Exploring Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Quaker Connections
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

During Krista’s recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was surprised to hear that he attended Haverford College, a small Quaker liberal arts school located just outside of Philadelphia. I helped with some of the Kabat-Zinn research prep and in the rush to compile links for Krista and get library books (in a state more skittish than mindful I should say), I completely missed Kabat-Zinn’s Haverford connection.

You see, I am also a Haverford graduate and, as I listened to Krista’s interview, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Haverford’s Quaker roots may have influenced Kabat-Zinn’s later study of mindfulness meditation. During my time at Haverford in the early 90s, students were not required to attend Quaker meeting, but there was a spell of about a year when I went pretty regularly on Sunday mornings. There I experienced what it’s like to sit in silence with others (on hard wooden benches no less).

After some unsuccessful Google searches, I contacted Haverford this week to see if they had any insights to share about Kabat-Zinn and a possible Quaker connection. Coincidentally, Haverford is putting the final touches on a feature article about Kabat-Zinn that will appear in the spring 2009 alumni magazine. Writer Gloria Hochman Eils Lotozo, from Haverford’s communications office, commented:

"He didn’t say there was a direct correlation between Haverford and meditation, but that his time there in that kind of intense, philosophical environment set the groundwork for his later excursions into meditation."

I also learned that he lived in French House, which at that time looked out over the college’s iconic duck pond (I’ve posted a picture above so you can see the kind of view Kabat-Zinn may have enjoyed from his dorm room). He studied German, French literature, and Italian opera in addition to majoring in chemistry. Kabat-Zinn — known as Jon Kabat back then — graduated in 1964 when the college was still all-male and students were required to attend fifth day meeting. The yet-to-be published alumni magazine article reports that philosophy professor Douglas Steere had a big influence on him. Kabat-Zinn is quoted describing Steere’s legacy as “a kind of ethics and ethos that had to do with truthfulness and authenticity.”

If we can get an advance copy of the article, we’ll post it here in the coming weeks.

(photo: VictoryGrey/Flickr)


4/28/09 Update: Haverford has released a profile on Jon Kabat-Zinn entitled “Mediator in Chief” in their spring 2009 alumni magazine. You can link to it here.

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