The New Science of Compassion

This is the 3rd post of ‘The Soft Spot’ – a new section on the Naropa University blog dedicated to compassion.

In this discussion between Judith Simmer-Brown, PhD, and Gaylon Ferguson, PhD, the pair explore how much of the scientific research done in the West has focused on the negative, or what is wrong with humans/human nature. Looking at the ‘new’ science of compassion, by contrast, allows us to focus on what is right about human beings and better understand how to cultivate kindness and wellbeing.

Simmer-Brown and Ferguson also talk about evolutionary psychology and propose that “our genes impel us toward being kind to those around us.” Taking this perspective that kindness and compassion towards others are natural human qualities, Simmer-Brown and Ferguson discuss how the new science of compassion can help us address the issues facing the world today around immigration, racism, religious tolerance, and more.

Judith Simmer-Brown, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University, where she has taught as a Founding Faculty member since 1978. She studied at Cornell College (BA), Florida State University (MA), Columbia University, University of British Columbia, and Walden University (PhD). She has practiced Tibetan Buddhism for forty-five years and is an Acharya (senior dharma teacher) of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Naropa’s founder.

Gaylon Ferguson, PhD, graduated from Exeter, Yale University, and Stanford University. He received a doctorate in cultural anthropology at Stanford. A senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, he has led meditation retreats for thirty-three years. As a core faculty member at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado, he teaches both Religious and Interdisciplinary Studies. His article, “Making Friends with Ourselves” (from the collection Dharma, Color, and Culture) was selected for inclusion in The Best Buddhist writing: 2005. He is the author of Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With. (via


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