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International Workshop "The Magic of Yoga: Conceptualizing Body and Self in Transcultural Perspective"

Dec 11, 2009 - Dec 12, 2009 02:00 pm to 04:00 pm
Organizer: C3 Mind and Body

Research Project C3 "Mind and Body" in cooperation with PD Dr. Beatrix Hauser has organised an international and interdisciplinary workshop on "The Magic of Yoga: Conceptualizing Body and Self in Transcultural Perspective". 

Concept: Yoga often serves as an icon of Indian culture. Whereas yoga philosophy has influenced European thinkers since the late eighteenth century, its worldwide success as a mind-body technique is a recent social phenomenon that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. In this respect, yoga constitutes a paradigmatic example of transnational flow of ideas about spirituality, health and well-being. However, the cultural history of yoga shows that the character of this flow cannot be reduced to the dichotomy of ‘traditional Indian’ yoga versus ‘modern Western’ forms — presently re-imported to India. The variety of yoga traditions described in Sanskrit sources, as well as scientifically oriented secular approaches to yoga in pre-independent India are only two indicators. Hence Joseph Alter (2004) suggests considering yoga as an ingenious social and cultural construct capable of reflecting and absorbing a variety of historically-configured ideas and practices. The value of such a perspective is to avoid getting trapped by the question of authenticity. It rather provides analytic scope for exploring what actually constitutes ‘glocalized’ yoga(-s) in the twentieth and twenty-first century.
The workshop investigates modern yoga in this transcultural perspective. Following Alter, yoga is conceptualized as a discursive trope that is both inspired by social reality and, simultaneously, shapes the perception and experience of body and self. The workshop hence emphasizes yoga practice as a social phenomenon that in the last fifty years has gradually influenced our respective ways of thinking and feeling about human wellbeing. We particularly invite contributions to the following dimensions:

  • Yoga as cultural imaginaire (or projection screen): How are forms of yoga conceptualized transculturally, in different social environments? How do people think about yoga? What are their expectations, their prejudices? What social qualities are associated with yoga?
  • Yoga as a social practice: How does knowledge about yoga and the regular attendance at yoga classes influence conceptions of body and self? In what respect do yoga students from different backgrounds recognize and relate psychophysical reactions and developments to their yoga practice? How do they frame their experiences?
  • Yoga as a social and cultural incentive: What kinds of social and cultural developments are related to the popularity of yoga? How does the spread of yoga practice transform cultural notions of wellbeing, mental states and health care? In what ways does the yoga discourse shape notions such as ‘vitality’, ‘serenity’, ‘strength’, ‘discipline’ and so forth?

In short, we wish to explore the ‘magic’ of yoga, i.e., its attractiveness, the powers associated with this mind-body-technique and its social impact on the lived-in reality. On this basis we may again theorize on the cultural flow of yoga and also the quality of this migration.

Please note that your participation at the workshop requires an informal registration. Please contact Maren Schulte at mschulte@ix.urz.uni-heidelberg.de for registration and further queries about the workshop.

For further information on the programme please see:

Programme (pdf, 44kb)

List of Contributors and Abstracts (pdf, 59kb)


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