WorkshopPublikationsdatum 11.04.2024

Mindful Motion - Bodily and Dance Practices in Contemporary Spirituality

© Marie Mazzella di Bosco 2017

The twentieth century saw the development in Western societies of bodily approaches emphasizing movement, self-awareness and exploration. Inspired by Eastern traditions, a variety of practices emerged, such as the Alexander technique, Pilates, sophrology, Body-Mind Centering, and the Feldenkrais method. Many of these methods experienced a resurgence in the wake of the counter-cultural movements of the 1970s and 80s. The Esalen Institute, a pioneering New Age community in California, played an important role in fostering new approaches to the body based on movement, self-awareness and sensory experience. These approaches promoted authenticity, the interrelationship between the body and its environment, underscored the significance of inner authority, ritualized trance, and emotional release. Conscious body practices, which include movement and dance practices tinged with spirituality, began to emerge in the latter part of the twentieth century, in the spirit of Esalen. These practices reflect body pedagogies that appeared earlier in the West.   

The contemporary landscape of conscious movement or dance practices bring together a wide range of disciplines, practitioners and approaches, in tune with new spiritualities, alternative health realm, and the culture of well-being. A body-based approach seems both crucial and promising for understanding the changes in the contemporary religious/ spiritual scene.  

Following on from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) project “The Dynamics of Ritual and Embodiment in Contemporary Religion and Spirituality”, this symposium at the University of Fribourg aims to explore 3 key axes trough presentations by 15 researchers from different disciplines and European countries: 

Axis 1 - From the Personal Experience of the Body to Communal Engagement and Global Commitment. Exploring potential commonalities, shared experiences, and their socio-political impacts;  
Axis 2 - Care, Healing, Therapies and the Psycho-Spiritual Shift: A Major Intersection as a Place of Convergence, Misunderstanding, and Confusions;
Axis 3 - Circulation and Multiple Appropriations: Comparative and historical Perspectives.  

Finally, a common thread will run through these three axes: what are the specific challenges, obstacles, and opportunities of empirical research on these topics? The idea that the scholar's body serves as a tool for understanding cultural landscapes and a medium for generating knowledge, - both as an object and a method - is not new. However, there remains a need for reflecting on challenges raised by such methodologies: from participant observation to “full participation”, where the scholar’s bodily and emotional involvement, often necessary in such fields, can give rise to a great deal of skepticism and scholarly debate.