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 Religion and the bodies

 

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introduction: For this unit, we are going to turn our attention to bodies in religion. This unit addresses some of the ways practitioners of religions embody their religions, and some of the teachings religions offer about the body. We will find that there are a wide variety of ways that religions address bodies. Birth, death, sex, sickness, disabilities — these are some of the many aspects of being in bodies. When it comes to religion (and philosophy) about the human body, we’re often talking about one or more of the following three things: Frailty. We could also talk about this as the body’s “weakness” or “vulnerability” or “impermanence.” Bodies get sick, bodies do messy things, bodies die. I don’t know of any adults who have never been sick or injured. Now, obviously, some of us deal with more severe illness and injury than others — and some of that illness and injury is more visible, while some of it is invisible — but I think it’s safe to assume that we all have had some experience of sickness, injury, or other kinds of bodily frailty. Preciousness. This might also be discussed as the body’s “sacredness”. It might include the idea that the human body is made by a creator god and that that must be respected. It might also include practices for protecting the body, covering the body, and caring for and strengthening the body (diet, hygiene, etc.). It might include rituals involving the body, such as dance, prayer, or meditation; or ways of celebrating sex or birthing as a sacred act. Treating life as a sacred thing is also part of the body’s preciousness. Unpredictability. Unpredictability is closely related to both frailty and preciousness. With this, we are often thinking of the ways the body does things that might be out of our conscious control. Desires are part of the body’s unpredictability, and religions might approach those desires in various ways — as stimuli from a divine source, or as a difficult thing to be managed and disciplined. This is sometimes about the “messiness,” “destiny,” and “uncontrollability” of the body: in particular, this comes up when religions feature gods being present in human bodies. This often comes up when religious rituals and teachings try to address death. This also comes up in mystical and esoteric traditions, which exist in most religions — the connection to the supernatural, the mysterious, the divine, the stuff that is so hard to put into words. First, read/watch at least two of the linked materials in this unit. Then, please think of your own experiences with bodies (your experience in your own body, and/or interacting with others’ bodies). Brainstorm: what are some of the ideas or feelings that tend to come up for you when you reflect on bodies? What are some of your own practices/habits related to your own body? These might be things related to the above categories (frailty/preciousness/unpredictability) or other ideas that come to mind for you. I won’t ask you to post this brainstorm since it might move into territory that you don’t want to share. Think about what you’ve brainstormed, and please do a little online research about religious life related to one of the ideas/feelings/practices that comes up for you. This is intended to be exploratory — patheos.com, the Huffington Post section on religion, and onbeing.org are three resources you might look at, for instance. By Tuesday, July 23, please make your original post. The subject line of your post should include a few words that preview the subject to the reader. In your original post, include an article, image, or short video or podcast (10 minutes or less) that illustrates an aspect of how practitioners of a religion engage their bodies in their religious life. This is a very broad prompt, which is intentional. Provide a link to the video or article or image (etc.). Write a brief summary and analysis of it. Consider these questions: What is the idea/practice about religion and bodies that this article/video/etc. addresses? Why did you choose to focus on this? How does this relate to your own ideas/practices/feelings/experiences — what seems familiar, and what seems unusual? What further questions do you have in response to this article/video? (Provide approximately 3 questions.) This post should be about 200-250 words. Then, read your classmates’ posts. Reply to at least three of your classmates’ posts. In your replies, please imagine yourself doing the practice described in the video/article that your classmate posted and summarized. (For the posts you reply to, make sure you click on their link and go read the article/watch the video.) Consider: if you tried doing this practice, what could you gain or learn from it? (Or, if you’re responding to a classmate whose original post addressed a practice that is familiar to you, what do you gain or learn from it?) What might be uncomfortable for you about it? How would it relate to things you already do involving your body (for instance, work, dance, sports, health practices, other things?)? Each reply should be at least 100 words. Your three replies are due by Monday, July 29. The “you” is underlined in the above paragraph because this really is about you, specifically. You will be doing what we sometimes call “first-person analysis” — a study of how something you are encountering in an academic context relates directly to your own life. Relating scholarly activity to the scholar’s personal life is an important method within religious studies. We’ve done this a little bit already in Unit 1, and now we’re going to do it in a different way here. Doing “first-person” work in religious studies is hard sometimes because we don’t all have active religious lives. However, this topic provides a special opportunity to do so. Not all of us have personal religious lives, but we all have bodies, and that makes it possible to try out first-person reflection on this topic, regardless of where we are coming from in religion. MY OWN NOTE do not worry about the ‘ original post’

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