Jessica Main

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
The outward contemplative in higher education: mindfully forging ontological security in intersubjectivity (2018)

This thesis is concerned with three fundamental questions. First, why does North American higher education minimally engage with the existential dimensions of its students (their interests and inquiries regarding the formation of their personal narratives of meaning, moral directions, and a sense of stable identity)? Second, what are the potential psychological and social consequences of such negligence? Third, how can contemplative pedagogy adequately address such existential dimensions? This thesis explores the history of Western higher education, particularly the way that changing educational philosophies and curricula of education have affected the understanding of the self. I argue that there has been a radical shift in the understanding of self in higher education. The self has been progressively ejected from its proximate temporal, material, institutional, and metaphysical surroundings. In the process, the internal self became the source for truth and ethics formerly derived from the objectivism of religion and science. With the loss of objective moral and existential facts as philosophically disputable, politically uncomfortable, and institutionally irrelevant, this new self was made to bear a heavy burden. In these conditions, minimal engagement with existential dimensions of students in higher education can exacerbate ontological insecurity, where the individual experiences an instability and discontinuity in their sense of self. I argue that ontological insecurity has become normalized within higher education, leading to the perpetuation of destructive behaviours on both individual and group levels. Contemplative pedagogy has the potential to address issues of ontological insecurity. By examining the major discourses of contemplative pedagogy, I argue that current two dominant discourses of mindfulness, scientific-psychological mindfulness and transpersonal mindfulness, are inadequate in addressing ontological insecurity. I propose supplementing mindfulness with traditional Theravada notions of dependent co-arising and the phenomenological-existentialist understanding of intersubjectivity. By integrating dependent co-arising and intersubjectivity with mindfulness, a student can be sensitized to their existential dependence on social relationships with others. Ethically sensitive relationships with others provide the fundamental source of ontological security.

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Mapping the Garden of Truth: Buddhist and Idiosyncratic Elements in the Religious Space of Shinnyo-en (2015)

New Religious Movements (NRMs) are typically understood by observers as deviant, bizarre—even pathological—forms of religion that are born in times of crisis and joined by people in crisis. This understanding, however, overlooks the similarities and often close connections between new movements and more established “parent” traditions. Shinnyo-en is a Buddhist-derived NRM that began in 1930s Japan. It has strong ties to Shingon Buddhism and is also characterized by idiosyncratic practices and an emphasis on its charismatic founding family. Like other Buddhist-derived NRMs, Shinnyo-en is simultaneously contiguous with a parent tradition and distinguished from it. Abandoning the language of pathology, I suggest that we think of NRMs in the modern period as occupying non-locative conceptual “spaces” similar to those of “established” religions, secular spaces, and other ideologies. The very meaning of the name Shinnyo-en 真如苑—the “Garden of Truth,” literally a “borderless garden” (en 苑) of “thusness” (shinnyo 真如, Skt. tathatā)—evokes the image of an expansive, cultivated space. I argue that the space of Shinnyo-en contains two modalities. In its first modality, practitioners and observers see Shinnyo-en as a modernized form of esoteric Buddhism promulgated by the charismatic founding family, which draws on ritual and doctrine inherited from the Shingon school and from Mahāyāna Buddhism generally. In its second modality, initiated practitioners experience Shinnyo-en’s idiosyncrasy, which is a function of unique practices and beliefs that cannot exist apart from the charismatic founding family. The two modalities of the Shinnyo-en tradition are equally important to members, and must be simultaneously kept in mind to best understand this and other Buddhist-derived NRMs. With this map of the Garden of Truth, Shinnyo-en’s idiosyncrasies that have hindered scholarly and popular understanding become more intelligible, especially the profound emphasis on the founding family and the novel practices and hierarchies they introduced.

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Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

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