Sensing the Sacred: Religious Experience, Somatic Inversions, and the Religious Education of Attention

Daniel Winchester, Michal Pagis

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12 Scopus citations


While previous work has focused largely on discourse, contemporary sociological research has started to examine how the embodied, sensory dimensions of religious practice matter in the construction of religious experience. This paper contributes to this development by drawing sociological attention to the religious cultivation of a particular class of embodied experiences: Somatic inversions. Somatic inversions, as we define them, are experiences in which dimensions of human embodiment that usually remain in the tacit background of action and perception are brought to the experiential foreground. We demonstrate how these kinds of practically cultivated experiences of inversion-while not religious in any essential way-enable and encourage attributions of religious significance, making purportedly religious phenomena present to the senses and open to further engagement, exploration, and elaboration. We develop our argument through empirical material from the authors' respective studies of Eastern Orthodox fasting and Theravada Buddhist meditation practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-35
Number of pages24
JournalSociology of Religion
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. All rights reserved.


  • Buddhism
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • embodiment
  • experience
  • practice
  • theory


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