Corporeality in Contemplation
“The body” has become a major focus of intellectual inquiry across academic disciplines over the last fifty years. The interest in the body has also intensified with recent advances in studies of materiality, affect, technology, and neuro and cognitive sciences. In Christian theology, works on the body have also grown rapidly. My aim in this essay is to make a contribution to contemporary Christian theological discussions on the nature and role of the human body by turning to Edith Stein’s writings on contemplation and engaging a comparative theological study of a particular Tibetan Buddhist meditation tradition called lojong (Tib. blo sbyong). The core issue that I address is the lack of practical traction between theologies of the body and a person’s actual relationship with her body in a life of Christian formation. Christian theology has not provided an adequate model of the body that can concretely inform Christian experience of the body and guide Christian practice. I argue that Stein’s extensive work on the body in both philosophical phenomenology and ascetico-contemplative theology can make a particularly important contribution to addressing this issue. However, Stein’s theory of the body has limitations that point to deeper issues in the ontology and anthropology she inherits from the Western Christian tradition. I argue for a comparative theological study of non-Christian sources that conceive the body in ways that shed new light on her view of the body. The current theological literature shows three broad approaches to constructing a theology of the body: re-appropriating neglected sources within the Christian tradition; appropriating concepts and methods from academic disciplines outside Christian theology; or a combination of the two. Yet, these approaches fall short of elucidating how theoretical work on the body should concretely affect bodily experience and practice. In addition to these approaches, there is a need to study theological sources that employ models where the body is better integrated into the anthropology and contemplative framework. I turn to Tibetan Buddhist lojong to reflect on how the points of convergence and divergence between lojong and Stein can help us develop a model of the body that addresses the lacunae in Christian theology of the body. I examine the underlying ‘subtle body’ model operative in lojong texts and argue for explicitly using a subtle body model in Christian contemplation.