Yoga and Meditation Across Cultures and Disciplines - A Book Release

By Karen O'Brien-Kop and Suzanne Newcombe


Maitreya carrying out arduous practices.
Borobudur, Central Java, c. 8th–9th century.
Photograph by Andrea Acri.


The study of yoga and meditation is not new. The techniques that we associate with the terms ‘meditation’ and ‘yoga’ are documented over thousands of years in nuanced explorations by practitioners and related theorists. Yet, the ‘outsider’ study of these practices is relatively new.

In recent decades, in parallel with the rapid popularization of yoga and meditation practices in many different cultural contexts around the world, academics have shown increasing interest in studying these subjects. The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies aims to showcase the range, depth, and complexity of contemporary, global academic research on yoga and meditation. It is a publication by academic experts for those seeking to understand the current state of academic research in this subject. 

However, the volume also wants to do more than this. We want to draw attention to some of the problematic assumptions that have developed as this academic field of study has become established. 

Firstly, we want to challenge a research divide between those who study 'meditation' (usually allied with Buddhism) and those who study ‘yoga’ (usually understood as relating to textual and lived practices of the Indian subcontinent aimed at liberation). The relationship between ‘yoga’ and ‘meditation’ (as both ideas and practices) is always complex and contextual. Yet these ideas and practices need to be looked at in dialogue for either to be more accurately understood. 

Secondly, the academic study of yoga and meditation rests on the knowledge construction projects of European modernity. The conceptual frameworks of European modernity co-arise with the experiences, cultural oppressions, and transformations of colonization (Quijano 2000 among others make this point). Contemporary understandings of practices of meditation and yoga have been filtered and distorted through these frameworks. Yet, the cultural framings of modernity are not singular. They affect our ideas and ways of studying the world in complex and multifaceted ways. 

By examining the study of meditation and yoga through a range of disciplines and in a number of specific cultural and historical contexts, we hope to begin to challenge assumptions created by any individual’s cultural positioning or disciplinary training. We hope our chapters represent the most up-to-date, empirically-grounded understandings within their disciplinary frameworks of investigation. Additionally, by placing a spectrum of approaches side-by-side we hope to more fully reveal the blind spots to which a particular way of framing research inevitably gives rise. 


One of the directional manifestations of Śiva at Candi Śiva.
Loro Jonggrang, Central Java, 9th century.
Photograph by Andrea Acri.


The volume takes South Asian history of religions as its starting point, focusing on developments in the Vedic period up to how yoga and meditation are understood in some of the many present-day expressions of Hinduism. However, as we are interested in meditative traditions more broadly, we also consider a range of theological perspectives on meditation (including Jain, Sikh, and Christian) as well as a range of perspectives on the origins, spread, and development of traditions. We include new regional histories of how meditation and yoga practices have been understood and developed in Latin America, Japan, and Korea. Furthermore, the volume is framed by an opening section that investigates a range of critical perspectives that inform public discussions on yoga and meditation today.




Through this effort, we hope to begin a process of breaking up of siloed knowledge and rigid conceptual frameworks. The thirty-four chapters cover a great deal of ground – in terms of time period, region, and tradition – but it is, of course, not comprehensive. We hope that these interdisciplinary reflections can spark new conversations and directions for future research.


An eBook will be available for purchase from the 18th November 2020. 

A book launch will be held by the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies on Monday, 23rd November 2020. This will include a chaired panel discussion with the editors and some chapter authors.


References

King, R. E. 2019. ‘Meditation and the Modern Encounter between Asia and the West’ in Farias, M, Brazier, D. and Lalljee, M. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Meditation. Online. October. https://doi.org/10.1093/9780198808640.013.2. Accessed 21 February 2020.

Nye, M. 2019. ‘Race and religion: postcolonial formations of power and whiteness.’ Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 31(3): 210–237. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/15700682-12341444.

Quijano, A. 2000. ‘Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America.’ Nepantla: Views from South, 1(3): 533–580.