Imagination and Embodiment in Practices of Sacred Sonorous Being

Session Date: 
Mar 13, 2021
Speakers: 
Imagination is a fundamental human process.  Can we then say that imagining is an altered state of consciousness, or is it the default state of consciousness that is the norm and defines us as human?  In this presentation we recognize imagination as deeply embodied, and that as bodily beings we both hear and produce sound. In particular, I offer a reflection on the religious implications of our “sonorous being,” a phrase from the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The sonorous being of our embodied, fleshly existence can give us insight into the imaginative generation of sacred power if we take it up in the context of concrete examples.  Accordingly, I introduce two ethnographic phenomena that extend the existential meaning of our sonorous being to the dimension of the sacred. These are the religious practices of Pentecostal-Charismatic singing in tongues and Native American Church peyote songs.  These ritual practices share the characteristic of singing without any semantic or lexical component, allowing us to reimagine vocalization, speech, and song as bodily secretions, or material emanations of sonorous being.  The religious setting consecrates the natural act of vocalization as an imaginative act.  I conclude by suggesting that these sacred songs create a particular relationship between immanence and transcendence.  Engendering this relationship in concrete experience is the significance of peyote songs and singing in tongues, and what they have most in common in addressing the imaginative force of sonorous being in defining our humanity.