Thesis supervisor: ProfessorTarmo Kulmar
Opponent: Professor Gavin Flood (Oxford University)
In many religious traditions bodily practices, that is ritual actions that make use of the body and have a body-related goal, have evolved. Such practices are especially well developed in South- and East Asian traditions, where they have reached a great complexity in Hatha Yoga or in Daoist meditation. This shows that the human body has a major role to play in religions, which is something that is too often overlooked. Several qualities are attributed to the human body in religious thought systems that may be both positive and negative and in the ritual a framework is created that enables to transform the negative qualities into positive ones – for example, in a purification ritual the unpure body or condition is converted into a pure one. Not only singular qualities may be changed in the bodily practices but the whole body. Such a transformation of the body that aims to transcend the limits of the ordinary human body, can be a religious goal in its own right. The bodily practices of self transformation are based on the idea of the body as something unstable and changeable. In the premodern religious thought the body is more than a biological entity. It is a midpoint between a person and the society and the world that finds itself in a constant process of re-construction. It follows that the identity of a person is strongly tied to the body which is in turn related to how a person acts on a daily basis and to whom one is connected to.