinary range of challenges, many times circling around basic survival. While most of attachment research and theory has been applied to micro relational levels this session will explore what how attachment and conflict transformation link when responding to conflicts on a larger social scale in settings of deep-rooted conflict. Recent research emergent in these settings suggest constructive social change may in part be understood through nonlinear metaphoric structures that relate to what appear as intangibles yet “touch” and “move” us. In particular exploration of sound-as-metaphor provides a shift in how we experience and envision processes of constructive change. What if, at the level of social conflict and its transformation, attachment theory provided a “sound of love” — a narrative of social response that organizes the agency of care within, by and for violence affected communities thus creating social “echo” the vibration of intangible yet palpable human connections that move people from isolation to engagement, from division toward shared understandings? If social healing and reconciliation are not linear processes, then what might be the metaphors of directionality that provide us insight? These ideas will be explored through a variety of portals, including a Tibetan singing bowl and recent experiences with natural resource conflict transformation at the community level in Nepal. The author confesses to an evolving and experimental understanding of attachment theory, conflict transformation and the soundscape of love. You are cordially invited to join the confusion.
Nancey Murphy, Ph.D.: Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.
A well known model for understanding relations among the sciences is a hierarchy, stretching from physics at the bottom to the social sciences. The past years have seen exciting developments at the interface between biology and psychology. Meanwhile psychologists have always appreciated the “downward” effects of social groups on individual health and development. The purpose of this paper will be to argue for the importance of locating the bio-psycho-social phenomenon of attachment in still broader intellectual contexts of ethics and theology. While it may appear obvious to many that close emotional ties are an intrinsic good, there are also strands in Western culture that place greater emphasis on autonomy and competition. We need some account of the true purpose of human life (an ethic) to arbitrate between competing accounts of ideal psychological development, and ethics is in turn dependent upon accounts of Ultimate Reality—one of which is found in the Anabaptist tradition.
Sue Johnson, Ed.D.: Professor of clinical psychology at The University of Ottawa, director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute Inc. and the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy.
We are born to bond and it is in secure bonds that we learn to engage with our own emotions, with the world around us and with each other. Living without a felt sense of connection is, in bonding terms, the “dark night of the soul.” The new science of love outlines for us how we can, in our most intimate relationships, grow into openness, emotional balance and sensitive responsiveness—engaging each other and the world in a truly alive and “soulful” manner. Understanding the human heart takes us to the essence of who we are and shows us how to build a more compassionate and connected world.
David Augsburger, Ph.D. is professor of pastoral care and counseling in the School of Theology. An ordained minister of the Mennonite Church, Augsburger is active in teaching counseling and leading workshops internationally, and in doing supervision and therapy.