Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experience

Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experience

Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experience

Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experience

Synopsis

It is now generally accepted that the structure and function of the human body deeply influence the nature of human thought. As a consequence, our religious experiences are at least partially determined by our sensory organs, emotional programs, sexual sensibilities, and the neural framework of our brains.
In Spirituality in the Flesh, Robert C. Fuller investigates how studying the body can help us to answer the profoundest spiritual questions. Why is it that some religious traditions assign spiritual currency to pain? How do neurochemically driven emotions, such as fear, shape our religious actions? What is the relationship between chemically altered states of consciousness and religious innovation? Using recent biological research to illuminate religious beliefs and practices, Fuller delves into topics as diverse as apocalypticism, nature religion, Native American peyotism, and the sexual experimentalism of nineteenth-century communal societies, in every case seeking middle ground between the arguments currently emanating from scientists and humanists. He takes most scientific interpreters to task for failing to understand the inherently cultural aspects of embodied experience even as he chides most religion scholars for ignoring new knowledge about the biological substrates of human thought and behavior.
Comfortable with the language of scientific analysis and sympathetic to the inherently subjective aspects of religious events, Fuller introduces the biological study of religion by joining together this era's unprecedented understanding of bodily states with an expert's knowledge of religious phenomena. Culling together insights from scientific observations, historical allusions, and literary references,Spirituality in the Fleshoffers a bold look at the biological underpinnings of religion and opens up new and exciting agendas for understanding the nature and value of human religiosity.

Excerpt

Few subjects are as puzzling as religion. All of us have a basic understanding of what religion is, yet no one has been able to define the word in a way that accounts for all of its various manifestations. Is religion principally about belief in gods, concern with the afterlife, or procuring visionary experiences? Consensus is hard to come by. After all, most of the features that seem to capture the essence of Western monotheistic religions are often entirely absent in Asian religions, such as early Buddhism or Chinese Daoism. Even more difficult than defining religion is the attempt to evaluate its overall value to human welfare. For example, does religion typically foster good will among humans, or does it inherently lead to pernicious violence? The academic study of religion emerged to address these types of questions. Yet the field of religious studies is still searching for critical terms that might illuminate distinctive elements of religion or stipulate criteria for evaluating religion’s overall value for human well-being.

Most scholars who have undertaken the theoretical challenges posed by religion have backgrounds in the humanities. Literary theorists, philosophers, and historians have traditionally been at the forefront of efforts to achieve clearer understandings of religion. They have used their academic training to generate core concepts that can be used to interpret this complex phenomenon. Thus, for example, humanists have argued that we can best understand religion by organizing our inquiry around such core concepts as myth, sacred texts . . .

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