What are known as the ‘Charitable Objects’ of BASS (now INSS) are officially recorded on the UK Register of Charities as:
"To facilitate increasing awareness, understanding, respect for and support of, people’s spirituality, both in professional contexts and the wider community, by promoting:
• the critical study of all aspects of spirituality;
• education and dissemination regarding these matters;
• the development of inclusive and respectful policies and professional practices."
Achieving charitable status
The statement about 'Charitable Objects' may look simple and straightforward but it took the Executive Committee of what was then BASS more than a year not only to craft an acceptable form of words but to justify, in numerous pages of detailed paperwork, why and how BASS functioned, and why it should be formally recognised as a charity. One of the many probing questions asked by the Charity Commissioners was:
Please can you clarify whether the organisation has been established to advance education in spirituality, or whether it has been established to promote spirituality, with education used as a tool to achieve that? If the purpose is the advancement of education, is there a framework in place to ensure that the scope of operation directly furthers this purpose rather than being about promoting a perspective or promoting spirituality itself?
A shortened form of the response from BASS is as follows:
We can confirm that the purpose of the organisation is to advance education in spirituality. In addition to its interests in the academic study of spirituality, BASS has 'regard ... for the processes through which spirituality is addressed within professional practice and the wider community' in the sense of encouraging education and personal development through critical reflection by professionals in those fields where spirituality is understood as part of a 'whole-person' approach […]
As Fook et al (2015) note in their preface to Researching Critical Reflection, 'Critical reflection helps professionals to learn directly from their practice experience so that they can improve their own work in an ongoing and flexible way: something essential in today's complex and changing organizations.' One of the seminal texts on teaching and learning through critical reflective practice (Brookfield 1995: 2) suggests that a key feature of it is to 'hunt assumptions' - 'the taken-for-granted beliefs about the world and our place within it that seem so obvious to us as not to need stating explicitly [but which] give meaning and purpose to who we are and what we do'. Brookfield provides a widely-used model of how to undertake reflective practice: it involves examining one's professional work through four different 'lenses': these comprise the lens of one's own autobiography; the eyes of one's clients; the eyes of colleagues; and the lens of academic literature. Through its conferences and journal, BASS aims to provide and/or to facilitate the use of such 'lenses' by bringing together academic papers, reports, presentations and reviews and thereby enabling discussion about the study of spirituality and its implications for practice and policy.
Fook et al (2015: 2) argue that 'the increasing popularity [of critical reflection] revolves around the idea that reflective abilities will not only improve the quality and effectiveness of professional practices in nearly all fields of endeavour, but that there is also potential for greater contributions to "human flourishing"'. They point out that 'deep critical reflection ... can actually take us to the heart of what it is to be human ... this might enable a more ethical and compassionate engagement with the world and its moral dilemmas in the Socratic tradition ...'. Critical reflection is thus not only a crucial element of professional education and learning (which, in their turn, help to enhance professional practice, including heightening awareness of the needs of service users) but it also has strong links to an understanding of spirituality as a means of asking 'ultimate questions' such as ‘Who am I?' (Hunt 2015).
BASS encourages critical reflection and reflective practices through the design of its conferences. Deliberately incorporating the educational principles that underpin adult education, BASS conferences are intended not only to allow participants to engage with the 'contents' of the conference (i.e.presentations on research and practice in spirituality in all its aspects) but with one another in spaces specifically created for formal and informal discussions in both special interest groups and interdisciplinary forums. (Participants in the conferences include 'lay' people with interests in spirituality, including those who work in voluntary and community organizations, as well as academics, professional practitioners, and students).
Similarly, through the pages of its journal, Journal for the Study of Spirituality, BASS seeks to present accounts of research, theory and practice in all aspects of spirituality, and to stimulate critical thinking about what spirituality 'is' and 'does' and how it plays out in the lives of individuals and communities.
BASS does not 'promote' spirituality in general, nor any particular perspective on spirituality. Indeed, from its inception, key aspirations of BASS have been to provide a forum where studies of, interests in, and conversations and controversies about spirituality might be brought together … and explored collaboratively.
Brookfield, S.D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fook, J., Collington, V., Ross, F., Ruch, G. and West, L. (2016) (Eds) Researching Critical Reflection: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge.
Hunt, C. (2016) 'Spiritual creatures? Exploring a possible interface between reflective practice and spirituality', in Fook et al. (Eds), (2016), pp. 34-47
The British Association for the Study of Spirituality (now INSS)
was entered on the UK Register of Charities on 9 May 2016.
(Cheryl Hunt, University of Exeter, UK. November 2020)