The BASS / INSS story
It is never easy to pinpoint exactly when and where ideas, activities and aspirations coalesce and give rise to something new. However, the origins of BASS, now INSS, can be traced at least as far back as 2007, to a cliff-top hotel at Ravenscar on the UK's North Yorkshire coast - and a small conference entitled Making Sense of Spirituality, hosted by the 'Interdisciplinary Spirituality Group' based at the University of Hull. At that time, interest in spirituality as an aspect of practice was growing within a number of professions, businesses and voluntary organisations, particularly in relation to holistic care and education, and to wellbeing. The implications were beginning to be explored in the contexts of research and postgraduate professional education in several universities, and there was increasing recognition that the study of spirituality requires an interdisciplinary and interprofessional approach.
Roads to Ravenscar
Route 1: Working towards an interdisciplinary Centre for Spirituality Studies
Prior to the Ravenscar event, Margaret Holloway, Professor of Social Work at the University of Hull, had brought together a number of researchers and scholars who had interests in spirituality but who worked in different departments and faculties. The initiative culminated in a one-day conference in 2005, entitled Towards Transcultural Spirituality. Funded through a British Academy Visiting Professorship grant awarded to Margaret and Professor Cecilia Chan from the University of Hong Kong, the conference prompted discussions about the possibility of formally establishing an interdisciplinary ‘Centre for Spirituality Studies’ at the University of Hull.
Route 2: Building on developments in spirituality in nursing and healthcare
Discussion also took place at the Hull conference about whether/how an existing but loose network of spirituality researchers in nursing and healthcare might be strengthened and developed more formally.
The network had begun to emerge as early as 1996 as a result of the first UK conference on spirituality in healthcare. Entitled Body & Soul, this had been organised by Mark Cobb and Vanesa Robshaw, and chaired by Julia Neuberger; speakers included Linda Ross and Jonathon Porritt. (The conference resulted in one of the early UK books on spiritual care: The Spiritual Challenge of Health Care). Interest in the field had been maintained through further conferences: Wilfred McSherry and Linda Ross were keynote speakers at the third conference in 1999 and, together with John Swinton, organised the first international student nurse spirituality conference in 2004 (an event which continues to be held biennially).
Following the 2005 Transcultural Spirituality meeting in Hull, Wilf, Linda and John held discussions with Christopher Cook, Peter Gilbert and Aru Narayanasamy with a view to creating a formal network; they were later joined by Bernard Moss, Rob Merchant and a number of other colleagues with similar interests. Several members of the group subsequently participated in, and reported on their work at, the Ravenscar conference.
(Alongside efforts to establish BASS as a consequence of the Ravenscar conference, Linda Ross and Wilfred McSherry also continued to consolidate work on spirituality in nursing. Together with Tove Giske, Donia Baldacchino, Rene van Leeuwen and Aru Narayanasamy they formed the European Spirituality Research Network for Nursing & Midwifery (ESRN) which went on to lead the way in establishing spiritual care competencies for nurses and midwives across Europe through the EPICC Project [2016-2019] (supported by significant Erasmus+ funding) and in establishing the EPICC Network to further develop best practice in nurse/midwifery spiritual care education internationally.)
Route 3: Exploring spirituality as a dimension of lifelong learning
In a parallel development, interest had grown in the role of spirituality in adult education/lifelong learning. In 2001, Cheryl Hunt convened a symposium on the topic at an international conference in London in which, among others, Leona English (from Canada) and Elizabeth Tisdell (from the USA) took part. It led directly to a successful proposal for funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council which enabled Cheryl to convene a seminar series between 2003-2005 on Researching spirituality as a dimension of lifelong learning. A core group (Josie Gregory, Cheryl Hunt, Cathy Ota, Martyn Percy, Paul Tosey, Joan Walton and Linden West) used a co-operative inquiry approach to record, reflect upon, and consider the implications for research and practice of issues arising from the series and their own work-in-progress. Following publication of the final report of the series in 2006, Cheryl was invited to present a paper (co-authored with Linden West) at a Canadian conference entitled Learning in Community. It prompted a discussion with Peter Jarvis (the long-standing editor of the International Journal of Lifelong Education) and other interested colleagues about the possibility of creating an international, interdisciplinary journal with a focus on research in spirituality. Peter’s enthusiastic advice was simply to ‘make it happen!’ (see Hunt 2019: 3). A month later, Cheryl participated in the Ravenscar conference – and the various initiatives, ideas and enthusiasms developed by people travelling on hitherto different roads began to coalesce.
