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The body and embodiment: an interdisciplinary reflection on material practice and spiritual formation

Kebirn R. Rush, Fuller Theological Seminary


This study explores the constitutive relationship between human embodiment and spiritual formation. The primary thesis claims that embodied practices, far from being innocuous to spiritual life, serve formative functions. The purpose of this study centers on developing a practical understanding of the ways bodily and spatial practices can facilitate spiritual growth. Daily body regimes and bodily and spatial practices in worship services can become important means of addressing and facilitating spiritual formation.
Drawing on contemporary research in the cognitive and social sciences, this study intends to bring together embodiment and spirituality as co-constitutive elements in human existence and experience. Discovering the ways the body knows and makes sense of its world becomes essential to understanding how the body forms and informs spiritual experience. Current research in the cognitive and social sciences point out that apprenticeship and ritual practice are key ways the body makes meaning. Developing an integrative approach in which bodily life and spiritual life are intimately intertwined becomes essential to a biblical understanding of human existence.
The study begins by situating the debate within historical contexts in an effort to identify the key philosophical and theological concepts which have come to situate and define the body. Contemporary conceptions of the body are then explored in order to understand the influence of postmodern thought on embodiment. A definition of the body and spirituality in non-reductive terms is offered in an effort to capture the multidimensional structure of each. The study concludes by exploring the practical ways the body contributes to spiritual experience and formation.