Compassion Studies

Proposal for a Systematic Learning Journey on Compassion ('Compassion Studies Course'). Scroll down for the full text of the proposal in PDF (Living in a Violent, Broken World). Interested persons/organisations can take this in any direction. I have tried to avoid sentimentalisation, religionisation or bureaucratisation of compassion. So you can take 'forward' it as an event, as a short course or even a degree programme. It was originally conceived as a basis for research and doctoral programme with a civic engagement component. (Please refer to the Learning Ecology page. You may also want to read the Charter for Compassion.

Contact me if you want to share your thoughts. A more comprehensive  Compassion Studies Site Here.


1) There is a need to respond to our present challenges, problems, dangers and promise. We need to move away from disciplinarity to inter-disciplinarity to transdisciplinarity. And we need to transform our universities and its faculties over time to multiversities to transversities. We have to find ways back and closer to Nature. Only through these pathways can we nurture the growth of new integrative trans-knowledge and wholesome, authentic learning practices/ecologies. It is a proposal of a new cosmological way of being.

2) One of the critical aims should be to engage with not just university knowledge producers but also all other non-academic knowledge co-producers. In particular, we have a lot to learn from the elders of many endangered indigenous communities. We also need to establish a serious and profound dialogue between mainstream science and arts to transcend the limitations of disciplinarity. In creating new pathways and nurturing counter or anti-colonial narratives to live by, authentic artistic imagination goes beyond its present high-society entertainment, or edutainment, functions. Equally, we should not shy away from inclusive and engaged spirituality. The sacred and secular are artificial creations that need to be bridged and overcome. And seriously, we need to address the global business and bureaucracy (the "bu-bu") assault on humanities (and social sciences) and rebuild it as 'New Humanities'.

3) If we want to survive on Mother/Sister Earth and build a vibrant self-conscious, trans-disciplinary, trans-faith inclusive society, we need to be open to the enriching ways New Humanities will offer the future to us. We need to revisit and engage with the 'ecological and social' complexity, grow new transdisciplinary areas of learning and set up an all-together a dynamic social infrastructure for generating new livelihoods. Truth and reconciliation, dialogue, peace, socially engaged spirituality, trans-faith, indigeneity, animality, nature rights, femininity, post-development, post-humanity, empathy and compassion among others would have to become a regular part of a new language serving a new learning ecology. In the long run, we must not forget to take the liberating potential of transdisciplinarity as historical and not reify it too to make it ahistorical. We need to go beyond that frame of mind.

4) We need to do one important thing: actively and systematically deschool and decolonise society from the 'seduction' of growth and disciplinarity. The forces of growth and disciplinarity will resist, criticise and demonise such efforts just as how the climate deniers have funded, denied and demonised those who educated us to transborder climate problems emerging from anthropogenic causes. Our effort to introduce new humanities and a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge creation practices is inherently a critical political stand.

5) The Deschooling is a structured effort that needs to be nurtured by decolonisation and conscientisation, transformative learning processes and critical civic engagement. deschooling project is more than a material project. It is also a political, moral and spiritual movement as well as a dematerialisation project. By interrogating and challenging unexamined assumptions of our learning and being, transformative learning practices will prepare us to examine the impact of the dominant, often exploitative or alienating, structures on our choices, lifestyles and conscience. It would also interrogate the unexamined assumptions of the taken-for-granted world our learning is based on and taking place.

6) The foundational edifice of the unsustainable world we have so carelessly and mindlessly built with all its institutional scaffolding, including the university, needs to go through a 'metamorphosis' into a completely different one. The 'social caterpillar' is ready to become a butterfly. Will we allow it?

7) We need to reclaim our cosmological orientation, genuine animality and compassionate humanity. Only then will we be able to generate deschooled, decolonised, disruptive new stories, new narratives, and new futures. Maybe then we will have a fighting chance at deeply repairing the world we have broken. And set a new course, a new regenerative Japanese art of kintsugi.

Proposed Content for a 'Course' on Compassion

8) There are growing pathways in addressing the civilisational challenges we are faced with. It is within this nourishing desire to seek a lasting solution; a proposal for compassion studies is being made. It is being proposed as a critique of growth, disciplinarity and the university form. It is a proposal to address a world where there is a critical 'deficit' of cosmological thinking, empathy, dialogue and compassion. It is also proposed to heal the fragmentary knowledge silos created by disciplinarity.

