SOAS University of London

Centre of Yoga Studies

Loriliai Biernacki

Loriliai Biernacki

Date: 3 November 2021Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 3 November 2021Time: 8:15 PM

Venue: Virtual Event Room: Online

Type of Event: Talk

“Wonder and being in a body”

Why is it that wonder is the term one invokes when trying to sell a non-enchanted, non-religious worldview? wonder becoming the go-to consolation prize for our loss of some greater power in the universe, a soul, a god? A short-hand phenomenology of wonder may point to its easy assumption of this areligious, atheistic role. Wonder as a state of mind seems to propose a heightened transcendence. It brings us outside our small ordinary sense of self opening into something bigger, beyond self, outside of self. We think of wonder today associated with the speechless apprehension of the vastness of planets in the starry sky, beyond the scope of human ability to map it, or wonder at nature’s rich ability to weave a web of sunset colors over the mountains, or wonder in the face of the mind-boggling complexity of the human immune system

It is perhaps fair to suggest that part of wonder’s appeal as a cultural trope is that it operates as a kind of praxis. Akin even to a spiritual praxis, wonder ferries us into the giddy high of transcendence, but still manages to stop short of the certainty of faith.

Drawing from the 11th century Indian mystic Abhinavagupta, I suggest a distinctive interpretation of the phenomenology of wonder that links wonder not to a transcendence outside the body and matter, but instead to an awareness of an innate subjectivity within materiality. This brilliant thinker was instrumental in philosophizing medieval India’s Tantric shift, and a part of this Tantric rearticulation of self involved reclamation of the body as a key component of Tantric ritual praxis. We explore his conception of wonder here.

Loriliai Biernacki teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests include Hinduism, gender and the interface between religion and science. Her first book, Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex and Speech in Tantra (Oxford, 2007) won the Kayden Award in 2008. She is co-editor of God’s Body: Panentheism across the World’s Religious Traditions (Oxford 2013). She is completing a study on the 11th century Indian philosopher Abhinavagupta within the framework of wonder, the New Materialisms and conceptions of the body-mind interface.

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