Abel Tan Jun Yang (

Pathways to Our Desired Future Through Compassion Studies:
Transformative Learning, Transdisciplinarity and the New Human-ities

Transformative learning is basically changes in the orientational foundation of our knowledge, affecting and changing the basis of our action. It is, in a sense, emancipatory learning i.e. exploring and challenging our assumptions. If this is what transformative learning is all about then compassion studies is poised to challenge mainstream learning processes of mere social reproduction in the service of the violent and unsustainable status quo and to move society towards ‘authentic sustainability’, ‘engaged spirituality’ and a ‘compassionate future’.

Globally, we are at present going through difficult social and ecological crises. As an educational institution shaping young thinkers and leaders, what do we do? How do we respond to the growing complex crisis?

We need to reflect on the role of compassion for global healing and well-being. In this context, the SDGs have assumed the role of a global panacea. But a better and safer world cannot be achieved just through the SDGs without comprehensively changing the underlying assumptions and framework.
The framework promotes the neo-liberal agenda. It sustains the mindless growth paradigm as a given and promotes an image of harmless economic growth. In effect, the underlying assumptions and framework sustains overt and covert, retail and wholesale violence, globally — among others, growing arms sales, growing ecological collapse and growing global inequality.

SDGs are clearly blind to the many genuinely non-violent and compassionate alternatives around us. Unfortunately, it is also blind to the growing danger of the resurgence of a variant of neo-liberalism and fascism/fascist tendencies, an explosive mix. We are witnessing both ecological and social collapse, globally; even with all the  wealth around, there is increasing distribution of sites of pain and suffering, of disasters and deaths.

We need to recognise and counter assumptions that will ‘disrupt’ deeply the current unsustainable economic and political structures and processes. There is a need to challenge the deep-seated “hegemonic and unsustainable stories” that motivate and animate the regions, nations, communities and individuals. The present global efforts are certainly not ‘business-as-usual’.  But they are ‘business-as-always’. We need to educate, and conscientise, the young on the assumptions and release the scope and energies for engaging compassionately.

Guided by a compassionate orientation, there is a need to deeply transform: We look at causes not just symptoms. We look at being not just having. We look at maximum wage, not just the minimum wage. We look at affluence not just poverty. We look at distribution not just growth. We look at people not just the profit. We look at culture not just the economy. We look at service/volunteerism not just “what’s-in-it-for-me”. We look at sustainable livelihood not just careers. We look at the ‘culture of sustainability’ not just the ‘culture of economic growth’. We look at health and wellbeing not just the medico-pharmaceutical industry. We look at agroecology not just agro-chemical industry. We look at wholesome nourishment not just the food industry. We look at mobility not just the transport industry. We look at learning and being not just the education industry. We look at peace and not the war industry. We look at labour not just capital. We look at ‘push factors’ not just immigrants (documented or undocumented). We look at our compassionate foundations not our competitive spirit. We look at the non-human not just the human. We look at spirituality not just religion. We look out for all beings, not just our kind.

Compassionate foundation is therefore core in the transformative learning processes of our deeply troubled world. Compassionate studies, based on transdisciplinarity, offer conscious pathways to strengthen the compassionate foundation. And, a more humane future.

Transdisciplinarity helps us break away from the violence of silos created by mainstream social sciences and humanities to a orientation that engages with the social complexity in novel ways — we approach it as transdisciplinary entity. It allows us to conceive of the “new humanities’ as an important agenda of higher education and of our future.
It is the aim of the Centre to develop and promote courses and events that will grow research and scholarship on hew humanities and compassion studies.


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