TALK: The Natural and the Supernatural in the Scientific Study of Meditation and the Cognitive Science of Religion

John D. Dunne (Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Thursday, February 18, 2016 / 4:00 PM
McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB

Over the last two decades, some of the most influential scientific studies of meditation have examined practices derived from Buddhism, and the success of these studies — as expressed in impact factors, citation rates, and grant funding — likely rests in part on their capacity to articulate “meditation” in a fashion that remains strictly naturalistic. During the same period, however, the cognitive science of religion (CSR) has routinely deployed the category of the “supernatural” as essential to anything that we can properly call “religion.” From the CSR perspective, one might conclude that the naturalistic rhetoric found in scientific studies simply reflects the ongoing modernist strategy of formulating a “scientific Buddhism” that is not a “religion.” While illuminating, this interpretation nevertheless leaves in place the highly problematic notion of the “supernatural” itself, especially as the marker of “religion.”  This talk explores the aligned oppositions of natural/supernatural and science/religion within both the science of meditation and the Cognitive Science of Religion. Drawing on the critique offered long ago by Emile Durkheim, it shows how the rhetoric of both contexts remains largely blind to the modernist assumptions inherent in the concept of the “supernatural.”

Sponsored by the IHC’s Idee Levitan Endowment and the IHC series The Humanities and the Brain.

soundcloudClick here to listen to a recording of John Dunne’s talk for the 2015-16 IHC series The Humanities and the Brain

• Learn more about the IHC series The Humanities and the Brain

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