‘The constant hum of the engine…’: A story about extraordinary interdisciplinary dialogues in spirituality and wellbeing — Sara MacKian

Special Issue 11 (1) 2019 “Exploring the spiritual in music: Interdisciplinary dialogues in music, wellbeing and education” – Article (first published on 24 November 2019)

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‘The constant hum of the engine…’: A story about extraordinary interdisciplinary dialogues in spirituality and wellbeing

Sara MacKian

The Open University, UK


Spirituality is problematic, contested and controversial, yet popular. Across health and social care services practitioners are now being encouraged to pay more attention to the diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices which patients and service users may bring with them to consultations. However, it remains a problematic concept due to its subjective, and occasionally contentious, nature. If spirituality is to serve as a useful construct, then, the challenge for us all is to become a little more comfortable with some of its more uncomfortable dimensions; to develop an openness to pushing its boundaries, exploring its potential and recognising its rightful place in our modern disenchanted and secular age. I use this paper to explore reflections on how and where we may encounter the spiritual in unexpected ways, as I believe that only by being open to these challenges, can we begin to understand the full diversity of ways in which spirituality might play a role in therapeutic encounters and more broadly in supporting wellbeing. In doing so, I hope to stimulate critical but creative engagement with a varied spiritual dialogue, encouraging practitioners to put the spirit –and their spirit– right back at its heart. This a research-based paper incorporating original data alongside personal reflections on the experience of researching in this field. The paper has been developed from my keynote address at the 4th Nordoff Robbins Plus Research Conference in London in 2017.


spirituality, wellbeing, spirit, Spiritualism, otherworlds, therapeutic landscapes, research, participant observation


Sara MacKian, Senior Lecturer in Health and Wellbeing, The Open University, UK.A geographer by training Sara’s research is wide ranging but the driving theme is a curiosity for how people and organisations interact around issues of health, wellbeing and meaning-making. Recently, she has been exploring the use of alternative spiritualities by individuals and organisations to enhance wellbeing and the role of spirituality more broadly in contemporary British society. Using social science and art combined, she explores the relationship between the real and the imaginary, the body and the spirit, this world and the otherworldly. She has a particular interest in qualitative methods and creative approaches to social science research and learning. [sara.mackian@open.ac.uk]