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Religious Embodiment between Medicine and Modernity

Journal article
Authors Ola Sigurdson
Published in Arc: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University
Volume 40 (2012)
Pages 1–24
ISSN 0229-2807
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Pages 1–24
Language en
Keywords religion and medicine, religion and embodiment, medicine and phenomenology
Subject categories Philosophy of religion, Systematic theology, Church history, Theoretical philosophy, Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology

Abstract

In this essay, I discuss how religious embodiment has been and is conceived in relation to other perspectives on embodiment such as the role of medicine in modernity. My focus is on the cultural repre- sentation of embodiment, and the theoretical perspective is phe- nomenological and hermeneutical. I start out from an account of the dissection of the abbess Chiara of Montefalco’s body in 1308 to show how even such a practice as the cutting open of bodies takes on meaning in relation to its context, from the religious search for indi- cations of sanctity to medical autopsies. This is an example of a his- torical displacement of the meaning of embodiment, and to talk re- sponsibly about embodiment in a philosophical context also means to take into account the historicity of embodiment. For a philosophy of religion, then, it is a challenge to talk about religious embodiment in a modern context where medicine has become hegemonic in the cul- tural representation of the body, turning the body into, in essence, a manipulable object. For religion, defined as the subjective, this means that the personal as well as the social embodiment of faith is lost sight of in a process of ‘excarnation.’ For the religious body to occur today in any meaningful sense, there is a need of a refiguration of the understanding of embodiment as such, which can be achieved through phenomenological accounts of embodiment. I end the article with some suggestions how this might look.

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