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Religious studies, insofar as it is a Western endeavor, largely suffers from separating body from mind. When adherents to this Enlightenment Era thinking focus only on theology or psychology as distinct from ritual studies, or consider ritual as merely tangentially or symbolically related to theology rather than an enactment of theology, it’s clear to me that religious studies struggles with an ignorance about bodies. Philip Mellor and Chris Shilling in their article “Reflexive Modernity and the Religious Body” attribute religious scholars’ ignorance in the past and present to a “new Protestant attitude” in the early modern period wherein “the Protestant Reformers problematized the individual’s relationship to the Church… by turning the Church into a disembodied idea… This Church was unknowable, invisible and thus purely an object of faith” (Mellor and Shilling 30). They impress upon the student of religion, their primary audience, that the separation of valid, conventional religious experience from the body is not an inherent part of faith but a modern invention: “Here we can observe the psychologization of Christianity… and an attendant reduction of it to what is subjectively and psychologically sustainable, rather than it being a taken-for-granted part of one’s embodied reality” (Mellor & Shilling 30). They write from 1994; writing from 2019, I believe it is time to abandon the arbitrary division of body and mind in religious studies as well as larger Western culture. The phenomenology of religion offers a great many useful things, but a study of religious experience cannot be complete without an equally rigorous study of religious bodies—since, even the most ardent believer in the supremacy of mind over matter will agree, the body is the experiencer. To some, all the body does is experience. I aim to formulate a theory of the religious body: what is it? how does it function in ritual and mundane contexts? how can a scholar’s understanding of the religious body enhance their work?


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2019 Winner, Junior-Senior category.