Thanks to a recent article in the Guardian, which reported that “Mind, Body and Spirit” UK book sales are growing while other book genres are dropping in sales, I’ve been thinking about how perceptions of spirituality relate to feminism and to the expansion of knowledge.
Three things in particular came to mind. First of all, that our idea of the west as less religious than the rest of the world is misleading. Africans are, for instance, generally known to read a copious amount of religious books to the detriment of other book genres. As Cassava Republic founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, once said in a brilliant interview about Nigeria’s reading habits, “Religious and motivational books have overwhelmed the nation’s reading imagination, […] a dangerous trend since knowledge from such areas does not direct the growth that a nation like Nigeria needs.” Well you could actually say the same about the UK now. “Mind, Body and Spirit” books are becoming to Britons what the Bible and Koran are to Nigerians. UK readers are equally seeking answers to life’s eternal questions in (often market-driven) mind, body and spirit category of books.
Don’t get me wrong, however. It is not bad per se that the “Mind, Body and Spirit” genre is performing well. Some of my favourite books belong to this genre too. But, and coming to the second point, it is worrisome that sales of other genres are dropping. It seems that to discover spirituality, people think they should read only spiritual books. As the decreasing sales in other book genres suggest, readers are not combining their readings of spirituality with other book genres. This is counterintuitive, because spirituality and deep wisdom are pretty much synonymous; a spiritually awakened person is one who has achieved the highest form of wisdom and vice versa. Wisdom is achieved through a broad understanding of the world not only spiritually but also intellectually, emotionally and sententiously. The broader an understanding of reality, the more expansive the mind, body and spirit. In fact, a spiritual revelation without a matching expansion of knowledge may create internal confusion. You could, for instance, read all the books on tantric sexuality if you like, but if you’re in a culture where the female body is oppressed then your sexual expression may nevertheless come at the cause of safety, relationships and careers.
Which brings me to my third reflection; that much of this is rooted in the patriarchal and masculinised approach to knowledge. A society which condemns women consequentially condemns femininity. And when it comes to knowledge, it is the feminine element which encourages the integration of diverse fields and genres. It is the feminine element that can appreciate music as a form of critical knowledge or science as a form of song. It is the feminine element that knows that science can be a spiritual experience and meditating a scientific one. By feminine, I do not mean female. Nor is this by any means to argue that a masculine approach to knowledge is bad in itself. The masculine element, you could say, is aggressively and systemically concerned with data, logic and reason and humans need these to survive. But unaccompanied by the feminine element, epistemology (the study of knowledge) becomes not only stale and impenetrable like a tough piece of leather but also incomplete, unfulfilling and lacking in sensitivity and wisdom.
This is what conscientious feminism is about, it is a holistic approach to effecting change.
Image is “Apollo” by Henri Matisse.