Relationships between Religious and Scientific Worldviews in the Narratives of Western Buddhists Reporting Meditation-Related Challenges” 

  • Roman Palitsky, Emory University
  • David J. Cooper, Brown University
  • Jared R. Lindahl, Brown University
  • Willoughby B. Britton, Brown University

Abstract: Contemporary Buddhist meditators in the West are likely to find themselves engaged in practices with rich associations with both religious and scientific worldviews. Meditation-related challenges can provoke existential concerns that make unexplored relationships between religious and scientific worldviews more important and explicit for Western Buddhist meditators, who may turn to both religion and science for making sense of these challenges. Interviews with 68 meditators and 33 meditation experts were analyzed to examine how meditators and meditation teachers understand the roles of, and relationships between, scientific and religious worldviews in the context of meditation-related challenges. Observed themes included: conflict between science and religion, compatibility between science and religion, nested relationships between science and religion, science and religion as discrete domains, and complementarity between science and religion. These themes suggest an expansion of existing understandings of the relationships between religion and science as they apply to Buddhist meditators, especially in the context of meditation-related challenges. The variety of relationships between religion and science, their existential relevance for meditators, and their interaction with responses to meditation-related challenges suggest that varied relationships between religious and scientific worldviews are important considerations in the scientific study of contemplative practices. Nuanced understandings of how religion and science relate may also benefit practitioners, experts, and their communities when addressing meditation-related challenges.

Keywords: Meditation-related challenges, Science, Religion, Culture, Meaning making

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