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EXAMINING THE STRUCTURE AND ROLE OF EMOTION: CONTRIBUTIONS OF NEUROBIOLOGY TO THE STUDY OF EMBODIED RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

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Abstract.

Certain properties of the body and emotions facilitate the transmission of religious knowledge and the development of religious states through particular qualities of perception and memory. The body, which is the ground of religious experience, can be understood as transformative: the characteristic that recalled emotion is “refelt” in the present enables emotion to be cultivated or developed. Emotions and the stimuli that evoke them are necessarily culturally specific, but the automatic nature of this process is universal. Religious traditions have made use of these processes to educate the feeling toward certain qualities and to develop religious experience, through the use of sacred images, ritual posture and gesture, and repetition of ritual acts. Neuroscience contributes to our understanding of the emotional processes that take place when emotions are evoked, refelt, and developed; the neurobiological processing of emotion parallels experience. Keeping experience central makes it possible to bring religion and neuroscience together in a nonreductive examination of spiritual experience.
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Keywords: body; cognitive science; culture; embodiment; emotion; experience; gesture; identity; memory; neuroscience; nonverbal; posture; religious experience; ritual; transcendence; transmission

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rebecca Sachs Norris is an assistant professor of religious studies at Merrimack College, 315 Turnpike Street, North Andover, MA 01845, and a lecturer at the Boston University School of Medicine;, Email: rebecca.norris@nierrimack.edu.

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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