Pain is immediate and searing but remains a deep mystery for sufferers, their physicians, and researchers. As neuroscientific research shows, even the immediate sensation of pain is shaped by psychological state and interpretation. At the same time, many individuals and cultures find meaning, particularly religious meaning, even in chronic and inexplicable pain.
This ambitious interdisciplinary book includes not only essays but also discussions among a wide range of specialists. Neuroscientists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, musicologists, and scholars of religion examine the ways that meditation, music, prayer, and ritual can mediate pain, offer a narrative that transcends the sufferer, and give public dignity to private agony. They discuss topics as disparate as the molecular basis of pain, the controversial status of gate control theory, the possible links between the relaxation response and meditative practices in Christianity and Buddhism, and the mediation of pain and intense emotion in music, dance, and ritual. The authors conclude by pondering the place of pain in understanding—or the human failure to understand—good and evil in history.