9) In the proposed version, the course content will have 3 cluster areas or focus on helping us understand and nurture compassion: Social Ecology of Orientation (Theory, Methodology and Practice), Social Ecology of Suffering and Social Ecology of Compassion. The first cluster/focus is basically the grounding of compassion studies in transdisciplinarity, transformative learning and critical civic engagement through the process covering deschooling, decolonisation and conscientisation. The second cluster/focus is to deeply understand the social structures that give rise to the many social sites of pain, suffering, disasters and death. And lastly, the third cluster/focus is to recover/reclaim our compassionate nature and genuinely engage with it at all levels, inclusive of the private and public levels.

9) The course on compassion is to help young people to grow and nurture a new sense of being-in-the-world. The present 'version' of the specific content of the 3 focus areas below can be further rationalised, developed and structured in many ways as per needs and structuring formats.

Cluster/Focus 1: Social Ecology of Orientation (Theory, Method and Practice)

  • Why Do We Need to Rethink Humanities?
  • Moving Away from Corporatised Education and the "Bu-Bu Approach"
  • Human, Humanism, Post-Humanism
  • Methodology, Praxiology and Dialogism
  • Deschooling, Decolonialisation and Conscientisation
  • Political Economy
  • The Dialogical Method
  • Reflection/Contemplation/Meditation
  • Transdisciplinarity and the Eco-Social Complexity
  • Transdisciplinarity and Ecology of the Future
  • The 'Framing' Approach to Analysis: Mindfulness and Reading the Signs of the Times
  • Challenging Assumptions and Transformative Learning
  • Critical Civic Engagement and Citizenship,
  • Critical Followership and Leadership
  • Global Public Virtues, Values and Meanings
  • Socially-Engaged Spirituality
  • Cosmos, Nature and Our Animality
  • Social Evil and Dystopia
  • Localism, Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism
  • Arts, Sciences, Cosmology and Different Modes of Thinking
  • Counter-Hegemonic, Anti-Colonial Narratives/Counter-Narratives
  • Indigeneity and Femininity Frameworks
  • New Glossaries, New Worlds, New Ways of Being
  • Rethinking University, Imagining Multiversity and Transversity
  • Alternative Pathways: Charters, Planetary Futures and Social Utopias
  • Reimaging Eco-Social Complexity/ Exploring New Ecologies of Learning,
  • 'Compassion Studies'

Cluster/Focus 2: Social Ecology of Suffering

  • Examining Global and National Statistics on Social and Ecological Trends
  • Interrogating Neo-Liberalism, Capitalist Development, Sustainable Development and Economic Growth/Political Economy
  • The Body in Pain and Dystopias
  • The Human World: Inequality, Poverty, Affluence, Retail and Structural Violence, Health, Genocides
  • The Non-Human World: Biosphere Destruction/Ecological Disasters/Wars/Ecocides
  • Geopolitics and Violence
  • Panopticon, Surveillance and Control
  • Nationalism, Nazism and Fascism
  • Climate and Eco-Fascism
  • Migrants, Refugees, Human Trafficking, and Modern Slavery
  • 'Nature-Deficiency' and Ecopsychology
  • Occupation, Meaninglessness and Stress
  • Food, Market and Industrial Agriculture
  • Market, Consumerism, Health and Modern Diseases
  • Interrogating Conflicts, Wars, Arms Industry, Weaponisation and the Military
  • Torture, Assassinations, Genocides and Ecocides
  • Interrogating Socialism and Violence
  • Ethics and the Future of Pain, Suffering, Disaster and Death

