The Embodiment of Worship

Relations Among Postural, Psychological, and Physiological Aspects of Religious Practice


  • Patty Van Cappellen Duke University
  • Megan E. Edwards Duke University



embodiment, prayer, body, emotions, religious experience


In addition to a set of beliefs, religion is fundamentally a corporeal practice. Across religions, specific postures adopted for prayer and worship may not simply reflect arbitrary customs but are closely intertwined with religious experience. This contribution reviews embodiment theory and related empirical evidence showing how body postures influence our emotions, thoughts, and decision-making. We propose a typology of postures adopted in religious practices along the dimensions of expansiveness-constrictiveness and upward-downward body orientation, and review the corpus of published/unpublished research on the embodiment of worship. We further discuss that in addition to enabling the experiential and ritualistic aspect of religion, embodiment serves at least four functions: communicative, social, cognitive, and intrapersonal. Finally, we suggest contextual and individual differences variables that may constrain the choice and psychological consequences of postures within and outside religious contexts. Together, we emphasize that the locus of religion’s psycho-social “effects” is not only in the mind or the brain but in the full body.

Author Biographies

Patty Van Cappellen, Duke University

Social Science Research Institute

Megan E. Edwards, Duke University

Social Science Research Institute


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How to Cite

Van Cappellen, P., & Edwards, M. E. (2021). The Embodiment of Worship: Relations Among Postural, Psychological, and Physiological Aspects of Religious Practice. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 6(1-2), 56–79 .