Chapter

Neuromuscular Christians

Christopher G. White

in Unsettled Minds

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780520256798
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942721 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520256798.003.0005
Neuromuscular Christians

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Depleted nervous energies could be restored by various disciplines for strengthening that mental capacity most closely linked to the muscles, a capacity called the will. This chapter begins by investigating how liberals in this same period (1880–1915) embraced the will as a crucial category. It points out that they used the will to free themselves from deterministic systems, religious and scientific. The will was the source of freedom, the proof that we transcended mere materiality. It also examines both why physicians and psychologists linked the will to neuromuscular fitness and the different ways muscular Christians borrowed from this literature to promote programs of physical and spiritual fitness. In particular, it discusses a group of thinkers and organizers involved in that quintessential muscular Christian organization, the YMCA. Many have studied muscular Christianity, but few have examined the physiological literatures that undergirded this movement. When experience becomes embodied, or imprinted on the neuromuscular self as it does here, other kinds of discourses suddenly become central to spiritual development. One of those discourses was that of habit, so crucial to religious liberals, a discourse about sedimenting in the body certain religious attitudes and dispositions. When believers repeated moral acts, practiced forms of self-control, or rehearsed the right religious sentiments, these acts were engraved physically in the neuromuscular system. Neurons and muscles took shape around them. But linking spiritual states so closely to bodily ones raised other issues, especially about whose bodies were the most spiritually attuned.

Keywords: nervous energies; the will; Christians; YMCA

Chapter.  12425 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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