SOAS University of London

Centre of Yoga Studies

Interdisciplinarity voices from the field

Richard Carp (2001). ‘Integrative Praxes: Learning from Multiple Knowledge Formations’

in Issues in Integrative Studies. No. 19, pp. 71-121

‘Part of what I want to say in this article is that we need to imagine the existence of knowledges we do not now know: new contexts and formations of knowledge, not just new contents of knowledge or transformations of our existing knowledge formations. Such an act of imagination is extraordinarily difficult, since our imagination is itself informed by our knowledge. In fact, imagining genuinely unknown knowledge formations may best be represented by a pregnant openness, a realm of possibility that can be lived into but not provided with specific contents.’ (p75)

Carp’s article is a good starting point from which to explore interdisciplinarity, particularly its place in (and outside of) the Academy and its theoretical foundations. He draws on the thought-leaders who have championed the recognition of interdisciplinarity, especially within the American Academy, over the last decades of the twentieth century - names such as William Newell, Julie Thompson Klein - as well as a heady collection of post-structuralist French philosophers - Barthes, Lefebvre, Foucault and Merleau-Ponty - to formulate and add weight to his arguments. Ultimately, Carp’s well crafted overview is aimed at the deconstruction of interdisciplinarity and is driven by what he himself describes as a ‘creative insurgency’; a desire to change the structures through which knowledge is created and shared by ‘confounding, resisting, transforming, and replacing’ existing institutional forms, creating new ‘knowledge objects’ that belong to no-one, supporting more integrative and embodied praxes and encouraging an ongoing and open dialogue around the axis of human experience.

Wujastyk, Dagmar, Suzanne Newcombe and Christèle Barois (2017). Transmutations: Rejuvenation, Longevity, and Immortality Practices in South and Inner Asia

in Special Issue of History of Science in South Asia, Vol 5 No 2.

‘It is possible to understand the spectrum of transmutational practices in South and Inner Asia as a shared and moving culture with specific local articulations. This culture of practices relating to promoting health, longevity, and enlightenment developed across millennia. Contemporary national and linguistic distinctions and disciplines of study do not adequately match the multicultural exchanges in which these cultures of concept and practice have developed, flourished, mutated, declined and have been revived over the centuries. Intra-cultural entanglement is a fundamental in the creation of these transmutation practices.’ (xv)

This collection of articles, as a representative of the work of the Ayuryog Project more broadly, considers the connected trajectories of yoga, Ayurveda and alchemy. As the project team describe, a central concept throughout the study was that of entanglements - noting both the continuities over time and place between practices and their goals, benefits and methods, and equally the uniqueness of tradition-specific understandings, or the disjunctures of innovations and adjustments over time. A project of this scale and scope requires a consideration across disciplinary, cultural and linguistic boundaries - as Lead Investigator Dagmar Wujastyk describes in our interview together [which you can listen to here], this can occur both intentionally and more organically as part of the research process

Geoffrey Samuel (2014). ‘Between Buddhism and Science, Between Mind and Body’

in Religions. 2014; 5(3):560-579.

‘..both Buddhists and neuroscientists work from an established framework of assumptions, and those assumptions are, on the face of it at least, mutually exclusive. In addition, arguably, the role of meditation in the Buddhist tradition is not to investigate one’s consciousness in an open-minded, exploratory way. It is to transform oneself so as to perceive the same fundamental insights that the Buddha himself and the great masters of the Buddhist tradition in the past were held to have seen, in the same way that the Buddha and his successors saw them.’ (p570)

One famous interdisciplinary dialogue of the past 35 years has been that of the Mind and Life Institute; through combining scientific inquiry with contemplative wisdom the institute has been instrumental in fostering dialogue across scientific and spiritual boundaries on a global stage. But to what effect, has any real encounter occurred between contemporary science and Buddhism? This is the critical lens Samuel’s applies, arguing that much of the time - despite the best intentions - participants appear to talk past rather than to each other. He cites communication challenges and a fundamental incompatibility of assumptions in critical areas as barriers to true interdisciplinary engagement and innovation; he calls instead for the creation of a space of dialogue outside of both Buddhist and Western scientific frameworks where ideas can be genuinely explored and furthered - rather than just being reduced in order to fit within the frameworks of what we think we already know.

Past CYS Talks

Introduction to interdisciplinarity