Manufacturing Mindfulness

Abstract

Mindfulness, a term often used interchangeably with ‘meditation’, currently constitutes a global industry with stakeholders in religious groups, psychological practice, corporations, and scientific fields... This paper contends that similar to the way arguments for sui generis religion were used to justify the creation of religious studies departments in universities around the world, so too has mindfulness been manufactured in order to support the industry that now surrounds it. Examining the mindfulness movement in this way helps illuminate some of the assumptions underlying the scientific work, therein helping to reveal avenues for further scientific and scholastic research.

Date
Event
University of Sydney, Studies in Religion Departmental Seminar
Location
Rogers’ Room, John Woolley Building, University of Sydney

I’ve been invited to talk at the Departmental Seminar Series at my home department at USyd.

Full Abstract

Mindfulness, a term often used interchangeably with ‘meditation’, currently constitutes a global industry with stakeholders in religious groups, psychological practice, corporations, and scientific fields. It also holds interest in popular discourse, being frequently referenced in media. Mindfulness appears to be a term with a notable amount of cultural capital. Indeed, so popular is it, that 2014 was called the ‘year of mindfulness’, by Time magazine. This follows a phenomenal rise in interest, including scientific interest, in meditation and mindfulness since around 2004. Running through much of the discourse – popular, scientific, corporate – is the notion of meditation and mindfulness as sui generis; something unique and of its own kind, “different from all other human activities”, as John Kabat-Zinn put it. Recent literature on the claim of religion as sui generis has theorised the socio-political strategies behind the notion. This paper contends that similar to the way arguments for sui generis religion were used to justify the creation of religious studies departments in universities around the world, so too has mindfulness been manufactured in order to support the industry that now surrounds it. Examining the mindfulness movement in this way helps illuminate some of the assumptions underlying the scientific work, therein helping to reveal avenues for further scientific and scholastic research.