14 Jul 2022 - 15 Jul 2022 All day Newnham College (closed workshop)



  • Iza Kavedžija (University of Cambridge)



What forms can the inner life take? How is it shaped through specific forms of embodied practice? While one’s inner life need not be understood as separate from one’s body or  senses, and the ‘outer world’, certain experiences are strongly felt to be private and inaccessible to external observers. Even if the inner life is ultimately ‘illusory’ (as Merleau-Ponty reminds us), it remains personally meaningful for many.

Significantly, specific practices appear to shape or give rise to particular forms of inner life. It is well established that the acquisition of certain skills allows people to attend to particular  aspects of their surroundings and to think about them in more or less conscious or structured ways – thus enskilment in crafts has been described in terms of education of attention (e.g. Grasseni 2004). Various practices might similarly provide elements that furnish one’s inner life: reading novels, for instance, can subtly affect the tone in which one’s inner ‘monologue’ (or perhaps dialogue) unfolds. Some practices are explicitly conceived as a means for cultivating interiority: mindfulness meditation, for instance, encourages practitioners to attend to their thoughts in a detached manner, free from judgment. Yet Buddhist practice extends beyond seemingly ‘mental’ activities (such as meditating) to include a broad range of embodied everyday practices that are thought to effect a change in interiority (e.g. Cook 2010) .

Such changes can exceed everyday language. In fact, much influential work on inner life departs from metaphors of ‘inner language’ or ‘inner speech’ (e.g. Wiley 2016); and yet many relevant experiences are not orderly, like language, nor even necessarily discursive. While it is widely acknowledged that one’s ‘inner language’ may include images, moods, feelings, or reverie, the metaphor of speech remains powerful and widespread. Without downplaying the importance of narrative in constituting inner life, how might we nevertheless move beyond it, to encompass other forms?

Participants in this interdisciplinary workshop are invited to approach the inner life from either empirical or theoretical perspectives. Particular questions to be addressed could include the following:

  • What are the particular experiences, skills and forms that furnish people’s inner worlds? These might include images, narratives, sensations, and their perceived sources or origins; but also how those are mediated, or framed, through skilled practices such as ritual, prayer, keeping diaries, growing plants, or hunting.
  • What can philosophical and neurological perspectives on the imagination contribute to our understanding of the experience of inner life?
  • What are the cultural, historical and social contexts that lead to the cultivation of particular forms of inner life? In which contexts or circumstances are thoughts and experiences understood in terms of interiority – and in which are they not?
  • Which embodied practices are seen as particularly effective conduits to thinking, feeling, or imagining?


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