Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reflections on the Chester Research Residency - November 2010

- by James Steil

Reflections on the Frank Chester Research Residency and the Symposium for Spiritual Scientific Research - November 2010

Having attended both of the above events in Spring Valley, it is difficult to know where to start; there are a myriad of experiences. The research residency involved only 12 people, and lasted 6 weeks, while the research symposium took-place over a 3-day weekend, and involved up to 75 attendees (?). I suppose the big question is: “What did it all mean?” The intention behind both was to explore the possibilities for spiritual-scientific research: What does it look-like? How can it be achieved? Where does it belong?

The residency was, by all accounts, a big success. Our efforts culminated in an art exhibit, in which some of the results of our work were displayed in the Threefold Auditorium. Each of the participants, in his (or her) own way, felt gratified by the reception, but more-importantly, by insights, and capacities gained. The support of the Threefold Educational Center was exemplary, while the mix of individuals involved, and the leadership provided by Frank Chester were very harmonious. The future for such events looks bright. It should be mentioned some financial support was provided by the School for Spiritual Science (“the School”).

The Symposium for Spiritual Scientific Research followed the research residency by one week. This symposium was initiated by the School (or more properly, by the Collegium of Section Representatives of the School of Spiritual Science in North America), and is part of a larger process: seeking to clarify its role in supporting spiritual scientific research. Although the question of such research has been on the agenda of the Collegium for some time, matters have accelerated in recent months, having received gift-monies intended to support spiritual research.

Clearly, spiritual research is within the domain of the School, while the question of how it might occur requires further exploration. Is it sustainable for the Threefold Center to offer such programs without financial assistance from the School? Are there individuals working independently, whose works deserves support? Other institutions?? How might the results of their work be shared? As an example, the research residency was inspiring, but in my opinion, should not be taken as an over-arching model; research comes in many different forms. There was an underlying feeling that events such as the Frank Chester residency can, and should, continue in Spring Valley, and I do hope that is the case. Meanwhile, the School has set-up the Henry Barnes Fund to disseminate the funds received to support such work. Individuals must be nominated (and thereby recognized) by others to receive funding.

Then, there is the underlying question of the symposium: “What is ‘Spiritual-Scientific research?” Many – even the invited speakers – were reticent to describe their work as such. Discussions were held on this theme, with no clear consensus. “Results” are an obvious criterion, but instead, conversation gravitated towards methods used, and development of the capacities to support them. Further work is required, and we discussed the possibly of approaching the same question from different perspectives: the Arts, Social-Sciences, etc….

Will there be another such symposium? Evidently, there will be, for which I have two small suggestions: Given funds exist to support a number of research projects, could recipients be required to represent a summary of their method (and results) at the next symposium? This seems a useful way to concretely explore the realities of spiritual research. My second suggestion is that the symposium remains a combined-effort with the Threefold Centre, as they have excellent facilities, and what looks-like an on-going commitment to supporting spiritual scientific research.

One final notion: Although it was difficult to define (and equally-difficult to admit to), clearly, spiritual scientific research is an essential part of what it means to be an Anthroposophist. I personally believe to call oneself an Anthroposophist means at the very-least one has in interest in such matters. Ideally, we are all spiritual scientific researchers. Moving beyond particular results arising from the Henry Barnes Fund, what would be of greater benefit for the Anthroposophical Society is to educate and inspire many more individuals to take-up their own research, at whatever level it is possible. Although methods vary, what remains constant is the instrument: the human-being. The path of knowledge always includes self-knowledge, and if, by reflecting on the work of others, we illumine within ourselves capacities for Spiritual Scientific research, then the fruits of this endeavor will become seeds – for the future of Anthroposophy.

My thanks go-out to all who were a part of this experience; I believe I participated in a much-needed event.

James Steil

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