Research

Research and scholarship are highly valued in all SpIRE activities. The members of the SpIRE team are involved in research and development in a wide range of areas such as spirituality and health, spirituality and social concern, spiritual autobiography, spirituality and childhood, spirituality as an academic discipline, contemplative education, and spiritual tourism. A few of the team exercise international leadership roles in the field of spirituality studies.

In order to advance its commitment to a lively research culture, SpIRE members collaborate in and lead a unique Research Group (SpirSoP – Spirituality in Society & the Professions) at WIT: www.wit.ie/spirsop

Three recent MA graduates have been registered for PhD studies at WIT.
CURRENT PhD PROJECTS AT SpIRE
Diane Jackson
Christian Mysticism and Contemplative Practices in the Reformed Traditions Today: A Multiple Case Study of Leading International Teachers
The terms ‘mysticism’ and ‘contemplative practices’ are largely eschewed by the Reformed traditions both in Ireland and elsewhere. Many Protestant Christians have no conceptual frame of reference when it comes to these terms; as they do not appear in scripture or in doctrinal aids such as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, or The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which since the mid seventeenth century, have been used as a teaching basis for an introduction to evangelical Christian faith. Yet, influential Protestant teachers are present in the field. For the researcher, who is a Protestant Christian, this has, in recent years caused a ‘holy envy’ and led to the research question of what could mysticism and contemplative practices offer Christians in the Reformed traditions in their daily life and in social practice? The narratives and teachings of the collective case study subjects will be interrogated to discover pathways to incorporating contemplative practices, while remaining within a Reformed tradition.
Liz Murray
“More than Rucksack and Hiking Boots”: An Investigation of Spiritual Practices which can enrich the Experience of Pilgrims walking Pilgrimage Routes in the South East of Ireland
Given that pre-Covid up to 150 million people visited religious sites each and every year, it is evident that spiritual tourism is a flourishing activity. This thesis will investigate how the ancient pilgrim paths in the South East of Ireland which incorporate so many elements of old Irish / Celtic spirituality may be developed as attractive spiritual tourism sites for contemporary pilgrims. It is notable that the Irish pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago each year are amongst the top ten most numerous national groups, so nationally and internationally the expected impact of this project seems promising.
There is a great abundance of potential pilgrim routes in the South East of Ireland. The proposed PhD seeks to (i) Identify central elements of the pilgrimage experience as identified by returned Camino walkers who live in the South East; (ii) Develop an in-depth profile of four potential pilgrim routes of the South East; (iii) Analyse participant responses to sample pilgrim events on the four sample routes; (iv) Calibrate the findings against the insights of members of the Board of the British Pilgrimage Trust regarding authentic pilgrimage experience; (v) Propose a Plan of Action for developing a suite of sustainable, tourist-attractive, authentic pilgrim routes in the South East.
The central research method will be semi-structured interviews carried out with a sample of returned Camino walkers. Using a uniform set of questions with all participants will allow space for the emergence of other questions that arise through personal pilgrim experience.
This project will ultimately contribute to creating a stream of new activities within the Ireland’s Ancient East brand; it will support communities in Ireland’s South East in designing local, unique pilgrimage offerings; the findings have the potential to inform micro / niche / slow pilgrimage offerings internationally.
Tara Travors
Hunger for Food, Hunger for Life: The Inner Spiritual World of Women who have Overcome Eating Disorders
The Health Service Executive (HSE) estimates that almost 190,000 Irish people will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives, of whom three quarters are women. Eating disorders have the highest mortality and morbidity rates of all the mental health disorders. Therefore, the need for a diverse, effective range of interventions is acutely recognised.
The aim of this exploratory study is to investigate the contributions made by spiritual teachers/practices to the journey of recovery from eating disorders for women in Ireland aged between 35 and 65. International research has found “growing empirical evidence that spiritual approaches to treating clients are as effective, and sometimes more effective, than secular ones.” (Richards et al., 2018). No research has been conducted in Ireland to assess the extent to which women have used spiritual interventions in recovery from eating disorders. However, articles in the media have provided descriptive accounts of effective spiritual interventions assisting in the journey of recovery.
This study will identify useful spiritual interventions by conducting deeply reflective interviews with women who have given media accounts of their journey. It will analyse and distil the stories of participants to identify characteristics of spiritual resilience specific to Eating Disorder recovery.
For this project, desk based, narrative, and contemplative research methodologies will be employed. The methodology will be Heuristic/phenomenological – to understand vivid accounts of the lived experience of participants.