Cluster/Focus 3: Social Ecology of Compassion

  • Understanding Compassion, its Varieties and Cultures
  • Key Thinkers / Practitioners
  • Key Concepts/ Theories
  • Exploring Humane Virtues, Values and Meaning Structures
  • Contemplation and Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Beyond TINA/Rethinking Development: Alternative Narratives/Post-Development/Post Materialism
  • Exploring Worldviews/Indigenous Cosmologies of Development/Utopia
  • Alternative Economic Theories and Practice/Degrowth/Public and Common Good
  • Civil Society Movements, Civil Disobedience, and Humanitarian Intervention
  • Urbanisation and the Architecture of Compassion
  • Peace, Reconciliation, Trust, Mutuality and Inclusive Coexistence
  • Sustainable Cultures and Socially Engaged Spirituality
  • Femininity, Indigeneity and Ethics of Care/'Animal Stdies'
  • Discipleship, Critical Followership and Leadership
  • Compassion, Citizenship, Governance and the Policy Environment
  • Media, Public Sphere, and Distant Suffering
  • Creative Arts, Meaningful Art and Compassion
  • Exploring Social Teachings of World Religions
  • Compassion in World Religious/Spiritual Traditions
  • Compassion in Contemplative Humanist Traditions
  • Models of Compassionate Practice

Are We Ready To Go a Step Beyond?

18) (a) The attempt above is basically to 'frame and position' a learning ecology for compassion studies. A new academic architecture' is proposed to promote a learning ecology that basically questions disciplinarity and the mainstream university institutional form. It also examines the mindless economic growth model our societies are based on, which intimately influences the modern university and its knowledge-producing activities. Such activities follow invasive dissection of reality, the privileging of certain realities, neglect or submerging of others and complete blindness to yet others. The integrity of a rich and complex whole is carelessly lost. We have also violently separated ourselves from each other and Nature. We have encouraged a lifestyle that depends on a disastrous global occupational infrastructure that persistently contributes to and sustains global problems. The ecological footprint of the totality of universities is deeply troubling, problematic and unsustainable.

(b) The new social architecture based on compassion will be governed by efforts at deschooling and decolonisation to go beyond growth and disciplinarity, guided by transformative learning and the transdisciplinary approach. It aims to look not at a minutely dissected reality, one not 'out there' but one in which we are all intimately interconnected and integrated. 'New Humanities' , which an integral part of the new academic architecture, opens up a whole new world including compassion for exploration and human flourishing.

