The Wisdom of the Body: Embodied Knowing in Eco-Paganism

A PhD thesis submitted to the University of Winchester in 2008 by Adrian Harris.

My full thesis is available, and this page is intended as a brief introduction.

Embodied knowing is fundamental to our experience, but no previous study had detailed its role in a specific spiritual group. This thesis offers a new model of embodied situated cognition, and develops an embodied hermeneutics which uses Focusing (Gendlin, 1981) as a tool of phenomenological research. I apply these to the first detailed ethnography of Eco-Paganism and reveal powerful pathways of connection which have considerable significance for ecotherapy and religious studies.

Chapters 2 and 3 offer a survey the literature on Eco-Paganism and embodied cognition. Chapter 4 uses the latter to synthesise a model of embodied situated cognition which I call the 'enactive process model', because it draws primarily on enactivism (inter alia, Varela et al., 1991), and Gendlin's process philosophy (Gendlin, 1997a). Current research shows that key aspects of cognition are situated and embodied (inter alia, Varela et al., 1991), such that we often think with place (inter alia, Preston, 2003). This raises epistemological questions which I address in a discussion of embodied philosophy in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 discussess my methodology and how I applied the Focusing Interview technique. My fieldwork autoethnography, Chapter 7, provides an intuitive, felt understanding of life on a road protest site, and is followed by ethnographies of urban and protest site Eco-Paganism in Chapters 8 and 9. Chapter 10 discusses six processes which create a sense of connection to the organic environment. These are descrided as "processes of connection", but I now use the term "pathways of connection". These pathways include the felt sense (Gendlin, 1981) and the wilderness effect (Greenway, 1995).

I conclude that a type of wilderness effect can catalyze the emergence of a complex 'nature based' spirituality amongst protest site Eco-Pagans, while a less intense form affects urban Eco-Pagans. Eco-Pagans sometimes use the pathways of connection to think with a place. The pathways of connection and thinking with place are fundamental to embodied situated knowing in Eco-Paganism, and help explain many of its distinctive aspects. By demonstrating the importance of embodied situated knowing in Eco-Paganism, I highlight the potential for further research into processes of connection and the impact of different physical spaces on religious practice in general.