Department of Religious Studies

Experiments with Experience: Spiritual Practice as Experimentation in (Neo-)Yoga and (Neo-)Buddhism

Dr. Jens Schlieter, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Bern, Switzerland

Wed, April 17, 2019 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118)

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Over the last two centuries, many prominent religious actors from India and the West have described their religious practice as “spiritual experimentation.” Although the thread of experimentation runs through a considerable number of autobiographies and other works depicting spiritual practice, its significance has only occasionally been noted. The presentation will show how this specific discourse emerged in 19th-century Europe and the United States and how it gained traction in Western Spiritualism and in the reception of Indian Yoga and Buddhism. Drawing on models of scientific experimentation, the talk argues that magnifying, minimizing, accelerating, or decelerating processes in the experiential subject are presumed in these religious “experiments” as well. Are these parallels in spiritual practice functional analogies? Or are they rather metaphorical in nature, attempting to capitalize on Western science as evidence for efficacy?

Sponsored by: Department of Religious Studies and the South Asia Institute

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