The HSE’s National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders (2018, p.110), states the need for “specialist care” for spiritual issues. This project has the potential to incorporate the spiritual dimension into eating disorder recovery models by developing healthy whole-person-centred pathways of recovery, that is a psycho, social, bio and spiritual model of care. The findings of this study will inform and influence future directions of treatment for those suffering with eating disorders.
Some of the publications of Bernadette Flanagan and Michael O’Sullivan can be found at researchgate and academia.edu.
Research projects and publications involving Michael O’Sullivan, and Bernadette Flanagan as co-authors:
“Spirituality and Education.” In The Routledge International Handbook of Spirituality in Society and the Professions, ed. Laszlo Zsolnai and Bernadette Flanagan, 435-443. London: Routledge, 2019.
“Spirituality in Contemporary Ireland: Manifesting Indigeneity”. Spiritus – A Journal of Christian Spirituality (Fall 2016): 55-73.
“Developing Agreed and Accepted Understandings of Spirituality and Spiritual Care Concepts among Members of an Innovative Spirituality Interest Group in the Republic of Ireland”. Religions 2016, 7(3), 30; doi:10.3390/rel7030030; link: http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/7/3/30
“Serenity Spirituality Sessions: A Descriptive Qualitative Exploration of a Christian Resource Designed to Foster Spiritual Well-Being among Older People in Nursing Homes in Ireland.” Religions 2015, 6(2): 299-316. Link: http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/6/2/299.
Spiritual Capital – Spirituality in Practice in Christian Perspective, co-editors. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.
Recent PhDs by members of the SpIRE Advisory Team
Noelia Molina and Bernadette Masterson, two doctoral students of Dr Bernadette Flanagan, Chair of SpIRE, graduated with PhDs in the field of spirituality studies from All Hallows College, Dublin City University, in November 2015. They were among the participants in the spirituality cluster of MA by research and PhD in spirituality led by Dr Michael O’Sullivan, the Director of SpIRE.
L-R: Bernadette Masterson, Bernadette Flanagan, Michael O’Sullivan, Noelia Molina
L-R: Bernadette Masterson, Bernadette Flanagan, Michael O’Sullivan, Noelia Molina
Noelia Molina and Bernadette Masterson
Dr Michael O’Sullivan, the Director of SpIRE and Dr Bernadette Flanagan, Chair of SpIRE
PhD Dissertation: Bernadette Masterson, ‘Spiritual Awakening Amongst Women in Ireland with Chronic Invisible Illnesses: An Exploratory Study’
Thesis Abstract
This qualitative study explored the phenomenon of spiritual awakening in the lives of ten women in Ireland with chronic illnesses which have been subjected to invalidation by the medical profession.
An autoethnographic exploration of the researcher’s personal experience, through writing and analysing a personal narrative, was central to a methodological approach which employed a blend of autoethnography, narrative inquiry, hermeneutics, intuitive inquiry, and phenomenology.
This study aimed to fill a lacuna in the literature by employing the theoretical frameworks of psychosynthesis theory and the conceptual maps of contemplative psychology to explore how losses incurred in chronic invisible illness experiences may lead to a deeper level of consciousness exhibiting transpersonal characteristics such as peace, creativity, alertness to non-ordinary perception, ecological awareness, and altruism.
The chief discovery arising from this study was that it is a particular form of injustice (testimonial), with its traumatic wounding, that was the key to spiritual awakening. The unique seven-stage model presented here contributes a heuristic model of chronic invisible illness experience as a path to the Self for women. Its implicit optimistic paradigm has implications for a re-framing of chronic illness experiences not merely as negative phenomena, but as potential gateways to spiritual awakening.
PhD Dissertation: Noelia Molina, ‘The Transition to Motherhood as Enactment of Spiritual Awakening: An Exploratory Study’
Thesis Abstract
This thesis explored the transition to motherhood in dialogue with spirituality perspectives. Informed by a poststructuralist feminism and post-modernism philosophical framework, the study addresses the role of spirituality on lived maternal experiences through the three temporal points of the transition: pre-natal, birth and post-natal. These three points, relying on women’s past, present and future maternal memories, reflections and expectations, gave full scope to the unique maternal narrative.
Employing organic and intuitive research methods, this qualitative study describes rich data from interviews with four mothers in an initial pilot study and from an extended study of a further seven mothers’ unstructured interviews. The data is described in two forms: seven unique maternal narratives that elucidate and give voice to the mothers in their transition and NVivo thematic analysis. The main themes emerging from this analysis are: spiritual embodied experiences, instinctual knowing, identity, crisis, connections, change and transformation. These themes contribute to qualitative spiritual knowledge in the maternal literature. Unique spiritual maternal capacities are also investigated showing the relevance of the study for childbearing women, researchers of women’s health, and maternal caregivers.
