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Body Knowledge in Religions

Panel Chairs: Almut-Barbara Renger, Bettina Schmidt | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.| Venue

Body knowledge –‘knowledge about the body’ and ‘knowledge of the body’– is an integral part of the history of knowledge, which examines the interweaving of cognitive processes, social values and cultural practices across disciplinary traditions and boundaries of cultures and societies beyond. This panel looks at processes of adaptation and transformation involved in transfers of body knowledge in and between religious communities and institutions. The focus is on practices and techniques which are based on physical (including medical) skills. Do such transfers of body knowledge, both within and between European and non-European cultures, lead to religious change? How do these body techniques and practices adapt to social, political or cultural changes? And how does body knowledge adapt to a new social and cultural environment when transferred between societies? Referring to case studies the panel provides examples of forms of transfer, adaptation, and transformation of body knowledge.

Katja Triplett

Transfer of medical knowledge in Japanese Buddhism

The role of Indian ophthalmological knowledge in Japan is an interesting case for the study of the transfer of body knowledge: It dominated eye theory and therapy in combination with indigenous and Chinese medical ideas for over a millennium although its Indian heritage had been largely forgotten by the 17th century. East Asian Buddhist texts mention the use of a golden needle to conduct cataract surgery to restore eyesight. The motif of this originally Indian technique of cataract couching is frequently used in the Buddhist scriptures. These passages are not meant to be medically instructive, however. The question is whether Buddhist monastics in East Asia also transferred knowledge of this highly effective Indian medical technique. Overall, cataract couching seems to have been practiced widely in Japan. The paper addresses the role of transfer of medical knowledge in Japan in its religious-secular and social settings.

Lidia Guzy Boil

Trance-medium – the Embodied Feminine Divine. Examples from Western Odisha, India

The paper which is based on extensive ethnography, discusses the multi sensual boil trance–medium tradition of Bora Sambar region of western Odisha as a crucial cultural idiom of local goddess worship. Boil tradition represents a local knowledge and belief system based upon the idea that the conceptualised feminine divine – a local or regional goddess – manifests herself in a particular system of sounds and through ritual embodiment. A sonic, sensual and intersensorial approach to sacrality thus shapes cultural ideas of the divine and mediates them through music, the human body and body movements. The conceptualised sacred is on the one hand intangible as manifested in the sounds of ganda baja, the village orchestra, on the other hand it is embodied in the trance medium boil – a living human who during the ritual transforms into a divine entity transgressing and mediating the world of humans and non-human entities.

Tetsuro Tanojiri

The concept of vital energy: Global transfer process of body knowledge in Noguchi-Seitai(野口整体), Japanese Mind Cure

In early 20th century Japan, Japanese Mind Cure (JMC) which is psychosomatic and private sector medicine, became popular. JMC Healers had a metaphysical and unique worldview, psychosomatic healing techniques. They offered religious faiths, political ideals, ethical models and physical health. Until now, the study to JMC is continued sporadically in Japan. By contrast, the study of the mind and body techniques beyond the boundaries of medicine and religion have begun to proceed gradually in Western recently. In 1928, Haruchica Noguchi established Noguchi-Seitai, the most powerful school of JMC. His body knowledge had two kinds of origins. Western spiritualism, theology, alternative medicines and literatures were first, and Japanese ascetic practices methods were second origins. However, those were interpreted and contextualized in modern Japan, especially about the concept of vital energy (“Ki”, “le magnétisme animal”, etc.). By analyzing this transfer process of body knowledge in Noguchi-Seitai, this presentation shows the uniqueness of this phenomenon.

Alison Robertson

Playing with Body Knowledge – Creating Transcendence Through BDSM

My work uses the concept of lived religion focussing on personal forms of practice outside institutions or recognised religious groups. I am exploring the lived experiences of individuals engaging in the physical practice of Bondage, Domination, Submission and Masochism (BDSM), considering the ways in which profound BDSM experiences are used and understood. BDSM may be engaged in with overt spiritual aims, but even when this is absent the practice can still result in profound or transformative experiences. A successful BDSM encounter combines well-practiced physical skills with knowledge both about the body in general and of the specific bodies to create extremes of emotion and/or sensation. Participants work together to construct, challenge and transgress boundaries, creating intense experiences of ‘the edge’ between order and chaos, form and formlessness. Moments of transcendence are created through shared body knowledge, which is itself changed and extended by the experience.


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