Beyond Awe and Wonder

This page gives a brief description of Dr Tony Eaude’s D. Phil. thesis ‘Beyond Awe and Wonder: how teachers of young children understand spiritual development.’ This was completed at the Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford in 2003.

The abstract is as follows:

In this thesis I examine, and evaluate critically, how teachers of four- and five- year old children understand spiritual development and use this to suggest the outlines of a new understanding of young children’s spiritual experience and development, enriched by the practitioner perspective.

I explore philosophically issues of definition, arguing that this area is better approached through description than precise definition. I highlight problems with the metaphor of development. I argue that a view of spiritual development as dependent on engagement with a religious tradition excludes most children and is too narrow. I consider a range of traditions of spirituality, and of research, especially in psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology, to raise key questions to be addressed in formulating a wider, more inclusive description.

I examine in depth the understanding of fourteen teachers of four- and five-year olds in ‘early-years units’ in Oxfordshire, both in their practice and in discussion. I examine their, often latent, understanding, especially in relation to the key questions. I provide interpretations based both on narrative and thematic frameworks in discussing the coherence and consistency of their understanding.

I bring together the philosophical and empirical aspects of the study to present the framework of an inclusive understanding describing spiritual experience and how teachers may enable, or enhance, it. I present spiritual development as enhancing, or enabling, personal integration and the search for meaning and identity. I highlight the importance of relationships and value rather than ‘internal’, emotional experience. I argue that schools have an important role and that much that is implicit in teachers’ practice enhances spiritual development. Recognising the limitations of the metaphor of spiritual development, I conclude that it should not be abandoned but that a range of metaphors should also be adopted. I conclude by discussing the implications for research, a revised view of spirituality, classroom practice, the curriculum and policy and training.

The text of the thesis can be downloaded as two files from beyondaweandwonderpreliminary (doc, 49K) and beyondaweandwondermaintext (doc, 948K)

The appendices have not yet been put on to the website, but are available by contacting the author.