The proposed exploratory maternal framework in this study (transpersonal, humanistic, philosophical, spiritual intelligence and spiritual emergence/emergency) can be accommodated and applied in future spiritual maternal research in diverse settings.
PhD Dissertation: Noel Keating, ‘Children’s Spirituality and the Practice of Meditation in Irish Primary Schools: A Phenomenological Exploration’
Thesis Abstract
This thesis explores the child’s experience of meditation in the context of a whole-school practice in Irish primary schools and its impact on children’s spirituality. There has been limited research into the impact of meditation on children, in particular on its spiritual fruits in their lives. This research seeks to discover and describe how children experience the practice of meditation, the practical benefits they consider they gain from it, and the nature of its impact, if any, on their spirituality.
The research uses a phenomenological, hermeneutic, mystagogical methodology. Using purposive sampling, seventy children, aged from 7 to 11 years, were interviewed. The study is original in that the interview protocol contained novel processes designed to elicit from children their experience, if any, of the transcendent in the practice of meditation and in its depth of analysis of the spiritual fruits of the practice. These processes include photo-elicitation and an original method, the Selection Box, designed to enable children to reflect on the comments of their peers. These methods proved to be very effective in giving voice to the views of the children, enabling them to give metaphorical expression to their experience of the transcendent through the practice of meditation. These methods may have application in other areas of human sciences research.
The research identifies four themes linked to the experience of meditation: simplicity, serenity, self-awareness and heart-awareness and presents a phenomenological description of the child’s experience of meditation. It identifies three pragmatic benefits: that meditation calms and restores, generates energy and confidence, and improves decision-making. Regarding spiritual fruits of the practice, the work presents a heuristic model showing how meditation deepens children’s self-awareness, awakens the heart to the true-self, nourishes their spirituality and inspires them toward more authentic living. The study stresses the importance of personal spiritual experience and concludes that the regular practice of meditation has the capacity to enkindle and nourish the innate spirituality of children, counter the tendency toward ‘true-self denial’ and build community self-presence. It supports the introduction of meditation in primary schools on a whole-school basis.
MA in Applied Spirituality Dissertation Titles
A taught MA in Applied Spirituality has been running in Ireland since 2001 and it has been described as ‘potentially world-leading’ by an international external examiner. The programme in its first form ran at Milltown Institute, Dublin as a Milltown Institute programme and was awarded by the National University of Ireland from 2006. A similar version of the programme ran at All Hallows College as an All Hallows programme and was awarded by Dublin City University from 2010-2015. A third version of the programme (2016f) is now awarded by Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and the programme is also a WIT programme. However, the programme is hosted and supported by SpIRE in Dublin. This is the first time in Ireland for an MA in Applied Spirituality to be awarded by an Institute of Technology.
Noel Keating, who completed his PhD in spirituality with WIT following the closure of All Hallows College, graduated with an MA in Applied Christian Spirituality from All Hallows College (Dublin City University) in 2013. The photo shows him with Dr Michael O’Sullivan, SJ, Programme Director of the MA and Director of SpIRE being presented with the medal for academic excellence across all the taught MAs at All Hallows College in 2012-13. Dr O’Sullivan has been programme director/leader of this MA since 2005 and has been prominent, also, in designing and developing the MA over the years and in leading it through different institutional accreditation processes.
Michael O'Sullivan & Noel Keating

The following is a selection of MA dissertation titles which formed part of the taught MA in Applied Spirituality that Michael and Bernadette have done so much to forward and develop since it began in 2001. A greater number of dissertations from 2016f has been included than from the pre-WIT years of the programme. Several of the MA graduates have had books published arising from their dissertations. In honour of the MA being 20 years on the go in 2021, SpIRE has compiled a list of publications that it is aware of by graduates since the MA started.

Dissertations

A list of some of the dissertations by MA in Applied Spirituality graduates according to the year of completion and starting with the most recent graduation year.
Name and YearDissertation TitleCompletion Year
Aine Jackson-DunneSpirituality and Transcendence in Choral Singing: An Heuristic Inquiry2021
Ann O'Kane
2020-21
A Contemplative Encounter with the Spiritual Vision of Georgia O’Keefe2021
Anne Kennelly
2020-21
Trasna Na Dtonnta (Over the Waves): The Concept of the Anam Chara (Soul Friend) as Illuminated in Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis2021
Bert Van Embden
2020-21
Spiritual Care of the Elderly 2021
Eilin Teeling
2020-21
Enhancing Mid-Life Spirituality in the Presence of a Tree2021
Flor O'Mahony
2020-21
Spirituality and Tertiary Education in Majority World Countries: Exploring Level Six Curriculum2021
Joseph CliffordThe Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching and its Place in Parish Communities2021
Karen Lea Engelbretsen
2020-21
Intercultural Community Living: From Vision to Reality2021
Liviu Caliman
2020-21
Michael O’Sullivan and David R. Hawkins on Spirituality Research, Authenticity and Self-Transcendence2021
Marius Cassidy
2020-21
Oh God, Who Are You…and Who am I?
