Archive: Circle in Academia

March 1, 2005
By Sarah MacDougall, PhD

This post has been moved from its original location at and archived here, so you can continue to access it.

Is there a doctor in the circle? Yes! Announcing A The Circle Way Dissertation!

This month's circle tale is written by one of our teaching colleagues, Sarah MacDougall, PhD, who tells the story of circling her way through academia. We are delighted to see the circle being researched and brought to higher education. We know of a number of master's levels theses, but this is the first doctorate we are aware of. Congratulations, Sarah.

I have a passionate belief in the transformative power of The Circle Way circling based on my own experience. In 1993, in a The Circle Way circle, I was invited to open my whole self, my emotions, my body, my intellect, and my spirit. It was scary to allow my intellect to reduce its grip and to feel safe enough to trust that the circle would hold me as parts of myself I had neglected re-emerged, but I felt at home and whole. In retrospect, I see that I was being prepared to enter the academic world and investigate The Circle Way circling, engaging mind, heart, and spirit in the pursuit of knowledge that would further understanding of the transformative potential of The Circle Way circling.

Twelve years later, on February 18, 2005, surrounded by a number of The Circle Way colleagues who had supported and participated in my doctoral research, I presented my dissertation to the faculty of the School of Educational Leadership and Change within Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA. What a joyous occasion. We set the context for my presentation by showing the inspirational DVD (a gift from FireHawk Hulin,, using music and images to engage people’s hearts. We called the circle with drumming and rattling to invoke sacred space. Within this sphere, I spoke about my research journey including my struggle to translate the intuitive experience of circle into an academic discourse. Of course, this research was destined to be successful because my Peers were an integral part of the entire process and Spirit surrounded us and was in charge of outcome!!

Calling on Spirit: An Interpretive Ethnography of PeerSpirit Circles as Transformative Process is the title of this dissertation (note to reader: The Circle Way was previously known as PeerSpirit). For three years I interviewed people from a variety of circle traditions, observed in circles, relied on the insight and backing of my The Circle Way focus group, and searched existing literature for evidence of circle as a universal process and symbol in human history and for evidence of its re-emergence in contemporary settings. The research findings, which I presented in the context of the sacred Medicine Wheel to honor the indigenous cultures from which circle emanated, support the idea that The Circle Way circles foster personal and collective transformation leading to social action designed to create a more just and equitable world. This research also confirms that circle process requires structure in order to create a container strong enough to hold and witness individual transformative experiences. The underlying structure of The Circle Way circles (principles, practices, agreements, guardian) provide a way for us to come together that counteracts the dominant social patterns of hierarchy and individualism and therefore offers a means to create a new way of being in community based on ancient values.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be of service to The Circle Way and to the world. As The Circle Way circles continue to spread, our chances for transforming the world to one in which peace and harmony prevail are increased. There is hope for a bright future!! And when we are in circle, that future is already residing with us.