This project deals with the growing empirical knowledge of the interaction between bodily actions and human thinking and the cultural embeddedness of human cognition. The project employs state of the art cognitive predictive models on historical material, namely the activities, techniques and reported mystical experiences of Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582), a Spanish Carmelite nun who reformed that Order and founded the Discalced Carmelites. This project involves quantitative coding and text mining of her numerous books and letters in order to test the use of cognitive models in historical studies.
This project is relevant to contemporary science for several reasons. First, it addresses the need to apply methods and insights from the natural and medical sciences to historical data, as well as the other way around: The humanities have important contributions to make to the natural and medical sciences, as my involvement in transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary projects on rituals, pain, ecstatic behavior and prayer have convinced me. Second, it applies a doubly unique approach to historical documents, namely the application of neurocognitive predictive models and the use of quantitative data techniques. Third, although the case study is historical, it deals nonetheless with highly relevant contemporary phenomena, namely, spiritual and mystical experiences, occultism and healing. Fourth, this project is a stepping-stone to a larger, more ambitious attempt to apply this proof of concept case to European spirituality and mysticism through a coordinated EU-based network of scholars.
Armin W. Geertz is Professor in the History of Religions at the Department for the Study of Religion, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University. He is co-founder of the Religion, Cognition and Culture Research Unit at Aarhus. His publications in the cognitive science of religion range from religious narrative and evolutionary theory to the neurobiology of religion. His recent publications include Religious Narrative, Cognition and Culture (co-edited, 2011) and Origins of Religion, Cognition and Culture (editor, 2014). He is senior editor of Advances in the Cognitive Science of Religion series, and senior editor of Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion (both at Equinox).
A Biocultural Approach to Embodiment, Ritual and Mysticism
Area of research:
History of Religions
01 Feb 2017 – 31 Jan 2018