Article ID: CBB022102119

Of Mountains, Lakes and Essences: John Teasdale and the Transmission of Mindfulness (2018)


In this article I examine an important episode in the growth of ‘mindfulness’ as a biomedical modality in Britain: the formation and establishment of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) by John Teasdale and his colleagues Mark Williams and Zindel Segal. My study, focusing on Teasdale’s contribution, combines ethnographic, oral historical and archival research to understand how mindfulness was disseminated or, to use a term sometimes used by mindfulness practitioners themselves, ‘transmitted’. Drawing on theoretical support from Max Weber, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, I argue that transmission had a very specific form within the Buddhistic milieu that Teasdale occupied and within which he developed MBCT. To ‘transmit’ mindfulness was to transmit an experiential essence; a type of subjectivity that was seen as perennial, universal and radically distinct from its historical context. In tracing the recurring metaphysical, metaphorical and visual tropes of mindfulness and its transmission, I attempt to understand how Teasdale was embedded in both local and global networks of discourse and practice, and how his life and work contributed and depended upon an assemblage whose elements (institutional, technical, conceptual, textual) straddled empiricist psychology and religious mysticism. I also examine how authority, experience and knowledge were closely interwoven in the birth of British mindfulness, coming together to form an affectively compelling ‘diagram’ that shaped the way mindfulness was practiced and disseminated. In doing so, I aim to open up the possibility of studying the history of the human sciences from a new perspective: one which places an emphasis on the emotional impetus generated by metaphysical assumptions.

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Article Sarah Marks (2018) Psychotherapy in Europe. History of the Human Sciences (pp. 3-12). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Füredi, Frank
Nicholson, Ian A. M.
Schmit, David T.
Harrison, Henrietta
Duffin, Jacalyn M.
Dobbs, Trevor M.
Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Journal of Asian Studies
History and Anthropology
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine
Oxford University Press
Pickwick Publications
University of Birmingham (United Kingdom)
University of Notre Dame
Medicine and religion
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Maslow, Abraham Harold
Bindrim, Paul
Cosmas, Saint
Damian, Saint
Guntrip, Harry
Śramaṇa Zhiyi
Great Britain
United States
Amsterdam (Netherlands)
20th century, late
21st century
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
6th century

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