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Focus Group 'Doctrines'

khk_focus_group_doctrines_text_en.jpg The foremost research question for the focus group 'doctrines' is: What role does physical life play in the expounding of metaphysical truths? - While the core concerns of religious teachings tend to be of trans- or extrasensory nature, even the metaphysical can obviously not be conveyed or conceived of in ways other than through an – at least metaphorical – use of the senses.

Thus, for logical reasons alone, religious doctrines need to take the senses into account in one way or the other. A perhaps even more fundamental reason for their doctrinal relevance is the fact that the senses – and sensuality as such – are a constant source both of pleasure and of suffering. Thus, in as far as religions claim to deliver from suffering or offer a pathway to (eternal) pleasure, they need to address the status of sensual pleasure and suffering vis-a-vis their own salvatory propositions, and also vis-a-vis their warning of punishment. There is no religious promise and no religious threat that does not relate in one way or the other, be it in positive or in negative terms, to human biology.

We therefore start from the assumption that both the sensual nature of perception and sensual desire have to be broached in religious teachings one way or the other. Seen from the angle of the transcendence/immanence divide, sensuality seems to be at the ‘immanent’ end where it provides the ‘grounding’ (Erdung) of the otherworldly realm without which the latter would be of no relevance for human life. However, religious doctrines differ significantly in the ways and the degree in which they address sensuality:

  • There can be explicitly metaphorical/symbolic and non-metaphorical/non-symbolic references to sensual objects (Example: das ist mein Leib/das bedeutet mein Leib),
  • There can be doctrinal preferences for specific senses or sensory organs over others, e.g. the eye over the ear or vice versa (‘Tian’ hört und sieht, aber er zeigt nur und spricht nicht), and corresponding taboos (Bilderverbot, Stille, Bevorzugung bestimmter Arten von Klängen). Not all senses might deliver ways to truth, and not all senses might be addressed by the deities.
  • There can be sublimated or less sublimated references to the senses (zwischen Vergeistigung/Askese und orgiastischen Kulten)

The doctrinal status of the senses and sensuality, and thus the ‘furnituring’ (Möblierung) of religions might have a bearing on their attractiveness, perhaps varying for different social groups and mentalities, and thus on the history of their interrelations and conflicts.

Comparisons that juxtapose doctrinal takes on senses and sensuality in different traditions, and the setting up of typologies of traditions according to their restrictive or accommodating attitude to senses and sensuality may be necessary first steps of research. Most directly relevant for the purposes of the KHK, however, are approaches that try to determine how the treatment of senses and sensuality is taken over between, or used for mutual demarcation of, different religious traditions, as well as how the latter adapt to changing cultural or societal perceptions and normative evaluations of the senses and sensuality (cf. the Theology of the Body of John Paul II, or the differences in the assessment of homosexuality between Asian and Western Buddhists.)