COVID-19 Health Measures and The Spirituality of Older Men Living Alone
2021
Michael Mara
2020-21
Thus is God: The Incarnation as Revealed through the Hands of Jesus2021
Valerie Murphy
2020-21
A Mystagogy of Woodlands and Forests (Perceptions of Associated Spirituality2021
Aideen Dunne
2019-20
Leadership and Spirituality
2020
Aisling Brennan
2019-20
The Movement of Spirit in Musicians in Performance2020
Andrea Hayes
2019-20
The Spirituallity of National Parks2020
Caroline Lundy
2019-20
The Spirituality of the Labyrinth2020
Catherine Bourke
2019-20
An Exploration of How Spirituality Presents in the Lives of Irish Millenials2020
Catherine Lowry O'Neill
2019-20
Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart: A First Person Organic Inquiry into Visio Divina2020
Gabrielle Farrell
2019-20
Via Feminina: A Pathway to Wholeness2020
Kerri Clough
2019-20
Animal Spirituality: Spiritual Dimensions of Non-Huamn Animal Lives2020
Liz Barry
2019-20
More than just a Birdbath Francis: Franciscan Spirituality and the Environmental Crisis2020
Louise Daly
2019-20
The Spiritual Dark Night of the Feminine: A Woman's Search for Meaning in the 21st Century2020
Margaret Scully
2019-20
Celtic Pagan Spirituality in Contemporary Ireland: Ceremony and Ritual for Child Blessing2020
Okeremute Okeregha
2019-20
The Spirituality of Women in the Context of Extractive Industries2020
Patrick Murphy
2018-19
The Significance of Nature for People Living in a Rural Irish Setting in Spiritual Context2020
Vivien Squire
2019-20
The Cross: Trauma, Transformation and Healing in Women's Lives2020
Yvonne O'Donovan
2019-20
Saints Ite: Wisdom of the Indwelling Spirit: Am Exploratory Study of Celtic Spirituality as Contemporary Guide2020
Anita Maryam
2018-19
Exploring Indigenous Spirituality: A Kutchi Kohli Case Study (Pakistan)2019
Annabel Esman
2018-19
Spiritual Emergency and Postmodern Spirituality: An Autoethnography2019
Diane Jackson
2018-19
School Gate Spirituality: A Heuristic Study2019
Geraldine Mulholland
2018-19
To Investigate the Motivation, Passion, Vocation and Commitment of Lay Chaplains and the Challenges Faced by Them in Developing the Spirituality of Young People2019
Helen Higgins
2018-19
Ecxo-Spiritual Approaches for Cosan na Naomh Pilgrims2019
Irene Balzan 2018-19Spirituality during a Time of War: An Exploratory Study of Meaning-Making, Resilience and Witness in Missionary Religious Women2019
Kathleen Lyng
2018-19
The Spirituality of Laudato si - From Text to Local Action2019
Michael Kelly
2018-19
Rites of Passage for Young Irish West of Ireland Men - An Exploration of how Irish Indigenous Wisdom could be Incorporated into Richard Rohr's Male Rites-of-Passage Programme2019
Noel O'Driscoll
2018-19
An Exploration of Hospitality as a Path towards Spiritual Transformation2019
Pradeepika Perera
2018-19
The Lived Spirituality of the Consecrated Women Envisioning the Future in the Sri Lankan Context2019
Sandra Dumond
2018-19
Spirituality and the Third Phase of Life2019
Terry Mitchell
2018-19
An Investigation into the Spiritually Transformative Experience of Reading Psalms 118, 78:1-39, 1442019
Colm Kennedy 2017-18Spirituality and Leadership in Business2018
Emma Smith
2017-18
An Exploration of the Inner World of Experience of the Eco-Spiritual Intuitive and its Transformative Potential2018
Jimmy Myerscough 2017-18Shaping their Father’s God: Narrative Research into What Christian Fathers Learn about God through Parenthood2018
Margaret Maung 2017-18Transformational Leadership and Spirituality: A Study of Women Religious Congregations in Myanmar2018
Monica Delaney 2017-18How are the Spiritual Needs of Members Being Met in Emerging Christian Communities in Ireland Today?2018
Petra Pajdakovic Sebek
2017-18
Spirituality in the Selfie Culture of Instagram2018
Priscilla Fitzpatrick 2017-18A Mother’s Relationship with God as Influenced by the Spirituality of her Children: Discerning the Presence of God in Mother and Child Relationships2018
