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Meditation, Buddhism, and Science$
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David McMahan and Erik Braun

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190495794

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190495794.001.0001

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How Meditation Works

How Meditation Works

Theorizing the Role of Cultural Context in Buddhist Contemplative Practices

(p.21) 2 How Meditation Works
Meditation, Buddhism, and Science

David L. McMahan

Oxford University Press

Meditation is often described in terms of internal “states” that presumably arise in anyone who practices them diligently. These practices, however, only “work” in specific social and cultural contexts, and the work they do may be quite different in divergent contexts. McMahan theorizes meditation practices as cultivating ways of being in specific social imaginaries constituted by a cultural repertoire of concepts, attitudes, social practices, ethical dispositions, institutions, power relations, available identities, structures of authority, and conceptions of the cosmos. This theorization extrapolates from recent studies of the historical embeddedness of psychosomatic illnesses that suggest that certain historical eras generate specific “symptom pools.” This recontextualization of meditation as a cultural practice underlines the necessity of humanistic study of meditation and the impossibility of a totalizing neurophysiological “explanation” of how meditation works.

Keywords:   meditation, psychosomatic, symptom pool, social imaginary, humanism

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