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Self

“The total self of me, being as it were duplex,” is composed of “partly object and partly subject.” William James “The Self And Its Selves” 1890 (162).

“Surely my awareness of my own self is not merely much truer and more certain than my awareness of the wax, but also much more distinct and evident. For if I judge that the wax exists from the fact that I see it, clearly this same fact entails much more evidently that I myself also exist. It is possible that what I see is not really the wax; it is possible that I do not even have eyes with which to see anything. But when I see, or think I see (I am not here distinguishing the two), it is simply not possible that I who am now thinking am not something.” Rene Descartes (Med. 2, AT 7:33)

“There has been an inversion between the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know thyself”. In Greco-Roman culture knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of taking care of yourself. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle.” (Foucault, 1988).

Self is loosely defined as a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action. As researchers, how we locate the ‘self’ affects our understanding of embodiment. This issue is tied in closely with theories of cognition. Addressing theories of mind and location of ‘self’ in embodiment and religion research can be key to selecting the researcher’s theory and methodology.

The experience of an individual’s experience of phenomena (thoughts, emotions, perceptions of stimuli) comprises the general subject of the self. The subject of self has been the focus of philosophy, psychology and is key to the majority of religions. With regards to religions, ideas of selfhood vary. For example, in Christianity the self can be disassociated from its true nature by sin, thus indicating the existence of a ‘true’ or ‘core’ self, sometimes referred to as the ‘soul’.  As a counter point, Buddhism views the need to identify and grasp a ‘core’ or ‘true’ self as an illusion to overcome. In this way the ‘self’ is fluid.

 

The primary concern when researching embodiment and religion is the theory of self the researcher uses as starting point or base. There are generally two choices: A theory of self that assumes a ‘core self’, a ‘soul’, a form of selfhood that is stable and fixed or a theory of self that considers the self to be fluid, a product of the organism (human) interacting with the social and environment. A theory of mind that accepts that the mind is located in both the body and the social will shape the theories and methodologies the researches employees.

Religious traditions and belief systems often supply a form of cognitive closure regarding placement of the mind and self. Often these religious traditions place the ‘self’ as being somewhere in between- the mind is not trapped within the human body, but something enters and leaves the body. Implementing a theory of minds that is non-reductive may allow for greater compatibility in embodiment and religion research.