Erotic Spirituality: Metaphorical conceptualization of Desires for the Divine in Sufi Discourse

Afef Badri


The embodiment hypothesis views cognition as grounded in the body’s sensory motor experience of the physical world. Gibbs’ (2005) case study of people’s talk about desire revealed that there is a cross-cultural tendency to conceptualize abstract emotions of desire, love and lust for non-material things such as reputation, success, appreciation...etc, in terms of physical sensation of hunger. Extending the findings of this experiment the current paper intended to study the conceptualization of desire for non-physical things in a more abstract realm of human experience which is Sufism. The paper’s major goal is to explain how the conceptualization of the most abstract, untenable, and ineffable spiritual experiences is constrained by the embodied mind.

Applying the neural theory of metaphor and the embodied cognition hypothesis, the paper investigated the reasons motivating the recruitment of erotic images in the conceptualization of abstract desires for abstract things such as desire for knowledge, desire for spiritual achievement, and desire for the Divine in Al-Ghazali’s The Revival of the Sciences of Religion. The findings indicated that the bodily experience impacted the sensual and lustful corporal conceptualization of spiritual desires.


abstract desires, conceptual metaphor, embodiment hypothesis, sexuality, Sufi discourse.

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