Sacred Pain

Sacred Pain : Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul

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Why would anyone seek out the very experience the rest of us most wish to avoid? Why would religious worshipers flog or crucify themselves, sleep on spikes, hang suspended by their flesh, or walk for miles through scorching deserts with bare and bloodied feet? In this insightful new book, Ariel Glucklich argues that the experience of ritual pain, far from being a form of a madness or superstition, contains a hidden rationality and can bring about a profound transformation of the consciousness and identity of the spiritual seeker. Steering a course between purely cultural and purely biological explanations, Glucklich approaches sacred pain from the perspective of the practitioner to fully examine the psychological and spiritual effects of self-hurting. He discusses the scientific understanding of pain, drawing on research in fields such as neuropsychology and neurology. He also ranges over a broad spectrum of historical and cultural contexts, showing the many ways mystics, saints, pilgrims, mourners, shamans, Taoists, Muslims, Hindus, Native Americans, and indeed members of virtually every religion have used pain to achieve a greater identification with God. He examines how pain has served as a punishment for sin, a cure for disease, a weapon against the body and its desires, or a means by which the ego may be transcended and spiritual sickness healed. "When pain transgresses the limits," the Muslim mystic Mizra Asadullah Ghalib is quoted as saying, "it becomes medicine." Based on extensive research and written with both empathy and critical insight, Sacred Pain explores the uncharted inner terrain of self-hurting and reveals how meaningful suffering has been used to heal the human more

Product details

  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 163.6 x 241.3 x 24.6mm | 553.39g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195132548
  • 9780195132540

Review quote

Sacred Pain is a fascinating, erudite and skilfully written presentation of a highly complex subject. It is essential reading for any serious student of the problem of pain, and its 20 pages of selected bibliography are an invaluable resource for further study. Church Times A brilliantly written, thought-provoking volume on the transformative potential of physical pain experienced within a religious context. Harold G. Koenig, M.D., co-author, Handbook of Religion and Health Ariel Glucklich is that rare being, a genuine comparativist, of cosmopolitan learning and wide sympathies. Drawing upon such diverse approaches as neurobiology, social psychology, ritual studies, cultural theory, phenomenology, and history of religion, he succeeds in shedding light on the darkest reaches of the seemingly chaotic realm of pain. Glucklich reminds us of all-but-forgotten insights into the transformative power of sacred pain, brings these insights into dialogue with the best thinking that is being done in the behavioral and biological sciences, and in so doing forges new instruments for the study of religious consciousness. Carol Zaleski, Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Smith Collegeshow more

About Ariel Glucklich

Ariel Glucklich is Associate Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and the author of The End of Magic (OUP 1997) and The Sense of Adharma (OUP 1994).show more

Review Text

A scholarly examination of the effect of ritual pain on human consciousness and identity. Glucklich ("The Sense of Adharma", not reviewed, etc.), associate professor of theology at Georgetown, was prompted to explore the subject when an atheist friend and chronic pain sufferer ridiculed rituals of self-inflicted pain, asking "Why would anyone in his right mind do this?" Pain can be a good thing, Glucklich responds, transforming one's identity and strengthening one's bond with God. Sacred pain, he explains, can transform destructive suffering into a positive religious-psychological experience: under the stress of pain, it seems, the central nervous system reacts in a way that reduces the individual's sense of self, opening the path to new perceptions. Glucklich looks at how pain has been described and evaluated in religious literature around the world, discussing it within the context of rituals of possession and exorcism, rites of passage and initiation, and the tortures and executions of the Inquisition. (A word of warning: Some of these passages are decidedly unpleasant to read.) Our understanding of the constructive value of pain, he argues, has been hampered by the medicalization of pain. With the invention of anesthesia in the 19th century, pain came to be viewed as a medical problem and, as its neurological mechanisms have become better understood, its spiritual and religious aspects have been overlooked. Glucklich calls for a broadening of the perception of pain as a mere biomedical phenomenon to the view that it can be "a medicine, a test, a rite of passage, or an alchemical agent of inner transformation." Glucklich's thesis is not easy to accept, and his presentation of it is, for the general reader, made more difficult by his frequent use of the special terminology of neuropsychology, psychoanalytic theory, philosophy, and theology. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Table of contents

1. Introduction; 2. Religious Ways of Hurting; 3. Pain and Transcendence: The Neurological Grounds; 4. The Psychology and Communication of Pain; 5. Self and Sacrifice: A Psychology; 6. Ghost Trauma: Changing Identity Through Pain; 7. The Emotions of Passage; 8. The Tortures of the Inquisition and the Invention of Modern Guilt; 9. Anesthetics and the End of Good Pain; 10. Conclusionshow more

Rating details

46 ratings
3.76 out of 5 stars
5 33% (15)
4 30% (14)
3 22% (10)
2 11% (5)
1 4% (2)
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