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The Dawn of the Therapeutic in the Age of Aquarius: Healing, Transformation and Well-Being as Technologies of the Self in Postmodern Religious Discourse

A119
Panel Chair: Inken Prohl | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Notions of the human individual subjected to religio-therapeutic techniques for the sake of his or her well-being have become increasingly popularized throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Various providers – among them yoga teachers, qigong masters, Reiki initiates, shamanic healers, transpersonal therapists, self-help talk shows, and many others – offer a variety of customizable psycho-physiological techniques designed to ameliorate the individual’s self-perception while preserving a sense of religious flair rooting in ancient traditions. These post-secular trends seem to have emerged in the wake of transcultural encounters since the 19th century between diverse institutions such as the New Thought Movement, Theosophy, Psychology, and Buddhist Studies, as well as prominent social actors including Swami Vivekananda, Carl Gustav Jung, D.T. Suzuki, and Osho. This panel proposes an in-depth analysis of the history of the global religio-therapeutic discourse and offers a selection of cases to reflect the transcultural complexity of religion and healing in a progressively growing neoliberal economy.

Franz Höllinger

Spirituality and Healing in the Contemporary Holistic Milieu

A central aim of the contemporary holistic milieu that developed out of the New Age-movement of the 1970s and 1980s is to reestablish the connection between religion and healing which had been dissolved as a consequence of the differentiation of professional spheres during the process of (Western) modernization. In this context, religion generally means a rather vague form of spirituality manifesting itself in some kind of ritual practice and belief in the existence of a universal energy. Healing, in turn, refers to any kind of improvement of physical and emotional personal wellbeing. The positive effects of spiritual rituals on personal wellbeing are explained by means of merging traditional religious, magical and spiritualist concepts of healing and modern psychological, psychosomatic and psychotherapeutic approaches. The following factors (explanations) are considered particularly important: (1) the potential of spiritual or magical symbols and rituals to direct the human mind towards desired goals: (2) the cathartic effect of spiritual and symbolic healing rituals; (3) influencing (“harmonizing”) the energy flow or energy field of human beings as a means of health improvement and (4) the charisma of the healer as an important factor for inducing the aforementioned effects.

Ole Jacob Madsen

The Therapeutic Turn

The transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century in Western culture has been described as a ‘therapeutic turn’, characterized by a moral shift from the Protestant ethic, rooted in the belief in salvation through ascetic self-denial, to a therapeutic ethos offering self-realisation in this life, where the objective is no longer salvation, but attainment of the best physical and psychological health possible. Ironically, influential critics of the therapeutic turn like Philip Rieff, stress that despite the preoccupation with well-being, ‘the triumph of the therapeutic’ in the long run enervates individual autonomy and deprives society of a channel to the communal sphere which can regulate and balance individual and societal needs. I will relate this criticism of “psychological man” to our current climate crisis which in particular raises question about the loss of imagination and diminishing expectations.

Nicole Bauer

Kabbalah, Healing and the Self: The Transformation of Jewish Ideas and Practices in the Kabbalah Centre

This paper discusses the transformation of Jewish ideas and practices by the Kabbalah Centre. Over the last two decades the Kabbalah Centre has become the largest contemporary Kabbalistic movement. Philip Berg, its founder, developed it as an alternative to conventional Judaism at the beginning of the 1970s. He transformed, modified and combined ancient Kabbalistic narratives and practices with New Age Ideas and psycho-physiological techniques for self-improvement. Through an examination of the meditation technique of the Kabbalah Centre, this paper will show how Kabbalistic traditions still play a major role in this group, while at the same time these traditions are transformed to techniques of self-improvement and healing. The most important spiritual practice of the centre is meditating on Hebrew letters or the 72 Names of God. This practice is rooted in older Kabbalistic teachings, its main function then being the connection to the divine and the protection of the community. In the Kabbalah Centre the focus of this meditation practice lies on healing and self-improvement, which is an expression of postmodern spirituality.

Dimitry Okropiridze

Gopi Krishna: The discursive Catalyst of the Kuṇḍalinī-Awakening

This paper focuses on a discursive catalyst of the recent religio-therapeutic discourse – the Pandit Gopi Krishna (1903 – 1984) from Kashmir, India. Krishna has been the first to meticulously describe what came to be known as the kuṇḍalinī-awakening, now widely interpreted as a physical and mental process mentioned in Sanskrit texts and resulting in a superhuman condition. Krishna describes various symptoms of the rising kuṇḍalinī – imagined as a serpent moving through the spinal column - in his seminal autobiography Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man (1967). On the one hand the reader is presented with a narrated blend of near death experiences and excruciatingly painful sensations caused by the ‘burning’ kuṇḍalinī. On the other hand Krishna recounts blissful, transpersonal sensations, clairvoyance, and other superhuman capacities. This paper will contextualize the discursive impact of Krishna’s kuṇḍalinī-experience on the religio-therapeutic discourse in the late 20th century and locate it in the network of modern Indian Gurus and Euro-American consumers of psycho-physiological techniques for self-improvement.

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