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Title:Disturbing rhythms: James, Merleau-Ponty, music, and self-transformation
Author(s):Johnson, Marc
Advisor(s):Rosenstock, Bruce
Department / Program:Religion
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):William James
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Abstract:One often interprets one’s selfhood in a Cartesian way. That is, the everyday self is a clearly demarcated individual that is separate from others and from the world around it (including, to a large extent, its own body). Although this is the most common understanding of one’s ipseity, there are contexts where this Cartesian self is overthrown and an alternative identity emerges. Such states of transformation, as I will call them, are often induced in contexts where music plays a prevalent role. Indeed, musicians and their audiences have reported experiencing a new kind of connection, a new found unity with others and the world around them when creating/appreciating music. Historically, many of these transformations have taken place in religious contexts and have, therefore, been construed as religious experiences. For example, the initiate of the Dionysian mystery cult would dance to music on the mountainside in order to enter into an ecstatic state and meet her god face to face. This paper will explore music’s role in inducing such states of transformation. Its starting point will be William James’ analysis of such states in his The Varieties of Religious Experience. Here, James continues his phenomenological task of cataloguing all forms of consciousness. Unfortunately, this highly fecund project was ignored by prominent European phenomenologists during the 20th-century and the French phenomenologist Maurice-Merleau-Ponty was no exception. However, this paper will show that both Merleau-Ponty’s early phenomenology and his late ontology (in conversation with James’ earlier analysis) offer significant theoretical tools with which to explore such states and their relationship with religious experience.
Issue Date:2013-05-24
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Marc Johnson
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-05-24
Date Deposited:2013-05

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