The Ravenscar conference (24/25 July 2007)
By 2007, the work of the Interdisciplinary Spirituality Group at Hull had been consolidated and a key function of the Making Sense of Spirituality conference was to launch the newly-created Centre for Spirituality Studies (CSS) at the University. Convened by Margaret Holloway at the Raven Hall Hotel, the conference attracted nearly 50 participants, some from as far afield as Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malta, South Africa and the USA as well as from various parts of the UK. Keynote speakers and topics were:
· Carl Becker (Professor of Comparative Thought, University of Kyoto, Japan) 'What do we mean? Making sense of the concept of spirituality'.
· Peter Gilbert (Professor of Social Work and Spirituality, Staffordshire University, UK) 'Where are we coming from? Making sense of spirituality in the community'.
· Dennis Klass (Emeritus Professor, Webster University, USA) 'How do we practise? Making sense of spirituality in our work'.
· John Swinton (Professor of Divinity and Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen, UK) 'How can we understand? Making sense of spirituality through research'.
The final plenary session was entitled ‘How can we collaborate?’ One suggestion was to form an umbrella organisation that would link centres like CSS throughout the UK. Wilf McSherry and John Swinton reported on the progress made by the nursing and healthcare group, including its intention to create a similar organisation but with a focus on developments in their own particular professional context. The Ravenscar conference concluded with a proposal to build on and extend all this work by establishing an umbrella organisation/network which would include centres, groups and individuals with interests in spirituality in a range of applied disciplines and academic departments, including theology.
Shaping and naming the organisation
The Minutes of an early meeting (3 March 2008) of the ad hoc group which subsequently came together to take this proposal forward record:
Creation of the National Association
Name: Discussion took place about proposed name - do we need national in the title if we want to open this up in the future. ... A point was raised about use of the word ‘study’ - is this the correct word to have in the title? It seemed the word study would give the association a gravitas and credibility. Previous discussions around the creation and title of the association had suggested ‘Association for the Study of Spirituality in Health and Theology’. A point was raised that this approach could be quite narrow and exclusive. It was agreed that we need a title that is short and punchy. Should the title have the word practice or applied? Again discussion took place that this would come under use of the word ‘study’. There seemed to be some agreement that the constituency of the proposed association or society would determine the scope of the title but we would not be able to accommodate everyone.
Proposed titles are:
- · Association for the Study of Spirituality (ASS)
- · Society for the Study of Spirituality (SSS)
- · British Association for the Study of Spirituality (BASS)
- · British and Irish Association for the Study of Spirituality (BIASS)
- · United Kingdom Association for the Study of Spirituality (UKASS)
- · Research Education and Practice of Spirituality (REPS).
These are to be circulated around the group for them to vote by the end of March 2008.
At the same meeting it was agreed that charitable status should be sought for the organisation. This would require a constitution to be established and actioned. Martin Aaron was to be invited to advise on this in the light of similar work he had undertaken on behalf of the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum. The terms of reference were to be developed by a working executive which would be representative of the different centres, groups and individuals currently involved in the project. An Executive Committee was established, comprising:
Chair: Simon Robinson
Deputy Chairs: Margaret Holloway and John Swinton
(Margaret to take the lead on convening a conference)
Secretary: Wilf McSherry
Associate Secretary: Linda Ross.
Other Executive Members: Tim Couchman; Cheryl Hunt; and Bernard Moss
(Cheryl to take the lead on establishing a journal)
As the first elected President of BASS, Edward Bailey (2011: 11), subsequently noted ‘With no designated funding and no permanent meeting place, the group took what might be termed a leap of faith in deciding to follow the dual pathway of establishing a formal Association and hosting an international conference’.
