Saved from pain or saved through pain? Modernity, instrumentalization and the religious use of pain as a body technique

European Journal of Social Theory 13 (4):521-537 (2010)
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Abstract

Contemporary sociology mirrors Western society in its general aversion and sensitivity to pain, and in its view of pain as an unproductive threat to cultures and identities. This highlights the deconstructive capacities of pain, and marginalizes collectively authorized practices that embrace it as constitutive of cultural meanings and social relationships. After exploring the particularity of this Western orientation to pain — by situating it against processes of instrumentalization and medicalization, and within a broader context of other social developments conducive to a heightening of affect control — this article builds on Mauss’s analysis of ‘body techniques’ in suggesting that the cultural, physiological and psychological dimensions of pain can be combined in various ways. In examining this point further, we then compare contrasting religious engagements with pain as a way of detailing how it can be positively productive of cultural meanings and identities, and conclude by using these comparisons to illuminate the relationship between the current Western approach to pain and the Christian traditions that shaped the West historically.

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