Drawing from a range of examples, this seminar will present a thesis about the ways in which the goal of meditation within specific spiritual traditions affects practice. It will raise questions about the nature of meditation and other spiritual practices and about individual and communal experience. Christopher Wood is a DPhil student in the Theology Faculty. His background is in Theology (Birmingham) and he has research interests in the history of ideas, comparative religion, and the interface between Theology and Psychology.
The necessity of analysing religious influences on society has meant that key sociologists from Marx to Durkheim and Weber insisted on the significance of mood, motivation, and individual agency as the heart of any idea of society change. Religious feeling is thus one of the cornerstones enabling their theorisation of social dynamics. Here we look at sociological models for studying subjectivity as an autonomous ‘centre’ of dynamism and force, the beating heart of grand-scale movements of history.
Many of the canonical names in anthropology have been criticised for their literary style and their tendency towards evocative narrative. Here we argue that this is not a methodological weakness, but the autonomous development of a conception of understanding in terms of imaginative empathy and inter-subjectivity, which parallels hermeneutic philosophy. Religious experiences are literally recreated in the reader, forming an intimate bond between the scholar and his or her subject.
Psychologists of religion from Jung to Freud, and Boyer and Laing, have produced speculative models of religious subjectivity, according to which the human mind appears variously as an ocean of symbols, a volcanic core wracked by powerful forces, a computational machine, or a shell through transcendence may occasionally break. Just as science posits its own models, so psychologists of religion use metaphors of spatial relations and fluid dynamics to provide a mapping of the self.