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Talking of transcendence: A discursive exploration into how people make sense of their extraordinary experiences

Castro, Madeleine (2010) Talking of transcendence: A discursive exploration into how people make sense of their extraordinary experiences. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis is a study of Transcendent Exceptional Human Experiences (TEHEs), with a particular focus on language. Three concepts effectively characterise the experiences of interest: a loss of time and space, connection with nature, the Universe or something Higher and a deep emotional affect. In considering the relevance of these experiences for sociology, it is argued that language is a social activity and TEHE accounts are therefore also social. However, this raises a paradox: whilst these experiences are often claimed to be ineffable, language is all we have with which to study them. Previous approaches to TEHEs in social science generally looked for explanations and tended to overlook this social aspect. Interviews were collected and analysed using a set of methodological principles informed by Conversation Analysis and Discursive Psychology, but also by feminist and transpersonal research. These principles identify the important and relevant aspects from the influential methodologies and where possible, address perceived limitations, incompatibilities and criticisms of these approaches. The analysis reveals the structure of the TEHE accounts and establishes the presence of some normative patterns. Reported thought is analysed as a discursive device. It is argued that reported thought works to negotiate epistemic authority and experiential responsibility (the agency of TEHEs and the rationality of the speaker faced with an extraordinary experience). Respondents’ spontaneous accounts of self-transformation are also analysed and show how potentially sensitive issues concerning the discursive construction of identity, consistency and change are managed in talk. This research contributes to discursive psychology and linguistic analyses concerning reported thought and agency. It also contributes to discursive work regarding identity, whilst making links with consciousness studies and (tentatively with) sociology of spirituality. Finally, this thesis emphasises the importance of an empathic and respectful approach to TEHEs and identifies various pragmatic, intellectual and personal tensions faced during research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Transcendent Experiences, Discursive Psychology, Conversation Analysis, Methodology, Reported thought, Transformation, Story structure, Sociology of Spirituality, Identity, Identity change, Consciousness, Reflexivity, Emotionality, Methodological tensions
Academic Units: The University of York > Sociology (York)
Depositing User: Dr Madeleine Castro
Date Deposited: 18 May 2010 14:06
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:44
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/588

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