News and Updates

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rewiring the Brain: A new book from Dr. Kirk Bingaman, GSRRE

Pastoral Counseling and Neuroplasticity:

Rewiring the Brain to Lower Stress and Anxiety

Kirk Bingaman’s new book explores how recent findings in neuroscience can help in pastoral and spiritual care.Photo by Janet Sassi

By Joanna K. Mercuri

If Jesus were a neuroscientist, talk of “plasticity” might have made the final cut of his Sermon on the Mount.
It turns out that when he counseled his disciples, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,” Jesus was tapping into a concept that neuroscientists say could reduce stress for our hyperanxious society.

At Fordham, Kirk Bingaman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, is taking his lead from these neuroscientists and arguing that those who find solace in the sermon would also benefit from what science has to say. In his latest book, The Power of Neuroplasticity for Pastoral and Spiritual Care (Lexington Books, 2014), Bingaman suggests ways pastoral and spiritual caregivers can draw on contemporary neuroscience to help their clients and congregants relieve undue anxiety.

“We hear it in the Sermon on the Mount and we hear it in our churches today—don’t worry about tomorrow, stay centered in today. We grasp it intellectually, but how, practically, do we not worry?” said Bingaman, who is also a pastoral counselor.

In the book, Bingaman explores the impact that an adaptive mechanism known as the negativity bias has on our well-being. An evolutionary cousin of the “fight or flight” phenomenon, this bias describes the brain’s propensity to experience negative events more intensely in order to alert us to potential danger.

A built-in negativity bias was vital when humans lived as hunter-gatherers ever at the ready to flee from a hungry lion. In the modern world, however, this bias tends to cause excessive negativity and anxiety.

“[This] anxiety spills over into our relationships with others and with ourselves,” Bingaman said. “It causes us to assume the worst, to overreact to situations in ways such as, ‘Why did you look at me this way? Why did you use that tone?’”

Fortunately, he says, we are not condemned to primal negativity, thanks to the human brain’s capacity to change across the lifespan. With every new experience—creating a memory, learning new information, or adapting to a new situation—the brain undergoes structural changes, generating new neural pathways and reshaping existing ones. This ability, known as neuroplasticity, forms the crux of Bingaman’s book.

He argues that the most effective way to harness the power of neuroplasticity is through mindfulness meditation and contemplative spiritual practice. Through these therapeutic and spiritual techniques, clients learn to become aware of their thoughts and feelings. Rather than reacting to or trying to eliminate them, clients learn to simply observe them as they come and go, without getting “hooked.”

“Thoughts and feelings have a 90-second shelf-life biochemically. So when we experience an anxious thought or feeling, [the reaction] will dissipate from the blood in 90 seconds—unless we feed the thought or judge ourselves for feeling that way,” he said. “The key to mindfulness-based therapy is to let thoughts and feelings come and go without fighting them. This then reduces the limbic activity in our brains and calms the amygdala.”

These practices—which are so well-regarded that they are central to the “third wave” of classical cognitive behavioral therapy—can take a variety of forms and be applied in both religious and nonreligious settings. For example, one might spend 15 minutes each day sitting quietly and focusing on the ebb and flow of his or her breath. Alternatively, one might practice something like the Christian centering prayer, in which the practitioner meditates on a “sacred word” (such as “Jesus,” “God,” or “love”) while learning to modulate the many other chaotic thoughts that crowd the mind.

Bingaman says that these practices, informed by the science of neuroplasticity, will “necessitate a paradigm shift” in the way pastoral and spiritual caregivers approach their work with clients, especially clients whose anxiety may have been exacerbated by their own religious beliefs.

“When a theology views the spiritual quest as a matter of warfare—as a battle within the person, or as a matter of good versus evil and flesh versus spirit—that activates neural circuitry that causes stress,” he said. “If we overdo that construct, the person in our care might see himself as flawed and defective, and that could end up reinforcing the negativity bias.

“Whether it’s therapy or theology, we need to look at the frames of reference we are using to help the person in our care to calm their anxious brain. Some of our approaches are going to fire up the limbic region, and others will do the reverse,” he said. “So we have to make more use of contemplative practices in religious and spiritual circles… They’re not just for the mystics off in the desert. They’re for you and me and everyone else.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dr. Kirk Bingaman has published his third book

The Power of Neuroplasticity for Pastoral and Spiritual Care (Lexington, 2014). The book focuses on neuroscientific findings, which reveal that through regular contemplative-meditational practice we can learn how to calm the fear and stress regions of the brain. It provides practitioners and clinicians with an understanding of how the findings can be applied to the work of pastoral and spiritual care, as we go about helping clients and congregants to cultivate less anxious and more positive perspectives on life.   

