Exploring the Role of Emptiness Meditation for Improving Health and Wellbeing: A Mixed Methods Investigation

Project summary

The objective of the PhD is to evaluate a novel emptiness-meditation intervention in terms of its applications for improving health and wellbeing. 

The PhD programme of research will be guided by the following aims:

Following a wealth of research findings indicating the health benefits of first-generation contemplative practices such as mindfulness and compassion meditation, there is growing interest into a new category of contemplative techniques known as wisdom-based meditation practices (WBMPs). WBMPs, such as emptiness, impermanence, and non-attachment, are concerned with transmuting suffering by cultivating insight into the ultimate nature of the self and reality (Van Gordon et al., 2017). Emptiness arguably underpins all other WBMPs and implies that, due to harbouring faulty ontological beliefs, the human mind has a tendency to assign qualities of permanence and independence to phenomena in a manner that is not functionally adaptive or consistent with the way in which the self or phenomena truly exist.

Exploratory studies conducted by Dr William Van Gordon have shown that emptiness meditation is:

  1. More effective than mindfulness for fostering improvements in advanced meditators’ levels of non-attachment, positive and negative effect, mystical experiences and compassion (Van Gordon et al., 2019)
  2. Deemed to be an invaluable and accessible means of fostering intra-personal, inter-personal and transpersonal growth by both advanced (Van Gordon et al., 2019; 2018) and beginner (eg, Shonin & Van Gordon, 2015; Van Gordon et al., 2016) meditators

Based on these preliminary studies, Dr Van Gordon has formulated the first ever non-pharmacological intervention based on emptiness meditation that now needs to be rigorously evaluated for its applications for improving health and wellbeing.

A key intended output from the PhD will be the first ever evidence-based intervention specifically focusing on emptiness meditation that is intended to have widespread applications in the general population. Based on existing research trends, it is envisaged that emptiness will become an important new direction in contemplative psychology research and that its empirical investigation will continue to yield novel insights into wellbeing, wisdom, and the nature of the mind more generally.

Research group

Contemplative Psychology Research Group

Entry requirements

Applicants will need either a first-class or upper-second-class honours degree accredited by the British Psychological Society in Psychology or a related subject area.

International students may also need to meet our English language requirements. Find out more about our entry requirements for international students

Project specific requirements must align with the University’s standard requirements.

How to apply

Please contact Dr William Van Gordon (w.vangordon@derby.ac.uk) in the first instance for more information on how to apply.

The University has four starting points each year for MPhil/PhD programmes (September, January, March and June). Applications should be made at least three months before you would want to start your programme. Please note that, if you require a visa, additional time will be required. 


Self-funded by student. There is a range of options that may be available to you to help you fund your PhD.



Van Gordon, W., Sapthiang, S., Barrows, P., & Shonin, E. (2021). Understanding and practising emptiness. Mindfulness, Advance Online Publication, DOI: 1007/s12671-020-01586-1

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Dunn, T., Sapthiang, S., Kotera, Y., Garcia-Campayo, J., & Sheffield, D. (2019). Exploring emptiness and its effects on non-attachment, mystical experiences, and psycho-spiritual wellbeing: A quantitative and qualitative study of advanced meditators.Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 15, 261-272.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2017). Buddhist emptiness theory: Implications for psychology. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 9, 309-318.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Singh, N. N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness of Emptiness and the Emptiness of Mindfulness. In: E. Shonin, W. Van Gordon, & N. N. Singh (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness (pp. 159-178). New York: Springer.