Naumescu, “Learning the ‘Science of Feelings'”

Naumescu, Vlad. 2012. Learning the ‘Science of Feelings’: Religious Training in Eastern Christian Monasticism. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, Volume 77: Issue 2. Special Issue: Learning Possession

Abstract:

In Eastern Christianity novitiate is a period of learning to experience the presence of God in one’s life and the world. Novices follow the hesychast prayer, a mystical tradition that leads them to an experiential knowledge of God. In this paper, I argue that novitiate should be regarded as a complex learning process involving specific assemblages of contextual, cognitive, body-sensory and emotional aspects. By educating their attention and emotion novices learn to see beyond and within reality and thus discover the potentiality of people and things ‘in the likeness of God’. Religious transmission happens not only through embodied practice and the active acquisition of religious knowledge but, more importantly, through the work of the imagination. Novices’ orientation towards the transcendent requires an expansion of the imaginative capacities beyond their ‘routine’ functioning. Imagination could be thus seen as a key cognitive capacity through which they learn to experience God.

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