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Cultural Histories of Meditation (completed)

This project focuses on the practice of meditation, including the various elements employed by different techniques, and the principal similarities and differences between the techniques. How have these practices developed in different cultural contexts? What is the relation between practice and effects, and between practice and cultural context?

Meditative practices have flourished in widely different parts of the Eurasian continent ever since the foundations of the great civilisations were laid. Though often suppressed by the mainstream, they nevertheless constitute core elements of these civilisations, as in the religious traditions of India, the self-cultivating bent of Chinese thought, the merging of prayer and meditation in early Christian monasticism, the spiritual exercises of the Greek philosophical schools, early Hebrew meditative traditions, and the later rise of Jewish Kabbalah and Islamic Sufism. Cross-cultural historical research on such fundamental practices, however, has been limited.

This project attempts to turn this around, by providing a global and comparative perspective to the historical study of meditative practices. It focuses on the relationship between concrete practice and cultural interpretation in all larger and some smaller meditative traditions. Only by taking seriously the diversity involved can we hope to discover features that are shared by many or perhaps all forms of meditation.

To enable comparison of diverging meditative traditions, the project includes contributions from ca. 100 invited scholars studying different parts of Europe and Asia, and working within different disciplines, such as theology and the history of religion, linguistics and philology, cultural history and literary studies, as well as anthropology and biomedicine.


The project has organized major events:

Cultural Histories of Meditation, main conference at Halvorsbøle outside of Oslo, May 2010

East Asian Meditative Traditions, Taiwan conference, October 2009


The project has led to five publications:

Asian Traditions of Meditation. Edited by Halvor Eifring. University of Hawai'i Press. 2016.

Meditation and Culture. The Interplay of Practice and Context. Edited by Halvor Eifring. Bloomsbury Academic. 2015

Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist Meditation: Cultural Histories. Edited by Halvor Eifring. Hermes. 2014.

Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Cultural Histories. Edited by Halvor Eifring. Bloomsbury Academic. 2013.

東亞的靜坐傳統 East Asian Traditions of Meditation. Edited by Yang Rubin, Mabuchi Masaya and Halvor Eifring. Taipei: National Taiwan University Press. 2012.

Praise for the Project

"Eifring is to be congratulated for a courageous undertaking, that brings this spirit of fairness and search to the study of so many different kinds of meditation. That such study has been achieved without sacrifcing scholarly care and substantiation is a credit to the editor and the book’s contributors. Only collaboration between scholars in neuro-science, philology, textual analysis, anthropology, ethnography and religious studies will make further work in the eld of the study of meditation and related areas possible. This book offers a distinguished start to these studies: one is left with a solid sense that steps have been taken to a new understanding and accord between scholars working in different elds, and with different background research interests, on a subject that is now coming to be considered so important in matters of health, social benefit and the well-being of the individual." - Sarah Shaw, Faculty Member, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford University. Review of the book "Meditation and Culture" in the Oxford Journal of Buddhist Studies.

Published June 1, 2010 9:53 AM - Last modified Apr. 6, 2020 10:41 AM