SpIRE Spirituality Institute


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.

Some of the publications of Bernadette Flanagan, Michael O’Sullivan, and Fiona Timmins, can be found at researchgate and academia.edu.

Bernadette Flanagan

Bernadette Flanagan

Bernadette Flanagan



Michael OSullivan

Michael O’Sullivan

Michael O’Sullivan



Fiona Timmins

Fiona Timmins

Fiona Timmins



Research projects publications involving Fiona Timmins, Michael O’Sullivan, and Bernadette Flanagan as co-authors:

“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.

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

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 and was awarded by the National University of Ireland from 2006. A similar version of the programme ran at All Hallows College as a Dublin City University award from 2010-2015. A third version of the programme is now awarded by Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). This is the first time in Ireland for an MA in Applied Spirituality to be awarded by an Institute of Technology.

Michael O’Sullivan & Noel Keating

Noel Keating, who is currently completing his PhD in spirituality with WIT, 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.

The following is a selection of MA dissertation titles which formed part of the taught MA in Applied Spirituality that Michael and Bernadette have been involved with since it began in 2001.

Ann O’Farrell 2007-08 The Journey from Desire to Mystical Longing in Leonard Cohen: An Articulation of Postmodern Spirituality
Senan D’Souza 2008-2009 The Spirituality of Gardening
Suzanne Kelly 2009-10 Encounters with Ultimate Reality: An Exploration of the Spiritual Challenges of Death and Dying
Caroline Stratton 2010-11 Exploring the Role of Christian Spirituality in the Lives of Young Adults in Contemporary Ireland
Geraldine White 2010-11 How Men Cope with the Transition to Retirement: The Role of a Spiritual Dimension
Laurie Engesser 2010-11 The Relationship between Spirituality in Twelve Step Addiction Recovery and Attachment to a Higher Power
Sean O Faircheallaigh 2010-11 “The Three who are in the great pouring Sea” – God and Nature in Spirituality: An Examination of Gaelic Vernacular Prayers
Noel Brosnan 2011-12 Unitive Consciousness for Contemporary Middle-Aged Irishmen: An Autoethnographic Study
Kathleen Geaney 2011-12 Contemplative Practice / Meditation: A Meeting Place For Transformative Dialogue Between Buddhists and Christians in Myanmar
Ken Hannaway 2011-12 Exploring the Relationship between Christian Spirituality and the Professional Approach towards Suicide Prevention
Noel Keating 2012-13 Exploring the Contours of the Child’s Experience of Christian Meditation
Patricia Nguyen 2012-13 The Longing for Home: Images of ‘Home’ and their Spiritual Meanings
Elizabeth Fletcher 2013-14 Spirituality in the Face of General Anaesthesia: A Qualitative Study
Aine Campbell 2013-14 An Exploration of the Spirituality of Catherine McAuley Informing the Spirituality for Sisters of Mercy: Through the Lens of Radical Wisdom Theory
Carmel Keane 2014-15 Intuitive Inquiry and the Encounter with AMMA: The Personal Experience of Irish Devotees