Embodying the Extraordinary in Iceland and India

Corinne G. Dempsey

in Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199860333
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919598 | DOI:
Embodying the Extraordinary in Iceland and India

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This chapter juxtaposes Hindu and Christian strategies for conferring extraordinary abilities onto human bodies. The traditions under consideration, Icelandic Spiritualism and Indian Neo-Vedanta, were similarly formed by their countries’ respective independence struggles during the turn of the last century as well as by scientific frameworks through which both find validation. This use of science emerges from the turn-of-the-century scientific revolution that challenged the existence of religion, met by Spiritualism and Neo-Vedanta not with a rejection of the supernatural but with a softening of the divide between science and religion, matter and spirit. This chapter's juxtaposition illuminates how the similar epistemological, historical, and political forces that shape these traditions are trumped by that which most dramatically distinguishes them: the insistent presence or absence of spirits. Rather than analyzing this presence/absence of spirits as representing yet another layer of social influence, this chapter focuses on the ways practitioners’ differently conceived bodily encounters with the sacred guide their cosmologies and, subsequently, their ethics.

Keywords: Spiritualism; Neo-Vedanta; Iceland; Independence; science; spirits; ethics

Chapter.  14048 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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