“Free your body”: Buddhist-derived theory, practice, and ontology for abolitionist social transformation and embodied liberation

Authors: Sapana Doshi*, University of Arizona, Tucson
Topics: Social Theory, Cultural Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: abolition, liberation, embodiment, Buddhist practices, anti-racism, anti-capitalism, feminism
Session Type: Paper


Buddhist-derived theories and practices—including corporeal awareness-based meditation, martial arts, and contemplative reflection—are increasingly being adopted by anti-racist, social justice groups. Connecting larger systems of white supremacy and intersectional oppressions with both internalized subjugation among racialized groups as well as “numbness” towards or denial of everyday racism associated with privilege, these efforts are aimed releasing barriers to implementing transformational change making. Such practices experiment in new anti-racist, feminist, and anti-capitalist ontologies that blur binaries of the secular and religious, self and society, and theory and practice that practitioner believe may fundamentally shape transformational consciousness necessary for social liberation. The paper draws on ethnographic interviews and participant observation in gatherings of multi-racial but majority people of color groups of activists and social change agents engaging in such practices based in various parts of the United States. It explores whether and how efforts to connect internally oriented contemplative practice with external social change work is forged and mobilized towards a specifically abolitionist form of transformation along three registers: 1) the anti-capitalist and anti-racist somatic ontologies nurtured through embodied contemplative practices, 2) how Buddhist-derived notions of embracing discomfort (rather than race-blind “feel good” orientation of much white-dominated alternative spirituality) shape relations across groups that are positioned unequally under racial capitalism and 3) how somatic practices shape abolitionist social change interventions.

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