Eduard Obuf 2016-17Exploring Cinema as Spiritual Experience2017
Gabrielle Jin 2016-17How People from a Christian Background Assimilate the Practice of Mindfulness2017
Kevin Farrell 2016-17Walking as Spiritual Practice2017
Lesley O’Connor 2016-17Visio Divina – An Investigation of Emerging Trends2017
Mary Keane 2016-17Spiritual Resources for Single Women in Ireland to Sustain Them on their Journey2017
Michael Punch 2016-17Landscapes of the Spirit in North Inner-City Dublin2017
Paddy Banville 2016-17The Spiritual Journey of Homosexual Catholic Priests2017
Carmel Keane 2014-15Intuitive Inquiry and the Encounter with AMMA: The Personal Experience of Irish Devotees2015
Aine Campbell 2013-14An Exploration of the Spirituality of Catherine McAuley Informing the Spirituality for Sisters of Mercy: Through the Lens of Radical Wisdom Theory2014
Elizabeth Fletcher 2013-14Spirituality in the Face of General Anaesthesia: A Qualitative Study2014
Noel Keating 2012-13Exploring the Contours of the Child’s Experience of Christian Meditation2013
Patricia Nguyen 2012-13The Longing for Home: Images of ‘Home’ and their Spiritual Meanings2013
Kathleen Geaney 2011-12Contemplative Practice / Meditation: A Meeting Place For Transformative Dialogue Between Buddhists and Christians in Myanmar2012
Ken Hannaway 2011-12Exploring the Relationship between Christian Spirituality and the Professional Approach towards Suicide Prevention2012
Noel Brosnan 2011-12Unitive Consciousness for Contemporary Middle-Aged Irishmen: An Autoethnographic Study2012
Caroline Stratton 2010-11Exploring the Role of Christian Spirituality in the Lives of Young Adults in Contemporary Ireland2011
Geraldine White 2010-11How Men Cope with the Transition to Retirement: The Role of a Spiritual Dimension2011
Laurie Engesser 2010-11The Relationship between Spirituality in Twelve Step Addiction Recovery and Attachment to a Higher Power2011
Sean O Faircheallaigh 2010-11“The Three who are in the great pouring Sea” – God and Nature in Spirituality: An Examination of Gaelic Vernacular Prayers2011
Suzanne Kelly 2009-10Encounters with Ultimate Reality: An Exploration of the Spiritual Challenges of Death and Dying2010
Senan D’Souza 2008-2009The Spirituality of Gardening2009
Ann Gallagher 2007-08God in the Writings of John McGahern: The Spiritual Dimension Underlying his Writings2008
Ann O’Farrell 2007-08The Journey from Desire to Mystical Longing in Leonard Cohen: An Articulation of Postmodern Spirituality2008
Carol Milton 2007-08“For your Hidden Self to Grow Strong”. A Study of Adolescent Spiritual Formation and its Potential Role in Suicide Prevention2008
June Kennedy 2007-08Is Spirituality Implicit in Ecological Practice, Literacy and Discourse?2008
Margaret (Rita) Kelly 2007-08Towards a Transformative Spirituality: Exploring Stress and Trauma among Missionaries in Ministry2008
Marion Dooley
2007-08
An Alternative View: The Poet Patrick Kavanagh offers a Contemplative Eye on Life2008
Mary E. Keating
2007-08
The Family - Womb for the Spiritual Life of the Young Child2008
Niamh Kelly 2007-08Pilgrimage in Glendalough as Spiritual Experience2008
Eoin Garrett 2006-07The Language of the Soul made Audible: An Investigation of Spiritual Effects of Liturgical Music on the Worshipper2007
Grainne Putney 2006-07God on the Streets: Exploring the Lived Spirituality of People Who Are Homeless2007
Mary O’Brien 2006-07Poem Making as Meditative Practice2007
David Halpin 2005-06The Spirituality of Questioning Catholics: Balancing Loyalty and Dissent2006
Ruth Harris 2005-06An Exploration of the Theme of the Wounded Healer in the Context of Bereavement Following Suicide2006
Sorcha Woods 2005-06Children’s Spirituality: Nature as a Source of Spiritual Experience for Children2006
Anne Ryan 2004-05Depression and Spiritual Growth2005
Sally Hyland 2004-05God, Hidden in the Marginalised2005