By the end of 2007, the University of Hull had formally ratified the creation of the Centre for Spirituality Studies (CSS) with Wilf McSherry as Director, Margaret Holloway as Director of Research and Conferences and Jane McAteer as part-time Administrator. With the approval of the CSS Executive, Margaret later secured an expansion of Jane’s role in order to provide some administrative support for the development of the as-yet-unnamed BASS.
After much debate, ‘British Association for the Study of Spirituality’ was adopted in early 2008 as a working title for the new organisation, with the proviso that this could be discussed and, if appropriate, changed (to include, for example, ‘European’ or ‘International’) when the title and constitution were brought to the first General Meeting of the Association. It was agreed that BASS should seek formal recognition as a ‘Company Limited by Guarantee’. Plans were put into operation to launch the Association in early 2010 and to hold an international conference soon afterwards. A full draft proposal to establish a journal with the provisional title International Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Spirituality was circulated and discussed, and subsequently submitted to a commercial publisher.
By this point, the interests and expertise of those involved in creating BASS encompassed the academic disciplines and practice constituencies of nursing, social work, mental health, education, business and management, psychiatry, clinical psychology, religion, theology/pastoral theology, counselling and chaplaincy.
Problems and progress
Throughout 2008/9, the Executive group continued to meet when and where it could but, since the fledgling Association had no funding of its own, travel expenses often had to be tied to funding to attend other meetings or met out of members’ own pockets. The provision of meeting rooms was dependent on the generosity of (or the proverbial ‘turning of a blind eye’ by) members’ institutions/organisations.
Further discussions took place about the use of ‘British’ in the Association’s title, and what might be an appropriate logo and strapline. Suggestions for the latter included ‘exploring spirituality in research, education and practice’; ‘creating space through research, education, practice’; and ‘spirituality for today’s world’. The final choice, ‘Research ~ Education ~ Practice’, remains in use. The logo (the ‘three floating commas’), which also remains in use, was chosen from among several designs produced by Carl Schofield, a designer in the Print Unit at the University of Hull.
A potential problem arose about the use of ‘British’ in the title when it was pointed out that the acronym for the Association, BASS, is the trademark of a long-established brewery. Subsequent legal inquiries ascertained that beer and the study of spirituality could co-exist – as long as the latter did not adopt the red triangle and script lettering used in the marketing of the former! A different problem emerged during the process of registering BASS as a Limited Company when it was discovered that the formal use of ‘British’ in any title requires Government permission (which was eventually obtained).
Such practical problems aside, the title has always begged questions, particularly as the reach of BASS has grown through the several international conferences it has subsequently convened. Indeed, at the first (Cumberland Lodge) Conference in 2010, representations were made by international delegates that it should be an international association. As the Association began to take shape, however, there was concern that it should not over-reach itself. Arguments for using ‘British’ rather than ‘International’ in its title ranged from the need to explore spirituality in a national context before trying to encompass developments elsewhere, to the potential difficulties (in a pre-Zoom world) of including international representation on the committee. At the formal launch of BASS John Swinton made it clear that:
The organisation titles itself as ‘British’, not because of any desire to be parochial or exclusive. Quite the opposite: BASS is committed to open dialogue across cultures and between nations. Nonetheless, the organisation does believe that there is something unique about British culture and about the ways in which spirituality is emerging and developing within it that requires focus and intentional conversation.
We hope that, over time, the field of spirituality will find coherence and drive; and that, in some small way, BASS will be seen to have contributed to the development of a field of enquiry that makes a difference, both now and in the future. (Swinton 2011: 13,16)
A decade later, with international representation on both the Board of Directors and Trustees of the Association as well as the Editorial Board of its journal, itself with an increasing proportion of contributions from around the world, adoption of the ‘International’ moniker was finally deemed appropriate. The mission statement of the International Network for the Study of Spirituality encompasses and takes forward the initial hope that its founder-members had for BASS: to contribute to research in, and the development of, a field of enquiry that makes a difference, both now and in the future.
Pulling it all together
There were inevitably many tensions inherent in pulling together all that needed to be done in the three-pronged endeavour to (a) establish BASS on a legal footing with an approved constitution; (b) convene its first international conference; and (c) develop a journal.