Serving the Church on the Margins in America - a joint event with the Catholic Extension Society

The Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education
Catholic Extension present

Fordham-Serving the Church on the Margins in America
Location: Duane Library's Tognino Hall - Fordham University Rose Hill Campus 
Date: Wednesday, October 22nd 2014
Time: 6:00pm 


Our Panelists: 
Fr. Shay Auerbach is a Jesuit priest who works with indigenous people in the Diocese of Richmond, Virgina. Fr. Shay studied at Fordham University as a Jesuit Scholastic
The Most Reverend John Kevin Boland, Bishop Emeritus, Diocese of Savannah has served his entire priesthood in the missions in southern Georgia. Bishop Boland received his degree at Fordham through the sponsorship of Catholic Extension. 
Veronica Rayas, Ph.D., is a Latina native of El Paso, Texas,  who currently serves as the Diocesan Director of Religious Education. Through Catholic Extension Dr. Rayas achieved her Master's degree at Fordham University; she then completed her Ph.D. while working for the Archdiocese of New York.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

College of St. Benedict names alumnus of GRE, MaryHinton, as 15th President

Mary Dana Hinton became the 15th president of CSB on July 1, 2014 in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She received her Ph.D. in religious education from the Fordham University GSRRE, a Master of Arts degree in clinical child psychology from the University of Kansas, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Williams College. She most recently served as the vice president for academic affairs at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. “I am humbled by the opportunity to lead an institution with such a powerful liberal arts tradition that is grounded in Benedictine values of the founding order,” Hinton said.

Hinton is the author of "The Commercial Church: Black Churches and the New Religious Marketplace in America." Her research is on African American religious history and religious education, and strategic planning and leadership. She has served on several national higher education boards: including the Association of General and Liberal Studies, the Religious Education Association, and the Mid-Atlantic Religion of the American Academy of Religion.  Here is more information on her celebrations.

Hinton and her husband, Robert Williams, have three children: Hallela, Hillel and Hosanna.

The inauguration of Mary Dana Hinton, Ph.D., as the 15th president of College of Saint Benedict will be Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014.The events begin with an inauguration Eucharist at 10:30 a.m. in the Sacred Heart Chapel, Saint Benedict's Monastery.

Monday, September 8, 2014

God, Christ, the Church, and Salvation C. Colt Anderson, Ph.D., presenter

God, Christ, the Church, and Salvation
C. Colt Anderson, Ph.D., presenter

Explore and deepen your understanding of essential doctrines and the Nicene Creed, and their relation to spiritual life and practice. 
Friday, Octoebr 17th 2014
10:00am to 1:00pm
Fordham Westchester Campus

Registration $100, Fordham Alumni $50, Current Graduate Religion Students FREE
Lunch to be provided

Vineyard Workers’ Workshops meet all standards for lay ministry certification through the National Association of Lay ministry!

To find out more information as to how you can earn CEUs for this and other workshops offered by the GRE, please contact your local parish or diocese.

Registration is not yet available, please check back later.

Dr. C. Colt Anderson, Ph.D., is Dean of the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham University.

A church historian and theologian, his research focuses on the intersection between three areas of concern: the
communication of the Gospel evangelization), how to reform the church, and the importance of an eschatological perspective for Christian life.

Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campus

Monday September 8, 2014 | 6:00pm

Tognino Hall | Rose Hill Campus | Fordham University | Bronx, NY

Donna Freitas, Ph.D., will discuss the findings of her research about students attitudes regarding hookup culture, sex, romance, and dating on college campuses today, and how a pervasive interest in spirituality fits into this mix. She will talk about the powerful--though often private--yearnings among men and women to find love during college despite the dominance of hookup culture, and the particular ways the Catholic tradition can respond to this yearning, as well as the desire for something other than hooking up during the college experience. 

Donna Freitas has written many books, both nonfiction and fiction. She is the author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses, published by Oxford University Press in 2008. Her follow up title, The End of Sex, came out from Basic Books this past April. Freitas has written for national newspapers and magazines, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Newsweek, and she has appeared on NPR, The Today Show, and other news media outlets discussing her work for Sex and the Soul as well as other research topics. Freitas has been a professor at Boston University in the Department of Religion and also at Hofstra University in their Honors College. She is currently a non-resident Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. She lives in Brooklyn. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dr. Beaudoin gives summer presentations in Holland, England and to new teachers in the Archdiocese of New York

This summer, GSRRE's Dr. Tom Beaudoin gave a number of talks and lectures in the US and in Europe.  Here is a partial summary of this busy summer.

GSRRE's Prof. Tom Beaudoin gave a presentation on Wednesday August 27th to high school religion teachers at the New York Archdiocese Summer Seminar in Manhattan, titled " 'But the Other Nine, Where Are They?' Declining Church Affiliation Among Teenagers".

This summer the Dutch magazine Kerk en Wereld published this story and picture, from the April conference in Zwolle for chaplains and pastoral workers that Dr. Beaudoin keynoted, "Beyond Dispossession," a conference based on themes from his 2008 book _Witness to Dispossession_.

GSRRE's Prof. Tom Beaudoin, associate professor of religion, gave a plenary address at a conference at Heythrop College in London on June 26. The conference, "Shaped By Beauty: Art, Religion, and Ethics in Conversation," was co-sponsored by Heythrop and by Fordham. Prof. Beaudoin's address is titled "Facilitating Life: An Ethic for Making Theological Sense of Music."