European Varela Awards

Francisco J. Varela

Now it’s not going to be my generation. It’s going to be the young people who get enthusiastic about this paradigm of neurophenomenology and realise that they themselves have to acquire that learning. So then in the next generation these competences can be combined.

(Francisco J. Varela)


Varela Grants

Named after the neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco J. Varela, The Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Grants (Varela Grants) have been an important and integral component of Mind & Life’s support of contemplative scientists and scholars. Francisco believed that contemplative training offers modern science novel methods for investigating human experience. In his vision, contemplative training not only provides a new domain for scientific study, but it also – and more importantly – offers resources for advancing scientific theories and models of cognition, emotion, and consciousness.

The Varela Grants were established in 2004 as a companion program to the Mind & Life Summer Research Institutes (MLSRI) and have been a critical element in supporting the development of Contemplative Science and Contemplative Studies. Since the introduction of the European Summer Research Institutes (ESRI) in 2014, Mind & Life Europe has been supporting the young generation of contemplative researchers with the European Varela Awards.


Funding remit

The Varela Grants and the European Varela Awards fund rigorous examinations of contemplative practices with the ultimate goal of providing greater insight into their cognitive, affective, neurobiological and socio-cultural effects, as well as their application for reducing human suffering and promoting flourishing. The funding program is an essential feature of Mind & Life's overall strategy of building an interdisciplinary understanding of the mind and a key vehicle for increasing the number of exemplary scientists, scholars and clinicians involved in contemplative sciences. Preference is given to interdisciplinary studies that incorporate first-person research methods (e.g., microphenomenological interviews and introspective reports on subjective experience) into traditional cognitive, behavioral, physiological, clinical, or socio-cultural research. The funding program also encourages the active collaboration of researchers with contemplative scholars/practitioners in all phases of investigation. The proposals funded under the scheme meet the highest standards of rigor in the applicant’s field of expertise, but often do not quality for the mainstream sources of funding due to their specialized / novel nature.


Impact to date

Since 2004, the Mind & Life Institute has distributed more than $2,100,000 in funding to support junior scientists in the field of contemplative science with over 150 Varela Grants. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the scholarly articles being published in top-tier, peer-reviewed, scientific journals reporting cognitive, behavioral, neurobiological, and clinical effects of contemplative practices. Amongst them, 190 scholarly articles have been published resulting from Varela Grants projects, and hundreds of scientific presentations have been given at conferences and special lectures. Furthermore, the relatively modest awards have been leveraged into more than $62 million in follow-on funding for awardees.

Through the European Varela Awards, Mind & Life Europe has supported 25 projects with more than 310,000 Euros awarded to junior scientists in the field of contemplative studies.

Research conducted with the support of Varela Grants and the European Varela Awards will be the future basis of the emerging fields of Contemplative Science and Contemplative Studies. Today’s researchers will be tomorrow’s leaders in the exploration of the mind.



To be eligible for a European Varela Award, researchers and scholars must have attended the European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) within five years of their application. This grant is intended as a career development award, and is open to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows currently affiliated with a research institution, as well as junior faculty up to their third year of university appointment.

For any questions about the European Varela Awards, please e-mail VarelaAwards(at)

EVarela Awards 2017


Seven research projects were awarded a Mind & Life Europe Francisco Varela Award in January 2018.

The 2017 awardees are: Oussama Abdoun, Michelle Carr, Liudmila Gamaiunova, Annika Lübbert, Patricia Milz, Willeke Rietdijk and Frank Schumann.

Mind & Life Europe congratulates the awardees and wishes them all the best in their research. We also extend our utmost gratitude to the Hershey Family Foundation for its support to the European Varela Awards.

Please read more on the European Varela Awards 2017 projects.

EVarela Awards 2016

Seven research projects were awarded a Mind & Life Europe Francisco Varela Award in February 2016.

The 2016 awardees are: Gabriel Axel Montes, Carlos Garcia Rubio & Catherine Andreu, Britta Hölzel, Barbara Jachs, Gesa Kappen, Anna Reebs, Michael Tremmel and Freya von Hohnhorst. 

Mind & Life Europe congratulates the awardees on their award and wishes them well in their work. We also extend our sincere gratitude to the Hershey Family Foundation for its support of this programme.

More information on the 2016 awardees