Cultural histories

Meditation history front pageMeditative practices have flourished in widely different parts of Eurasia, yet historical research on such practices is limited. Research to date has focused on contexts rather than actual practices, and within individual traditions.

For the first time in one volume, the meditative practices of the three traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are examined. They are viewed in a global perspective, considering both generic and historical connections to practices in other traditions, particularly in India and East Asia. Their cultural and historical peculiarities are examined, comparing them both to each other and to Asian forms of meditation.

The book builds on a notion of meditation as self-administered techniques for inner transformation, a definition which focuses on transformative practice rather than notions of meditative states and mystical experiences. It proposes ways of studying meditative practice historically, and concludes with an essay on the modern scientific interest in meditation.

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Halvor Eifring (ed.)
Cultural histories


1. Introduction
Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices
Halvor Eifring, Professor of Chinese, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo

2. Judaism
Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation
Terje Stordalen, Professor of Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo

Mystics without Minds? Body and Soul in Merkavah Mysticism
Michael D. Swartz, Professor of Hebrew and Religious Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, The Ohio State University

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah
Alan Brill, Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair of Jewish-Christian Studies, Department of Religion, Seton Hall University

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice in Kabbalah and Hasidism
Lawrence Fine, Irene Kaplan Leiwant Professor of Jewish Studies, Mount Holyoke College

3. Christianity
Meléte in Early Christian Ascetic Texts
Per Rönnegård, Research Fellow, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University

The Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation in Greco-Roman Philosophy
Henrik Rydell Johnsén, Research Fellow, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition
Serafim Seppälä, Professor of Systematic Theology and Patristics, School of Theology, Philosophical Faculty, University of Eastern Finland

The Pathless Path of Prayer: Is There a Meditation Method in Meister Eckhart?
Jeffrey Cooper, Assistant Professor, Theology Department, University of Portland

Teresa Of Avila’s Evolving Practices of ‘Representing’ Christ in Prayer
Mary Frohlich, Associate Professor of Spirituality, Catholic Theological Union of Chicago

Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation: Louis Richeome’s Painting in the Mind
Judi Loach,Interdisciplinary Research Professor in the Humanities, Cardiff University

Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation in Orthodox Christianity
Augustine Casiday, Honorary Research Fellow, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University

4. Islam
Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer
Jamal J. Elias, Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Movement and Stillness: The Practice of Sufi Dhikr in Fourteenth-Century Central Asia
Shahzad Bashir, Lysbeth Warren Anderson Professor in Islamic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University

Music and Remembrance as Meditation: Sama’ in the Indus Valley
Michel Boivin, Senior Fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, CNRS-EHESS

5. Science
The Natural Science of Meditation – A ‘Black Box’ Perspective?
Svend Davanger, Professor of Neuroscience, Institute of Basic Medical Science, University of Oslo


“Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a well written book with several strengths. One is that it focuses on meditation in Western religions – this is much less studied than meditation in Eastern religions. A second strength is that the book has a cross-cultural comparative and historical approach to meditation, both in focusing on the three Western monotheistic religions and in also including a comparison with East Asian and Indian traditions. A third strength is its focus on meditative practices rather than on ideas. Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a fresh start in the study of meditation and greatly advances research in the field.”
Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, Professor of Religion, University of Bergen, Norway

“Meditation is a practice found in virtually all religions. This remarkable collection of essays explores the practice of meditation in the Abrahamic religions, proceeding phenomenologically, proposing to see meditation as a ‘self-administered technique for inner transformation’. With clarity and scholarship, the different ways in which meditation functions in the different religions—and within them—are revealed. One of the strengths of the book is the frequent willingness of the contributors to acknowledge that meditation, thus understood, cannot be confined to the phenomenological, but draws the discussion insistently into the realm of prayer.”
Andrew Louth, Professor Emeritus of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, Durham University UK and Visiting Professor of Eastern Orthodox Theology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.