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A Public Policy Paradigm Informed By Science And Spirituality

Updated: Jun 2

By Divya Bhatnagar

 

When policy is evidence-based it becomes effective and when it is informed by spirituality it gets wiser.


The public policy landscape is making great strides by utilizing science and data analysis to

its advantage. The policy cycle over the years has integrated the rigor of scientific inquiry

through monitoring and evaluation techniques that analyze a policy’s impact. This feedback

helps policymakers tweak the initial policy for better results. Thus, the policy cycle is

completed with an effective feedback loop of meticulous review, testing, and outputs.

Public policy analysts try to make it as accurate and objective as possible – also a key

characteristic of a scientific investigation. Many scientific and mathematical models are also

adopted by social scientists in decision making such as quantum-like framework. At the end

of the day, however, the public policy process in democracies is a result of both evidentiary

inputs as well as the trade-off between vested interests and political salience. Hence there is

a need for wisdom in addition to data in making effective public policies.


The values underlying a scientific study are exploration and curiosity – of the external. It

makes sense to us to apply the rigor and objectivity of a scientific study to a social science

field because we trust the scientific process that relies on empirical evidence. It goes well

with the present temperament of our globalized world - something that gained popularity

around the mid-19th century - wherein we have consistently emphasized the rational,

observable, measurable side of things. It has indeed given us great results - from the

development of CRISPR-based molecular scissors for gene editing and getting to know the

enzymes behind cell communication to the captivating discovery in astronomy of the direct

image of a black hole!


Another field that is surprisingly similar in most ways to science and possesses similar values

as a scientific study is spirituality. The values underlying a spiritual inquiry are also

exploration and curiosity – of the internal. It should be noted, that whenever ‘spirituality’ is

mentioned here, it will mean secular spirituality. It is understandable though that in these

times our brain by default connects spirituality to religion - possibly because of the popular

(and populist) narrative set up for us and by the exploitation and misappropriation of the

idea of spirituality. However, that is exactly the opposite of what I aim to indicate here.

Secular spirituality is concerned with inner knowing. It makes efforts to explore and

understand our inner dimensions, recognizes the profound interconnectedness of the

universe, and sees the resemblance of our being in rest of the nature. This kind of

spirituality unveils the eternal thread of interconnectedness and interdependence of all

beings – humans, animals, plants, nature, our planet, and the universe. It also recognizes

and meditates on the paradoxes existing in nature: of the unity of all beings and their

individual differences; of the minuscule size of human beings against the grand backdrop of

the universe and their astonishing ability to unravel the secrets of that very universe.

Surprisingly enough, just like science, spirituality too requires a lot of rigor and a need to let

go of ideas that don’t make sense.


Science and spirituality have crossed each other’s paths more times than we realize. Both of

them seek to explore fundamental questions about existence, consciousness, and the

nature of reality. For example, some interpretations of quantum mechanics point towards

the interconnected and interdependent nature of our reality by suggesting that our reality is

fundamentally shaped by consciousness, a concept that is also explained by relativist

ontology. Ideas similar to the spiritual principle of holism – that the parts of a whole are

deeply interconnected such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and therefore

cannot be understood just by examining its individual components - have been found to

exist in science across time, space, culture, and thinkers – ranging from mathematics and

medicine to quantum physics. It is interesting to note how medicine benefited from the idea

of holism:


“In health care, the holistic philosophy of caring for the sick in Vedic times is being

utilized today to define well-being, and the ‘holistic health care’ model is recognized by

the National Institutes of Health, the United States primary agency for biomedical and

public health research. The ‘holistic health care’ model deems the dependence of health

problems on the balance of relationships among the person, the environment, and the

universe. In fact, by the 1970s, two schools of thought prevailed in the nursing field. One

group considered human beings to be wholistic in nature where the sum of parts equals

the whole and the human body can be separated into independent parts and treated in

isolation. The second group considered the body, mind, and spirit to be inextricably

unified and in a constant dynamic equilibrium. Therefore, to treat a body according to

the holistic paradigm was to restore the lost balance of the person with himself or

herself, other beings, and the universe.” [1]


The objective of comparing and connecting concepts found in both science and spirituality is to bring home the point, an idea in fact, that just like science, there is a good possibility that the field of public policy can also benefit from relevant lessons from secular spirituality.

Policies can evolve into their wiser and more sustainable forms if policymakers and

politicians can keep their minds open to identifying appropriate ideas from spiritual

traditions. However, caution should be exercised in distinguishing spirituality distinctly from

religion and ideas that divide, harm, or create disharmony in ourselves and others. If the

feeling of divinity or our interconnectedness does not come from within, if it is not

understood or experienced personally, then there is a good chance that spirituality will fall

into the trap of superficial interpretations – something that occurs more often than its

sincere versions.


I often contemplate how spirituality can enhance our understanding of the philosophy of

education and therefore improve our education framework and policies. I imagine that such

a comprehensive education framework will recognize diversity in the learning trajectories of

students and invest in more personalized learning plans or that it will reimagine the grade

hierarchy (that is expecting students to be at certain grade levels according to their age

range like grade 9, grade 10, grade 11, and so on) and the grading system that are so

ingrained in our institutional memory. I believe similar understanding could guide health,

economic, and environmental policies, and the way we approach governance and institution

building. It could also produce policies and politics that are inclusive and integrative.


In summary, considering our present global challenges maybe it is time that we put some

trust in true spiritual inquiry in addition to the science-backed approaches and see how it

could improve our public policies. This would require us to together shift our mindsets while

being conscientious of misrepresentations and the cosmetic usage of spiritual ideas.

 

[1]"A Holistic View to Approach Sustainable Development: Spiritual Roots and Evidence from Quantum Physics"; (withPatra, S.) in Singh and Bhatnagar Eds. (Dec 2023). Applied Spirituality and Sustainable Development Policy, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 149-166. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-83753-380-020231008

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