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Inner dimensions and transformation can support people to live more sustainably and drive change 

A hand holding a flower by congerdesign from Pixabay.

A research initiative at LUCSUS examines how inner dimensions and transformation can support people to live more sustainably and drive change. Addressing (the causes and effects of) climate change is one of the most important societal challenges of our time. The demands for political action are becoming stronger from all levels of society, including individuals, social movements, businesses, and governmental and non-governmental organisations.

But can personal sustainability and inner transformation also have a bearing on driving change for sustainability? Professor Christine Wamsler is exploring this question in her research initiative, The Contemplative Sustainable Futures Program, which has been running at LUCSUS since 2015. She explains that

- There is growing interest in inner dimensions and transformation for sustainability. At the same time, there is a lack of comprehensive research and knowledge on the issue. To address this gap, I set up the Contemplative Sustainable Futures Program as a platform for related research, education and networking activities, which support each other. 

Christine Wamsler explains that:

- Inner transformation can simply be understood as the unleashing of human potential to commit, care, and affect change for a better life. It describes changes in the sphere of people’s inner dimensions. The latter refers to people’s mindsets, including their values, beliefs, worldviews and associated inner cognitive, emotional and relational capacities, such as self-awareness, compassion and empathy. (…) People’s mindsets are important for sustainability, because they influence how we relate to ourselves, others, the environment, and the future. They are key leverage points for change because they lie at the root of many sustainability challenges. 

Despite this situation, sustainability research, practice and education have so far focused on the external world. Christine Wamsler explains that:

- A major shortcoming of current approaches to sustainability is the neglect of people’s inner dimensions. The vast majority of sustainability scholarship, education and practice has, so far, only focused on the external world of ecosystems, wider socio-economic structures, technology and governance dynamics. Therefore, the dominant sustainability approaches have not, so far, catalysed the necessary change – despite the prominence of sustainability as a concept, and the associated goals and targets that have been set at global, national and local levels since the end of the 1980s. It is thus crucial to reform current approaches and discourses by including the issue of inner transformation in university courses on sustainability. In addition, including inner transformation in education also aims to supports future sustainability leaders to tap into their potential to activate change. Compared to traditional approaches, it aims to offer something that is more transformative for both students and teachers.

As part of the Contemplative Sustainable Futures Program, Christine Wamsler is running a course on ‘Sustainability and Inner Transformation’ under the LUCSUS Master's Program, LUMES, the International Master's Program in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science. Researchers from different universities have lectured on the LUMES course. One of them is climate researcher Karen O'Brien from the University of Oslo, who has been working with the IPCC's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others.

-  It's probably the only course of its kind in environmental studies and sustainability sciences," says Karen O'Brien. -  I think it is a great way to address and highlight things that are often not touched upon or not talked about.

Chris Ives, Assistant Professor at Nottingham University, agrees:
-  I have not seen anything like this around the world, which is as cutting edge and exciting. Spirituality and inner transformation are issues that have so far not been recognized in sustainability, and this is a course that drives these topics forward.

The Contemplative Sustainable Futures Program is partially funded by FORMAS and is an ongoing intiative at LUCSUS, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. At the end of 2020, two new research projects were accepted by FORMAS under the Program. These are are: i) Mind4Change (Agents of Change: Mind, Cognitive Bias and Decision-Making in a Context of Social and Climate Change) and ii) TransVision (Transition Visions: Coupling Society, Well-being and Energy Systems for Transitioning to a Fossil-free Society).

Since the beginning of the Program, Christine Wamsler has already published 20 articles and book chapters under the Program and is currently planning for the next ‘Sustainability and Inner Transformation’ course, which will run at the end of this year.

I have been doing research for more than 20 years in areas such as sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. This Program is one of the most rewarding and inspiring ones I have been involved in; it links all spheres of transformation towards sustainability: the individual, practical and political spheres, she concludes.

The LUMES students have also been very positive and intrigued about the ‘Sustainability and Inner Transformation’ course: - The course has really changed me, I will take this course with me, into the future; and: - It was the missing puzzle piece in the sustainability puzzle, were some reviews. 


About the Researcher

Photograph of Christine Wamsler.

Christine Wamsler has more than 20 years of experience working in risk reduction and climate adaptation, both in theory and practice. She has led many international and national projects and has published more than 150 academic articles, book chapters and books on this issue.

Christine Wamsler is Professor at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), Research Fellow at the Centre of Natural Disaster Science (CNDS), Associate of Lund University Centre for Risk Assessment and Management (LUCRAM), and Honorary Fellow of the Global Urbanism Research Group, Global Development Institute (GDI) of the University of Manchester, UK.

Read more about Christine's research and work.