The first step towards legal recognition of the Association required agreement to be reached on how its objectives should be expressed. Much discussion was eventually distilled into the statement that:
The purpose of BASS is to:
- · encourage the further study of spirituality in its practical and theoretical aspects;
- · strengthen the teaching and learning of spirituality as an academic and professional discipline;
- · encourage dialogue about spirituality with different faiths, professions and interest groups;
- · encourage and facilitate scholarship and research in spirituality, through the development of a journal and joint collaborative research projects;
- · establish an international journal of the association;
- · hold a biennial conference.
The daunting task of hosting a conference on behalf of a not-yet-established organisation with no funding, website or database of its own was taken forward by Margaret Holloway. She was supported by a planning committee comprising members of the Executive, with additional contributions from Robin Gutteridge, Dave Hufton and Jonathan Smith, and advice from international colleagues: Carl Becker (Japan), Dennis Klass (USA) and Claudia Psaila (Malta). Bernard Moss generously helped to pump-prime the administration by drawing on funding associated with his National Teaching Fellowship. Plans were further boosted when Margaret successfully obtained a significant Conference Support Grant from the British Academy . Additional contributions and endorsements came from the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum (NSMHF); the National End of Life Care Programme; the Higher Education Academy; and the Montgomery Trust (see Chair's Report). Arthur Hawes joined the conference planning committee, and subsequently the Executive, as a representative of the NSMHF.
Cumberland Lodge, situated in Windsor Great Park, was chosen as the conference venue, partly because of its proximity to the transport interchanges of London, but mainly because its relatively small size and beautiful, peaceful, surroundings seemed to lend themselves to dialogue about the study of spirituality. Significantly, the ethos of Cumberland Lodge, with its aspiration to ‘promote progress towards more peaceful, open and inclusive societies’, mirrored the values that many of the founder-members of BASS held and hoped to embed within its organisation. The ensuing relaxed and ‘conversational’ nature of the conference became a model for all subsequent BASS conferences.
While the conference plans were taking shape, those for the journal stalled. The proposal was rejected by two potential publishers because of its interdisciplinary nature; doubts about spirituality as a rigorous field of academic study; and concerns about its financial viability. The possibility of affiliation with an existing journal was considered and, to this end, Edward Bailey, Editor of Implicit Religion and Director of the Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion and Contemporary Spirituality, was invited to attend a meeting of the Executive Committee to discuss the nature of the field and what potential there might be for future collaboration. Edward continued to contribute to the work of the Executive in a consultative capacity and was instrumental in drafting much of the documentation which eventually fed into the constitution and legal standing of BASS. However, negotiations with other publishers were also pursued and BASS was eventually able to establish its own journal.
Coming into being
The British Association for the Study of Spirituality was formally launched in London on 29 January 2010 in the prestigious surroundings of the Charterhouse. Facilitated by Arthur Hawes, the event included an optional tour of parts of Charterhouse which were not at that time open to the general public. As a member of the group observed, it seemed fitting to be celebrating an historic moment for BASS in a venue which claims to have ‘been living the nation’s history since 1348’!
The inaugural speech was given by John Swinton as Acting Chair of the Association (Simon Robinson having stepped down as Chair some months before). Re-viewing the event a decade later, John observed: ‘The Charterhouse launch was the culmination of multiple minds, much passion and many invaluable gifts of time.’ (Swinton 2020: 6). The observation also holds true for the subsequent development of BASS
Plans for the first conference and the establishment of a journal both came to fruition in May 2010 when more than 100 delegates from around the world gathered at Cumberland Lodge for a conference described as ‘a ground-breaking interdisciplinary initiative’ (see the Chair’s Report). It included six keynote lectures, more than 50 papers presented in parallel sessions, and two roundtable workshops. Janet Joyce, Managing Director of Equinox Publishing, was in attendance and the announcement was made at the gala dinner that Equinox had entered into an agreement with BASS to publish a new journal, to be entitled Journal for the Study of Spirituality (JSS).
