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Department of the Study of Religions

Yoga and Meditation: Perspectives, Context and Methodologies

Course Code:
15PSRH046
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1

‘Yoga and Meditation: Perspectives, Context and Methodologies’ constitutes the core course for the MA programme ‘Traditions of Yoga and Meditation’. It is designed to provide students with an understanding of key theoretical approaches to the interpretation of the subject, as well as a familiarity with those methodologies that will be utilised in the context of the other three courses within the MA. The first component of this course—‘Perspectives’—will focus on the study of experience. The categories of the emic and the etic, which provide accounts of cultural behaviour and belief from the standpoint of the insider and the outsider, respectively, will be probed, and examples of their application to ethnological data provided. This background will then be used to explore the ways in which meaning and value are interpreted in relation to the category of ‘religious experiences’, such as those obtained through yoga and meditation. Another important perspective to be examined is the construction, deconstruction, or giveness of the subject or Self as it has been seen within contemporary academic analysis. The second component of the course— ‘Context’—will present the broad historical, social, economic, cultural and doctrinal contexts which will be explored in detail in the three other courses belonging to this MA; the purpose is to tie together the regions and cultures by discussing them in relation to a common historical framework and examining their interactions over the period in which ideas relating to yoga and meditation were developing across the sub-continent, the Himalayas, and East Asia. Finally, ‘Methodologies’ will investigate academic approaches relevant to the study of yoga and meditation. This begins with a discussion of Pierre Bourdieu’s emphasis on practice for the iteration of cultural meaning, then discuss the idea of performativity in relation to the definition of identity, as developed by Judith Butler, and to disciplinary techniques, as charted by Foucault. These specific ideas will be related to the broader field of ritual theory. Finally, the course will treat the psychological and physiological aspects of yoga and meditation on the basis of current research, involving mindfulness. (All part-time students registered for this MA will need to enrol in this core course during Year 1.)

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate

  • the ability to define the broad structural and historical relationships between techniques of yoga and meditation as practiced in the three main regions covered in the three other courses in the overall MA programme.
  • the ability to assess the social, cultural and economic dimensions of yogic and meditational practice, both for the ancient and the modern world.
  • the ability to evaluate the modes of interaction between theory and practice, using as the particular case in point the relationship between speculative religious belief and yogic and meditational practice.
  • the ability to critically discuss arguments related to the continuities and discontinuities between historical forms of yogic and meditational practice and their reflexes in the modern world
  • familiarity with the general models of the relationship between mind and body that inform the meditative traditions explored in greater detail in the 2 ½ other taught course units of the present MA programme.
  • knowledge of the commerce in goods and ideas between India, Tibet and China as relevant to yoga and meditation.
  • familiarity with theoretical approaches to the problem of the nature of the subject and their relevance for a critique of various sorts of meditational practice.

Method of assessment

Coursework: one 2,000 word essay (20%); one 4,000 word essay (80%).