Selected Readings

  • Agnes Heller, Everyday Life (London, RKP, 1984)
  • Alain Berto, The Age of Violence: The Crisis of Political Action and the End of Utopia, Tr. By David Broder (London: Verso, 2018)
  • Alex Callinicos, An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto ((Cambridge: Policy, 2003)
  • Alison Rios Millett McCartney, Elizabeth A. Bennion and Dick Simpson (eds.) Teaching Civic Engagement: From Student to Active Citizen (Washington: American Political Science Association, 2013)
  • Allan Kellehear, Compassionate Cities: Public Health and End-of-life Care ( London: Routledge, 2008)
  • Allen F. Repco, Rick Szostak & Michelle Phillips Buchberger, Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies (New Delhi: Sage, 2017)
  • Andre Gorz, Ecologica (Calcutta: Seagull, 2010)
  • Angela Hilmi, Agroecology: Reweaving a New Landscape (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)
  • Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria and Alberto Acosta (eds.), Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2019)
  • Ashish Nandy, Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias: Essays in the Politics of Awareness (New Delhi: OUP, 1987)
  • Ashok Vajpeyi (ed.), India Dissents: 3000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument (New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2017)
  • Atsuko Matsuoko and John Sorenson (eds), Critical Animal Studies: Towards Trans-Species Social Justice (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018)
  • Azeem Ibrahim, The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide (New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2017)
  • Bangkok Forum 2018, Integrating Knowledge for Social Sustainability Proceedings (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University, 2018), pp. 106-07
  • Basarab Nicolescu and Atila Ertas (eds.), Transdisciplinary Education, Philosophy, & Applications (Lubbock: The Atlas, 2014)
  • Benjamin B. Page (ed.), Marxism and Spirituality: An International Anthology (London: Bergin & Garvey, 1993)
  • Bertell Ollman, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (Cambridge: CUP, 1076).
  • Bronislaw Szerszynski, Nature, Technology and the Sacred (London: Blackwell, 2005)
  • Brian Baxter, Ecologism: An Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999)
  • Christiane Struckmann, "A Postcolonial Feminist Critique of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: A South African application", Agenda, 32:1, pp. 12-24, 2018
  • Claude Alvarez (ed.), Multiversity: Freeing Children From the Tyranny of Schooling, Bringing Colour Back Into Academic Studies (Goa: Other India Bookstore, 2004)
  • Claude Alvarez, "Launching the Multiversity", Oct. 2019.
  • Claude Alvares and Shad Saleem Faruqi (eds), Decolonising the University: The Emerging Quest for Non-Eurocentric Paradigms (Penang: University Sains Malaysia, 2012).
  • Claude Alvarez (ed.), Multicultural Knowledge and the University (Penang: Citizen International, 2014)
  • Charles W. Smith, A Critique of Sociological Reasoning: An Essay in Philosophical Sociology (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979)
  • Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom, Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, 2001)
  • Dario Martinelli, Arts and Humanities in Progress: A Manifesto for Numanities (Cham: Springer, 2016)
  • Doug Morris, "Pedagogy in Catastrophic Times: Giroux and the Tasks of Critical Public Intellectuals" Policy Futures In Education, Vol. 10 (6), 2012, pp. 647 - 664.
  • David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).
  • Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Create a Better Life (London: Penguin Books, 2005)
  • Edmund O'Sullivan, Transformative Learning: Educational Vision for the 21st Century (London: Zed Books, 1999)
  • Egon Becker and Thomas Jahn (eds.), Sustainability and the Social Sciences: A Cross Disciplinary Approach to integrating Environmental Consideration Into Theoretical Re-orientation (London: Zed Books, 1999)
  • Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: OUP, 1985)
  • Felix Wilfred, Theology for an Inclusive World (Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2019)
  • Filip Spagnoli, The Neo-Communist Manifesto (New York: Algora Publishing, 2010)
  • Fumio Sasaki, Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living (London: Penguin Books, 2017)
  • Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin, 1967)
  • Frederic Darbellay, "From Disciplinarity to Postdisciplinarity: Tourism Studies Dedisciplined", Tourism Analysis, Vol. 2, 2016: pp.363 - 372,
  • Giacoma D'Alisa, Frederico Demaria & Giorgos Kallis (eds.), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (London: Routledge, 2015)
  • Gregory Claeys, Dystopia: A Natural History: A Study of Modern Despotism,
  • Its Antecedents, and Its Literary Diffractions (Oxford: OUP, 2017)
  • Greta Thunberg tough message to world leaders in 2019: leaders-how-dare-you-you-have-stolen-my-dreams-and-my-childhood-video.
  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958)
  • Harsh Mander, Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India (New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2015)
  • Ira Rabois, Compassionate Critical Thinking (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)
  • Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).
  • J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.), Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1989)
  • Jason Hickel, 'The Problem with Saving the World', Jacobin."5/08/global-poverty-climate-change-sdgs/ . Nov. 2018
  • Jason Hickel, "The Pope Vs the UN: Who will Save the World First?" The Guardian, pope-united-nations-encyclical-sdgs. Nov. 2018
  • Jairus Banaji (ed.), Fascism: Essays on Europe and India (Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective, 2016)
  • James Garvey, The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World (London: Continuum, 2008)
  • Jenny Donovan, Designing The Compassionate City: Creating Places Where People Thrive (New York: Routledge, 2018)
  • Johan Goudsblom and Stephen Mennell (eds.), The Norbert Elias Reader ((Oxford: Blackwell, 1998)
