Article Published: The Weight of Bodily Presence in Art and Liturgy

I am happy to announce that my article, “The Weight of Bodily Presence in Art and Liturgy,” has been published! It was published in the journal Religions in a special issue entitled “Phenomenology and Liturgical Practice.” You can see the official post here (where you can read it online or download it). Or you can also download it from my profile on academia.

If you have wondered about the advantages and disadvantages of doing virtual church during the pandemic, this is for you! Here is my abstract:

This essay addresses the question of virtual church, particularly on whether or not liturgy can be done virtually. We will approach our subject from a somewhat unusual perspective by looking to types of aesthetic experiences which we have been doing “virtually” for a long time. By exploring how we experience art in virtual and physical contexts, we gain insight into the corresponding experiences in liturgical practices. Drawing on Mikel Dufrenne, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gabriel Marcel, I first examine the importance of the body when we experience “presence” in aesthetic environments. Next, I consider the weight of the body in experiences of presence in liturgical practices, both in person and virtual, guided again by Gabriel Marcel as well as Bruce Ellis Benson, Emmanuel Falque, Christina Gschwandtner and Éric Palazzo. Through these reflections, I argue that what art teaches us about the significance of the physical closeness of the human applies to the practice of liturgy and that, while unexpected benefits will surface in virtual settings, nothing replaces the powerful experiences that arise when the body is physically present.

Abstract for “The Need for Merleau-Ponty in Foucault’s Account of the Abnormal”

I presented a paper at the 2018 International Merleau-Ponty Circle on November 10, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee entitled “The Need for Merleau-Ponty in Foucault’s Account of the Abnormal.” I am happy to announce that a version of this paper has been submitted as a chapter in an edited book entitled, Normality, Abnormality and Pathology in Merleau-Ponty. Here is the abstract for my chapter.

Due to both his historical contributions as well as the simple persuasive power of his writing, many of us are drawn to the work of Michel Foucault on the history of the abnormal. And yet, while we acknowledge the insights offered by his account of the abnormal, we may feel that something is missing from his historical narrative and wonder if it can be fully trusted. In this chapter, I will argue that we can only successfully draw on Foucault’s work on the abnormal once we recognize that it is Merleau-Ponty’s work in psychology that serves as its hidden foundation.

To do so, I begin by giving a brief summary of Foucault’s account of the abnormal according to his 1961 History of Madness and his 1974-1975 lectures entitled Abnormal. Foucault describes how the abnormal of the modern age comes out of an understanding of madness that can be traced in the previous ages. He then reveals some common historical structures present in each age; in particular, how the notion of madness is dependent on the societal constructions of the rational and the nonrational. But we are left asking: Where are these constructions coming from? And why is madness inextricably linked to our understanding of the rational and nonrational in every age? Foucault’s account of the abnormal seems to tell us how the notions of madness play out in society, but offers no explanation for why the historical structures are shaped in this way.

I turn to Merleau-Ponty for aid and find that the very historical structures recounted by Foucault are actually rooted in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological patterns of the abnormal. Drawing on the Phenomenology of Perception, I describe the phenomenological foundation of the abnormal as a way to make madness both accessible and meaningful. We find that this foundation is precisely what is needed for the arbitrary historical constructions of Foucault. To close, I look at the presence of these patterns in the disorder of schizophrenia, demonstrating how the unity of a historical-phenomenological account of the abnormal can provide deeper insights into the experience of a mental disorder.

Abstract for At the Opening of Madness: An Exploration of the Nonrational with Merleau-Ponty, Foucault and Kierkegaard

(This abstract was accepted by the North Texas Philosophical Society for the 2018 Conference which will be taking place in Dallas, Texas, March 30-31, 2018. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

This paper offers the beginnings of a taxonomy of madness through the analysis of three different approaches, the phenomenological, the historical-structural and the existential-religious. Rather than seeing madness as closed off to human understanding, I argue that insight into madness exposes the diverse forms of the nonrational, which I define as the pre-rational, the irrational and the supra-rational. Each of the forms reveals the reliance on the nonrational in several areas of the human condition including expressions of mental disorders, dynamic structures of society and experiences of extreme faith.

Abstract for Rethinking Mental Disorders: Educating leaders on the ethical implications of psychopathology

(This abstract was accepted by the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum for the 2017 Conference which will be taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 5-7, 2017. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

With the rising number of mental disorders in our communities, it has become increasingly important for leaders to have a clear understanding of the nature of mental disorder and to be given the appropriate tools to help those who are suffering. Leaders, both inside and outside the psychological community, are struggling with how to treat people with mental disorders and how to provide them the best care possible.

This paper will suggest a fresh way of viewing those struggling with mental disorders by seeing their experiences as not outside the common human experience, but actually arising from the human condition itself. I will turn to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a philosopher and psychologist, to demonstrate how cases of psychopathology must be understood as an opening to the horizon of human experience, an expression of the human condition and a way of still using structures of being-in-the-world. We will find that this inclusive account of psychopathology aids in a better understanding of mental disorders as well as a better understanding of the human. We cannot, however, conflate the distinctions between healthy and sick ways of experiencing the world, as the suffering from those with mental disorders is weighty and real. Thus, while recognizing the magnitude of the suffering, this account provides a way to relate to the person struggling, as opposed to perceiving their experiences as inaccessible.

With this inclusive account of psychopathology, leaders can then be equipped both (1) to help those struggling with mental disorders and (2) to incorporate them into the life of their community. For the first, leaders will be reminded of the importance of holistic care: not only is it crucial to offer medical care, but also physical, spiritual and emotional support. And second, although certain times of separation from the community are needed, during times of hospitalization or mental health retreats, leaders can also look for ways to engage those struggling with the community. I will close this paper by looking at several examples of this kind of community engagement, such as sports programs at local recreational centers, art and music workshops at non-profit organizations, educational opportunities at charter high schools, and social and volunteer activities at state hospitals.

Abstract for Merleau-Ponty on Habit With Possible Implications for Psychopathology

(This abstract was accepted by the North Texas Philosophical Association for the 2016 Conference which will be taking place in Dallas, Texas, April 1-2, 2016. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

Habits are part of our daily lives and something that all of us act upon – whether we want to or not. Merleau-Ponty takes a broad approach to human habit claiming that it is a key to all of human behavior. In this paper, we will walk through Merleau-Ponty’s description of habit and discover the integral role it plays in how we learn and how we encounter the world. Furthermore, we will discuss Merleau-Ponty’s radical claim that humans do not just have habits, but are habits. Taking these ideas further, I suggest that such an understanding of human habit is particularly beneficial for the practice of psychopathology by recognizing that those struggling with mental disorders are still operating according to habit. I conclude the paper by offering four possible ways that this recognition may provide fresh avenues to understand, help, and heal them as fellow humans.