Universiteit Leiden

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Peace through meditation? Femke Bakker wins grant for research on the influence of meditation on political behaviour

Political scientist Femke Bakker (Leiden University) is going to investigate whether meditation affects political behaviour. Bakker has been awarded a PEACE Grant by the Mind & Life Institute, which enables her to conduct innovative, experimental research. The aim is an answer to the question whether meditation can help to promote peace.

‘Meditation is not just for the hippy-dippy anymore,’ Bakker explains. ‘Nowadays everybody seems to meditate. There are several initiatives by governments to fund projects for the implementation of meditation at for instance schools, prisons, and the military.’ This might have something to do with the general association of meditation and peaceful behaviour.

This association is not so far-fetched. Even when it concerns politics. Bakker: ‘Famous peacemakers like Gandhi and Mandela used to meditate daily. And neuro (-psychological) research shows that a regular meditation practice brings about changes in the brain (improved cognitive performance, increased sense of well-being, including lower stress levels). Social-psychological meta-analyses associate meditation on an individual level with increased pro-social feelings and attitudes, such as empathy, compassion, and altruism.’

Political scientists so far have not picked up these insights. ‘Sure, they look at individuals’ character traits and certain personal convictions as explaining factors for politicians’ inclination to engage in conflicts and opt for violence, but meditation is never included in the equation.’ Supported by a PEACE Grant (23.500 US dollar), Bakker is going to change this. The Leiden political scientist, an avid meditation practioner herself, recently defended her PhD about the impact of personal beliefs on the decision making in conflicts between states. Now, again conducting innovative, experimental research methods, Bakker is going to find out whether mediation does make us more peaceful.

The PEACE Grant is awarded by the Mind & Life Institute. This was founded in 1987 by the Dalai Lama, the scientist Francisco Varela, and the entrepreneur Adam Engle. The Institute aims to bridge science and contemplative wisdom, in order to foster societal flourishing and human interconnection.

Femke Bakker
Femke Bakker (photo: Ruben Verheul)

Further information

profile Femke Bakker

site Mind & Life Institute

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