The conference culminated in the first General Meeting of BASS and the formal election of an Executive Committee. John Swinton and Margaret Holloway had decided to step down from their roles as Acting and Deputy Chair, respectively, but were willing to remain members of the Executive; Bernard Moss did not seek election because of his forthcoming retirement. The following people were elected to the Executive by a vote from the floor:
President: Edward Bailey
Vice Presidents: Arthur Hawes and Wilf McSherry
Membership Secretary: Linda Ross
Other Executive Members: Janice Clarke; Tim Couchman; Peter Gilbert; Margaret Holloway;
Cheryl Hunt; John Swinton.
Ex-officio member representing JSS: Josie Gregory
There were no nominations for Treasurer but the role was subsequently taken on by Martin Aaron.
What happened next (a potted history!)
Martin Aaron completed the process of registering BASS as a Private Company Limited by Guarantee: the Certificate of Incorporation was issued by Companies House on 2 March 2011, with all 12 members of the newly-elected Executive becoming Directors of the Company (Company No. 7549446). David Rousseau successfully steered BASS through a lengthy process towards inclusion in the UK Register of Charities on 9 May 2016 (Registered Charity No. 1166990) (see Achieving charitable status)
The first issue of the Journal for the Study of Spirituality was published in May 2011, with Cheryl Hunt as Chief Editor; Peter Gilbert, Margaret Holloway, Linda Ross and John Swinton as Executive Editors; and Josie Gregory as Book Reviews Editor.
Comings, goings, and events
Tim Couchman resigned his Directorship of BASS in November 2011 having been instrumental, with his colleague Robert Nesbitt, in setting up the Association’s first website. Margaret Holloway also resigned as a Director in 2012 having been seconded to the National End of Life Care Programme, but remained on the Editorial Board of JSS. She was subsequently co-opted back onto the BASS Executive Committee to convene the 2016 conference. The 2012 and 2014 conferences were convened by Arthur Hawes. John Swinton took the lead on liaising with colleagues in the European Conference on Religion, Spirituality and Health (ECRSH) in convening a joint conference in 2018.
Chris Cook, a keynote speaker at the 2012 conference, joined the Executive Committee that year and later became a Director. He was elected President in 2014 when Edward Bailey completed his four-year term of office. Other Officers elected (or re-elected) at the same time were Arthur Hawes and Cheryl Hunt as Vice-Presidents; David Rousseau (who had been co-opted onto the Executive in 2013) as Company Secretary; and Linda Ross as Membership Secretary. Later in the year, Helen McSherry succeeded Martin Aaron as Treasurer; and Melanie Rogers joined the Executive as a representative of the Student Support Network (SSN). Michael O’Sullivan, a member of BASS since its inception, was co-opted onto the Executive in 2017 as a representative for international members. Later co-options included Joan Walton as convenor of the 2020 conference; Sophie MacKenzie as social media co-ordinator for the SSN; Robyn Wrigley-Carr as an international representative for JSS; and Adam Boughey to support work on the website.
During his term of office, Chris Cook enabled the BASS website to be hosted at the University of Durham, with Charidmos (Harry) Koutris as the web administrator. Chris’s retirement from BASS in 2018 and the need to relocate the website led to a decision by the Executive Committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the Association. David Rousseau and Cheryl Hunt acted as Co-Chairs during the review period, key outcomes from which were proposals that (a) BASS should change its title to International Network for the Study of Spirituality (INSS); (b) Executive roles should be redefined; and (c) a completely new website should be developed.
The name change required approval of the BASS membership. This, together with approval of the appointment of Directors and Trustees for the new Network, was given at the Annual General Meeting in June 2020. The meeting was held virtually as a consequence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which had also led to the postponement of the 2020 conference. In November 2020 plans to reschedule the conference as an online event in June 2021 were announced and the new website for the International Network for the Study of Spirituality was launched.
(Cheryl Hunt, with additional material and memories from fellow founder members of BASS:
Linda Ross, Margaret Holloway, Wilf McSherry and John Swinton. November 2020)
About the network
The INSS is a unique international network for people interested in bringing the study of spirituality to life through research, scholarship, education and practice.
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