ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Religion as memory


Bronkhorst Johannes - University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland


23 – Engaging the world through contemporary South Asian tantric and shamanic traditions


 This paper will argue that memory from early childhood underlies many practices and beliefs that we commonly refer to as “religious”. The consciousness of young children does not yet have certain features that characterizes adult consciousness. This paper will concentrate on four of these: (I) a reality that is recognizable; (II) a sense of temporal duration; (III) a sense of self; (IV) an experience of the world that is deeply affected by our acquaintance with (a) language. Absence of these features presumably characterizes the consciousness of infants. It also often characterizes mystical experiences, frequently described as displaying: (i) an unrecognizable reality, different from “ordinary” reality; (ii) a different sense of time, culminating in a sense of timelessness; (iii) a different sense of self, different from the ordinary self that is involved in one’s actions; (iv) ineffability. The paper will argue that all this — and the human tendency to engage in so-called religious practices and beliefs in particular — makes most sense on the assumption that adults somehow preserve the memory of their childhood state of being.