Areté House Founders


My academic work was on the great ancient Indian Buddhist philosopher, Nāgārjuna – and it drew me into a life long love of ancient wisdom east and west. It also drew me – in many different ways – out of academia. By the time I submitted my PhD I had developed an overwhelming impulse to share the fruits of my work beyond the ivory tower. And this is principally because the wisdom of Nāgārjuna is eminently practical – it is meant to be used, applied, and brought into the concreteness and messiness of human life. The essence of Nāgārjuna’s message is that although philosophy is necessary to flourish in life, this can only happen when one steps out of philosophy altogether and into the direct experience of true understanding. In this sense, philosophy is the stepping stone to true wisdom.

I also worked and lectured in the domains of European moral and political philosophy, and it is the combination of these disciplines that has inspired me to co-found Areté House. I believe that education is the absolute key to human life, and I also believe that we’ve completely lost touch with the true meaning of education. This is a very common opinion amidst those who teach or research at university, and I thought: why not try and be positive and constructive in responding to this, instead of purely critical? Areté House is an expression of this.


I have been a spiritual and meditation practitioner my entire adult life. Throughout this time, I have always been compelled to examine how the ethos of a spiritual life sits with that of social-political engagement—how they might conflict or enrich one another. Can I be deeply engaged in a contemplative life as well as being involved in active social engagement and transformation? Or does one have to give?

This interest and tension led me to conduct a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in Peace Studies, partly animated by the optimistic though perhaps naïve idea of creating a socio-political framework based on Buddhist principles. As part of my degree I took courses in sociology, peace studies as well as Buddhist history, culture, philosophy and practice and traveled to India to study Buddhist philosophy as well as Tibetan social activism.

Successfully completing this degree, and being awarded the university medal, I completed an Honours thesis on an iconic female Buddha called Green Tara. I have always been inspired to explore notions and practices of the feminine within religious, spiritual and pagan traditions. In this research I explored what impact this female deity, known both for countering patriarchy notions within Buddhism and for being highly active in the world, had on female Buddhists’ attitudes in relation to these themes.

Following this I was awarded several scholarships to conduct a PhD, which I successfully completed on Engaged Buddhism, a Buddhist movement that integrates social activism/awareness with Buddhist philosophy and practice. After several years of teaching related courses at multiple universities, as well as private workshops and classes, in 2016 I was inspired to set up Areté House with Dr Toby Mendelson.