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2014-2015

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  • Thumbnail for Acting on the Path to Awakening: A Cognitive Exploration of Identity Transformation and Performance in Vajrayana Deity-Yoga
    Acting on the Path to Awakening: A Cognitive Exploration of Identity Transformation and Performance in Vajrayana Deity-Yoga by Hallahan, Andrew Nolan

    A central element of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist practice is the esoteric visualization of deities, bodhisattvas, and buddhas—termed “deity-yoga”—during meditation that aims to transform a practitioners understanding of images and self-image. Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, including the Dalai Lama, claim that deity-yoga is a skillful and effective means of constructing a deeper understanding of emptiness, attaining enlightenment within a single lifetime, and a powerful mode of identity transformation and mental healing. By examining Vajrayana deity-yoga through the lenses of the cognitive and social sciences, the claimed paradigmatic shift in self-identity as a result of deity-yoga occurs (1) by utilizing image-based cognition as an alternative means of knowing the complex metaphysical doctrine of emptiness; and (2) through psychosomatic processes of habitualization and role-play of an imagined potential self-image during meditation, comparable to theatrical performance and social identity construction. Cognitive research conducted on actors concludes that emotional actualization and identity transformation during the portrayal of a character onstage is largely a result of the psychosomatic, routinized practice of a role based on a scripted, yet imagined self-image. This research supports the Tibetan Buddhist claim that habitual meditative visualization exemplified in deity-yoga is an effective means of identity transformation by targeting these processes. Furthermore, viewing the cognitive and psychosomatic processes underlying deity-yoga as akin to performance and social identity construction may help advance scholarship in religious studies, and carries implications for secular applications that benefit from creative visualization, such as scientific discovery as well as mental and emotional health.

  • Thumbnail for The Reemergence of the Cult of Saint Agatha in the Twelfth Century: The Immanence of the Sacred in Popular Catholic Belief
    The Reemergence of the Cult of Saint Agatha in the Twelfth Century: The Immanence of the Sacred in Popular Catholic Belief by Aaron, Eve

    Saint Agatha is the patron saint of Catania, Sicily and was an early Christian martyr who died in 251 AD during the Roman persecutions of Decius. Her cult was formed a year after her death which was marked by a miracle in which she is thought to have protected Catania from the eruption of a nearby Volcano, Mount Etna. The Muslims conquered Sicily in 827 restricting the growth of her cult until the Norman conquest of the island in 1090. Many Scholars have been inclined to see the twelfth century reemergence of Agatha’s cult as a result of the Normans’ propaganda to re-Christianize the island. This paper will attempt to explain the cult’s reemergence in terms of its theological and emotional appeal within the broader context of twelfth century Christianity. Agatha’s narrative was easily solidified within the imagination of believers through the arrival of her relics in the twelfth century from Constantinople where they had been kept while the Muslims ruled Sicily. As they include, among other things, Agatha’s breast, the relics were aids in the revival of a cult, which was theologically reconcilable with that of the Virgin Mary. As the Cult of the Virgin was re-popularized in the twelfth century as well, there is room for a parallel to be drawn between the two female religious figures. I will therefore attempt to conclude that Saint Agatha’s cult was revived at a time when the Christian feminine ideal, which had been established by the Cult of the Virgin, was structurally the same as that promoted by Agatha’s narrative, leading to the success of Agatha’s cult. Through an analysis of these various theological factors that might have contributed to the reemergence of Agatha’s cult, I will attempt to deconstruct the common preconceptions of Catholicism, which far too often situate the tradition within the context of political power and motivation. In basing my understanding of Catholic practice from personal observation of the processions around Saint Agatha I have gained a better understanding of the emotional and theological appeal of the saint’s narrative and relics. These theological factors seem to be fundamental to the popularity of a cult such as Agatha’s and are the primary supporters of any resulting political success.