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Multimodal Semiotics of Spiritual Experiences: Representing Beliefs, Metaphors, and Actions

By Vito Evola

Abstract

Traditionally, spiritual experiences have been considered "ineffable," but metaphors pervade the representations of certain concepts of the transcendental in an attempt to talk about such abstract ideas. Whether it be during the description of a vision or simply talking about morality, people use conceptual metaphors to reason and talk about these concepts. Many representations of God, spirits, or the afterlife are culturally based, but whereas some may differ based on individual experiences, others seem to have a more universal character. From a phenomenological point of view, it seems that the descriptions are contingent and not necessary, that is, the language a believer is exposed to may influence, but not condition a priori, his or her own spiritual experience as Constructivists have thought. People's views about themselves and the world around them are deeply rooted in their conceptual systems, which are created by their experiences and their bodily interactions with the world, whether it's having to do with gravity in the case of UP and DOWN, or what our individual and social concepts are. When people talk about religious and spiritual concepts, they are revealing a great deal about their world and themselves and the way they interact with it. Concepts dealing with people's system of beliefs are very "meaningful" for the individual, and the more entrenched a frame of mind is, the less plastic it is, a fact confirmed by the neurosciences, which claim that it is difficult to break down and reconstruct certain synaptic structures of the brain. How do today's common "faithful" relate to certain metaphors about spiritual concepts transmitted by their faiths? What do these metaphors say about the individuals' concepts of themselves and their world? I will explore some of my own conclusions concerning conceptual metaphors and figurative language collected in various sacred texts and during a series of interviews of religious people with different backgrounds of religious systems. The data include linguistic expressions as well as gesture. Moreover, the interviewees were asked to draw on paper certain experiences of religious nature and then to describe their pictures. My investigation will try to shed new light on the phenomenology of religious experiences and personhood, using cognitive linguistics as a prime tool of analysis

Topics: Behavioral Analysis, Logic, Metaphysics, Psycholinguistics, Behavioral Analysis, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Ethics, Philosophy of Mind, Semantics, Social Psychology, Perceptual Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Philosophy of Language
Year: 2008
OAI identifier: oai:cogprints.org:6112

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