Mindfulness and Hasidic Modernism

Toward a Contemplative Ethnography

in Religion and Society
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  • 1 Emory University dseeman@emory.edu
  • | 2 Life University michael.karlin@life.edu
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Abstract

Amid growing interest in mindfulness studies focusing on Buddhist and Buddhism-derived practices, this article argues for a comparative and ethnographic approach to analogous practices in different religious traditions and to their vernacular significance in the everyday lives of practitioners. The Jewish contemplative tradition identified with Chabad Hasidism is worth consideration in this context because of its long-standing indigenous tradition of contemplative practice, the recent adoption of ‘mindfulness’ practices or terminology by some Hasidim, and its many intersections with so-called Buddhist modernism. These intersections include the personal trajectories of individuals who have engaged in both Buddhist and Hasidism-derived mindfulness practices, the shared invocation and adaptation of contemporary psychology, and the promotion of secularized forms of contemplative practice. We argue that ‘Hasidic modernism’ is a better frame than ‘neo-Hasidism’ for comparative purposes, and that Hasidic modernism complicates the taxonomies of secularity in comparable but distinctive ways to those that arise in Buddhist-modernism contexts.

Contributor Notes

DON SEEMAN is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. He was a recipient of a Research Grant from the Social Science Research Council's New Directions in the Study of Prayer Initiative as well as a Contemplative Studies Research Grant from the Mind and Life Institute. He is the co-editor of Hasidism, Renewal, and Suffering: The Prewar and Holocaust Writings of R. Kalonymus Shapira (forthcoming), and is also co-editor of the “Contemporary Anthropology of Religion” book series published by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. E-mail: dseeman@emory.edu

MICHAEL KARLIN is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Life University in the Positive Human Development and Social Change Department and the Associate Director of the Life University Center for Compassion, Integrity and Secular Ethics. He is the co-author of the manual “Compassionate Integrity Training: A Secular Ethics Approach to Cultivating Personal, Social and Environmental Flourishing.” Karlin received his PhD in Religious Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Jewish Studies from Emory University in 2014. He was a recipient of a Contemplative Studies Research Grant from the Mind and Life Institute and was a Fellow of the Tam Institute of Jewish Studies and the Wexner Heritage Institute. E-mail: michael.karlin@life.edu

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