There is nothing particularly revelatory about philosopher Richard Shusterman’s claim that historical actors’ bodies were the “fundamental, indispensable instrument or medium through which [they] perceive[d], act[ed], and live[d]” their lives on planet earth. And yet a survey of even the most sophisticated and cutting-edge history of ideas and intellectual movements reveals how they often render thinkers’ own embodiment invisible in their studies. Though the panelists are in no way hostile to intellectual histories that focus on high-level thought (indeed some of us work in this register ourselves), we are interested in accessing ideas and intellectual preoccupations that moved in mainstream and even marginalized historical discourses. While plenty of thinkers whom historian of science Steven Shapin refers to as “disembodied truth-lovers” sought ascetic discipline and social disengagement, the historical figures we will discuss on the panel recognized their own embodiment and lived experience as crucially connected to their intellectual and moral commitments.
Examining these discourses requires that we take what intellectual historian Sarah Igo has called a “free-range” approach to the study of ideas. This means retracing their sites of production, whether they be an office in an insurance firm, the battlefields of the Western Front, a stage set for a pornographic movie, or a zafu meditation cushion. Paying attention to alternate ways of knowing thus promises to bring historians to unexpected locations where historical actors encountered new ideas and produced new knowledge of their own.
Susan Matt’s paper on the history of capitalist emotions, Warren Breckman’s on the diaries of a cavalryman in the First World War, Jane Kamensky’s on an adult filmmaker and feminist, and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s on American wisdom literature all aim to raise historical, historiographical, and methodological questions about intellectual embodiment. Leigh Eric Schmidt joins the conversation as commentator, bringing his expertise in religious studies and cultural and intellectual history to explore the variety of ways scholarly research can yield intimate histories of mindful bodies.
Our papers and Schmidt’s comments will be kept to 10 minutes each, so as to maximize audience participation and panelists’ discussion with one another.
 Richard Shusterman, Thinking Through the Body: Essays in Somaesthetics (Cambridge, 2012), x.