[Title] Reconnecting the self to the divine: The body’s role in religious experience
In this presentation, I would like to explore spontaneous religious experiences. The term “spontaneous” is used to mean experiences that can happen without religious beliefs, outside religious institutions, or away from religious traditions, but still have a religious nature. They include among others, the feeling of unity with nature when watching a beautiful sunset, the experience of peak performance in sports as if someone else were perfectly controlling our bodily movements, and the sudden ecstatic sensation aroused by listening to a harmonious chorus. Such perceptual experiences are intense enough to awaken spiritual feelings, although they are not always recognized as “religious” for lack of proper context. Thus, experiences of this kind do not seem to have a religious nature in the ordinary sense, however, they do have a religious nature in an etymological sense: These experiences re- (again) -ligare (connect) the self and something beyond the self. What is experienced as “something beyond the self” in these cases might be the primordial source of divinity underlying all sorts of religious activities. My goal is to further explore the experience of divinity from the perspective of the embodied self, especially in terms of the sense of agency. As is well known, William James (1902) listed passivity as one of the four marks of mystical experiences. The person feels as if his/her actions are guided by an “Other,” while maintaining the sense of agency for actions. In my view, this alteration in the sense of agency originates in the function of body schema, which enables us to coordinate bodily actions toward the environment. In particular, when the body is thrown into an unfamiliar situation, body schema organizes new bodily actions beyond one’s intentions and expectations. During spontaneous religious experiences as well, the body operates beyond one’s intentions and expectations, as if following the Other’s will.