  • John E. Carroll, Sustainability and Spirituality (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004)
  • Josephine Donovan and Carol Adams (ed.), The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)
  • Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991)
  • Kevin Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2002)
  • Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People (London: Zed Press, 2004)
  • Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (London: Macmillan, 2018)
  • M. Nadarajah, Culture, Gender and Ecology: Beyond Workerism (New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 1999)
  • M. Nadarajah, Living Pathways: Meditations on Sustainable Cultures and Cosmologies in Asia (Penang: Areca Books, 2014);
  • M. Nadarajah, "UN Sustainable Development Goals: Hijacking our Compassion for the World", Aliran, Jan 2019.
  • Marshall b. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Indore: Banyan Tree Publishers, 2017)
  • Martha C. Nussbaum, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010)
  • Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy (New York: St Martin's Press, 1999)
  • Mark Langan, "The UN Sustainable Development Goals and Neo-Colonialism" in Neo-Colonialism and the Poverty of 'Development' in Africa (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), pp. 177 - 205.
  • Matt Hern, Everywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader (Oakland: AK Press, 2008)
  • Matthieu Ricard, Altruism: The Science and Psychology of Kindness (London: Atlantic Books, 2013)
  • McGregor, S. L. T., & Volckmann, R., "Transversity: Transdisciplinarity in Higher Education" in G. Hampson & M. Rich- Tolsma (eds.), Leading Transformative Higher Education (Olomouc, Czech Republic: Palacky University Press, 2013), pp. 58- 81.
  • Michele Micheletti & and Andrew S. McFarland (eds.), Creative Participation: Responsibility-Taking in the Political World (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2010)
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (London: Penguin, 1977)
  • Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge (New York: Vintage, 1982)
  • Michael Mayerfeld Bell and Michael Gardiner (eds.), Bakhtin and the Human Sciences: No Last Words (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1998)
  • Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, Islam on Mercy and Compassion (London: Minhaj-ul-Quran Publication, 2013)
  • Natan Sznaider, The Compassionate Temperament: Care and Cruelty in Modern Society (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001)
  • Nazia Erum, Mothering a Muslim: The Dark Secret in Our Schools and Playgrounds (New Delhi: Juggernaut Books, 2017)
  • Oliver Albert Matikainen, "Sustaining the One-Dimensional: An Ideology Critique of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs", Master Thesis in Sustainable Development 2019/24, University of Uppsala
  • Owen M. Lynch (ed.), Divine Passions: The Social Construction of Emotion in India (Delhi: OUP, 1990)
  • Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016)
  • Paul Gilbert, Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications (London: Routledge, 2017)
  • Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971)
  • Paul Gilbert and Choden, Mindful Compassion: Using the Power of Mindfulness and Compassion to Transform Our Lives (London: Constable and Robinson, 2014)
  • Peter Bazalgette, The Empathy Instinct: How to Create a More Civil Society (London: John Murray Publisher, 2017)
  • Peter Hitchcock, Dialogics of the Oppressed (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993)
  • Philip Lymbery & Isabel Oakeshott, Farmageddon: The True Cost of Meat (London: Bloomsbury, 2014)
  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008)
  • Pope Francis, Little Book of Compassion: The Essential Reading (London: HarperCollins, 2017)
  • Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (Singapore: Catholic Bishops Conference, 2015)
    Ricard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance With Fascism From Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004)
  • Roberto Marchesini, Over the Human: Post-Humanism and the Concept of Animal Epiphany, Tr. By Sarah De Sanctis (Cham: Springer, 2017)
  • Roman Krznaric, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution (London: Rider, 2014)
  • Sajay Samuel, Beyond Economics and Ecology: The Radical Thought of Ivan Illich (New York: Marion Boyars, 2013)
  • Samuel Totten and William S. Parsons (eds.), Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts (New York: Routledge, 2013)
  • Saral Sarkar, Eco-socialism or Eco-Capitalism: A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices ((London: Zed Books, 1999)
  • Severn Cullis-Suzuki message to world leaders in 2008.
  • minutes/. Oct. 2019
  • Swami Agnivesh, Applied Spirituality: A Spiritual Vision for the Dialogue of Religion (Noida: Harper Collins, 2015)
  • T. Storm Heter, Sartre's Ethics of Engagement: Authenticity And Civic Virtue
  • London: Continuum, 2006);
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 2013)
  • Thomas Weber, Gandhi, Gandhism and the Gandhians (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2006)
  • Tony Jorg, New Thinking in Complexity for the Social Sciences and Humanities: A Generative, Transdisciplinary Approach (Cham: Springer, 2011)
  • United Nations, Civic Engagement in Public Policies: A Toolkit (New York: United Nations, 2007)
  • Wallapa van Willenswaard (ed.), Mindful Markets: Producer-Consumer Partnerships Towards a New Economy (Bangkok: Garden of fruition, 2015)
  • William J. Bennett (ed.), The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993)
  • Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 2018)
  • Ulrich Beck, The Metamorphosis of the World (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2016)
  • Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow ((London: Vintage, 2015)
  • Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis, Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2013)

See a flipbook on Making Sense of Compassion below.