Colgate Syllabus: Mind and Brain in Meditation

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FSEM 140: Mind and Brain in Meditation

Richard Braaten, Professor of Psychology

M,W,F 11:20 a.m.–12:10 p.m.


This course examines the historical contexts of mindful sitting through studying practices such as Dhyana, Ch’an, Zazen, and meditation. Defining the ancient practice through the lens of culture allows students to understand the act of “doing nothing” and its mental importance. In order to discuss the effects of meditation on the brain, students delve into topics including concentration, cognition, consciousness, and well-being. 

The goal of this first-year seminar introduces students to mindfulness while integrating the fundamentals of psychology and scientific research. Centering debates around mind and brain behavior, students are expected to seek explanations for the paradox of doing nothing and its effects on the mind and brain. The class frequently experiences meditation together in order to deepen the understanding of psychology, scientific research, and meditation.

After semester-long research and analytical readings, each student will produce a 7-8 page independent research paper. The topic, chosen by the student, will focus on a certain area of psychological or neuroscience research on the effects of meditation, and will propose a future study based upon the research. Prior to submitting their final draft, students will present their topic and research to the class in order to formulate discussion and receive feedback.

The Professor Says

Meditation emerges from a very long religious tradition in which it is a central practice, and there is now a wealth of scientific research on meditation and its effects on cognition, behavior, and brain. In this class, students learn about the effects of meditation in two ways. The first is the standard approach to learning in a science course: by studying the objective, third-person research results obtained through use of the scientific method. The second approach is first-person and experiential. Our class meditates regularly as a group throughout the semester so students learn about its effects on themselves through this experience.