Review Essay: What is the Subtle Body?


Simon Cox’s Subtle Body: A Genealogy is not so much of these bodies themselves, but of the very concept “subtle body,” under which these bodies are grouped, and thought. This learned and yet very readable genealogy begins with a western discourse of the subtle body largely framed by a platonic cosmology — what Wouter Hanegraaff describes as a top-down, hierarchical, emanationist scheme in which the principal question is how an immaterial soul descends into fleshly embodiment, and how it might return to its immaterial origin. Here, the subtle body functions as a kind of intermediary, a vehicle for the soul’s exile and return. Woven into both halves are four short kudens, or oral transmissions — autobiographical interludes in which Cox situates this academic genealogy in a much longer personal quest for the subtle body. The two  streams — the genealogical and the autobiographical — merge in the conclusion.

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