Faculty Reflections

Reflections as a faculty member at Spalding University

Spalding has much in common with the nonsectarian, at times even nonreligious academic values of inclusiveness, scientific rigor and openness to other ideas.

By Ken Linfield, PhD

In the early months of my predoctoral internship, I was looking at ads for faculty positions for the following year, and I read one from Spalding University. I had heard the name, but I did not know much about the place, so I went to their webpage. I discovered that it is a Catholic University, but then I read the statement on non-discrimination, which included a reference to sexual orientation. Because this was fourteen years ago, those two simple points were not ones I expected to find describing the same university, and I was not sure how they might fit together.

Fourteen years later, as the Director of Graduate Training in our APA accredited PsyD program, with a much more detailed understanding of Spalding and of our doctoral Psychology program, I continue to see the same two elements, although I now perceive them as integrated as opposed to being in conflict. I am still not sure exactly how to label the element that I noticed in the non-discrimination statement, but it is a broadly inclusive approach, and here are some indicators of it. A number of my colleagues among the psychology faculty as well as across campus would identify as having no religious affiliation (in addition to the number of colleagues who do identify with a specific faith), and many of them are clear that they feel at home at Spalding. Many of our graduate clinical psychology students say they appreciate the program’s approach that does not endorse a specific religious or sectarian perspective. Spalding’s service that corresponds to a Baccalaureate, which was a Catholic mass at one time, is now an interfaith Prayer of Blessing ceremony. I suspect there are many colleges and universities that have similar indicators, and Spalding has much in common with the nonsectarian, at times even nonreligious academic values of inclusiveness, scientific rigor and openness to other ideas.

The other element I saw years ago and have seen more since is what I would call Spalding’s sensitivity to and strong affirmation of religious and spiritual approaches to life. The University was founded by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, an order within the Roman Catholic Church. Of course many colleges have historical connections with churches that mean less today. But in Spalding’s case, the history continues to guide our choices. Our mission statement is well-known in our community: “Spalding University is a diverse community of learners dedicated to meeting the needs of the times in the tradition of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth through quality undergraduate and graduate liberal and professional studies, grounded in spiritual values, with emphasis on service and the promotion of peace and justice” [emphasis added]. Although some mission statements are mostly words on a page, at Spalding, it has tangible meaning. For example, in the last academic year the roughly 2,400 Spalding students provided well over one million hours of service to the community. It is not surprising that Spalding was recently designated the first “Compassionate University” by the Compassion Action Network International, which also speaks to its explicit commitment to its mission. Spalding’s president, Tori Murden McClure, the first president at Spalding who is not a Catholic, notes that Compassion is a wonderful way of identifying the common ground of spiritual commitment among the diverse religious affiliations of our faculty and students.

In addition to the general climate at Spalding, many of my colleagues in psychology and throughout the University are very serious about their religious faith and about making specific choices based on it. Students who raise questions about addressing issues of faith in clinical settings commonly find that their supervisors speak from personal experience as well as with regard to professional practice issues such as considerations about the role of a therapist and multicultural competence. A number of my psychology colleagues include spiritual and religious measures in their research and address issues of faith implicitly or explicitly in their clinical practices. Although students at our program, like students in many other places, may be challenged to think about issues of faith in ways that may not always be easy, there is support for raising those questions and for responses that have room for the personal faith of the student as a psychologist.

There are also a number of specific opportunities for students who care about integrating faith within clinical psychology. Every other year, I teach an undergraduate course on “Psychology of Religion”. I invite graduate students to be guest lecturers as a way to help them gain skills in teaching in general and specifically with this topic. Over the years, a number of students have participated in research projects with explicit elements of faith. Currently, two students are working with a colleague from a nearby institution on a follow up investigation of a spiritually-based intervention. Other students have written dissertations on religious and spiritual topics ranging from the effects of intercessory prayer to religious/spiritual coping by children with chronic illnesses to collaborative projects with churches addressing barriers to psychological services. Students at Spalding have many resources to help them think about the issue.

Yesterday, as I was working on a report, a first-year student in our doctoral program walked by my open door, and we said hello. He paused, then he slowly said, “Here’s a question for you. How do you combine faith and science in clinical psychology?” When I told several colleagues about the student’s question, they all roughly guessed the first part of my answer “Do you have five hours?” Integrating faith and science is not an easy or a simple thing. In some ways, I have been working on it for many of my 55 years, and I am still not finished. Talking fully about the various complications and possible solutions would take a very long time. Because I am at Spalding, I could have added, “See our Mission Statement” or “With Compassion.” I actually said, “Well the quick answer is that I believe God is the God of Truth, so to the degree that science provides insight into truth, it can never be a threat to my faith.” Not only is that my quick answer, I think it is one of the Spalding answers. In any case, the student nodded, appearing satisfied for now. And I am sure we will be talking more.

Ken Linfield is an associate professor and the director of graduate training for the School of Professional Psychology at Spalding University. He was awarded a PhD from the Clinical/Community Division of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign in 1999, and an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1983.