Journal Article

Disgusting Bodies, Disgusting Religion: The Biology of Tantra

Thomas B. Ellis

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 79, issue 4, pages 879-927
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online November 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Disgusting Bodies, Disgusting Religion: The Biology of Tantra

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Hard-core Tantric practice is disgusting, a point several scholars make. Scholarly interpretations of Tantric disgustingness, however, tend to follow the lead of Mary Douglas in suggesting that what disgusts is ultimately a reflection of social–historical concerns with borders and boundaries. Such interpretations fail to take seriously the Tantric consumption of feces, menstrual blood, urine, semen, and phlegm. Likewise, they fail to take seriously the particular sexual act involved, that is, intercourse with a menstruating, riding-astride, out-of-caste, mother-substitute. Consulting contemporary disgust research, I suggest that hard-core Tantra is literally disgusting because it is literally maladaptive. Disgust was naturally selected to deter the ingestion of bio-toxic pathogens as well as the practice of suboptimal sexual intercourse. Disgust maintains the species' viability. Tantra confounds disgust and thus disgusts. Tantra engages antibiological behaviors in its characteristically religious war against the body. As a disgusting religion, Tantra may be a perfected religion.

Journal Article.  15735 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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