The Spiritual Values Implicit in Our Common Life

Praying HandsOften when visiting humanities classes at Campbell Hall I am deeply moved by the quality of classroom dialogue. Through Harkness, Socratic, and other methods, students learn to cite the text and build on each other’s comments, but there is also often an openness and vulnerability of heart that can only occur in a community where trust builds over time. Such classroom conversations illustrate perfectly the balancing of heart and mind in our model, and can lead to quite profound experiences of shared meaning.

Inspired by the former Dean of Middlebury College Steven Rockefeller, I have been reflecting lately on the work of John Dewey and its importance to our country and the joining of head and heart in our schools. Dewey noted that “many of his writings on the subject of religion during the latter part of his career had been ‘devoted to making explicit the religious values implicit in the spirit of science as undogmatic reverence for truth in whatever form it presents itself, and the religious values implicit in our common life, especially in the moral significance of democracy as a way of living together.’”* Willingness to follow the truth wherever it leads requires a level of self-transcendence and vulnerability that is hard to come by without some form of spiritual practice. Many of our fellow citizens on the left see religion only as a source of division and anti-intellectual obfuscation, and are not willing to acknowledge “the spirit of science as undogmatic reverence for truth” or “the religious values implicit in our common life.” Many on the right seem so focused on the letter of the religious law that they close both mind and heart in the process, immune to both facts and compassion.

Rockefeller and Columbia professor Lisa Miller are embarking on a project together to get schools to acknowledge explicitly the spiritual roots of our nation and of “democracy as a way of living together.” We will hear more about their bold project in the course of this year, but it should come as no surprise that several of the schools they are collaborating with are Episcopal schools. With our profound commitments to intellectual rigor, spiritual openness and depth, and inclusive community, Episcopal schools have found a formula with particular significance for educating future citizens for our troubled political times. 

*Steven Rockefeller, John Dewey: Religious Faith and Democratic Humanism (Columbia U. Press, 1991), p. 169.


About the Author

The Rev. Canon Julian P. Bull is the third headmaster of Campbell Hall (est. 1944), a K-12 Episcopal school in Los Angeles, California. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, his Master’s in Philosophy from Boston College, and his Master’s in Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary. Canon Bull is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.