Somatic Memory: Trauma and the (Eucharistic) Body
O'Donnell, Karen Maria
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The Body of Christ is a traumatised body because it is constituted of traumatised bodies. This thesis explores the nature of that trauma and examines the implications of identifying the trauma of this body. Trauma specialist Bessel Van Der Kolk posits that trauma is written into the somatic, or bodily, memory rather than the semantic memory. This somatic memory is essential to understanding trauma as this memory is repeated in the traumatised body. No theologian has yet explored what the somatic memory of the Christian body might be. This somatic memory not only tells us what the trauma of the Body of Christ is and signposts routes for healing, but also, once we identify the somatic memory, allows us to explore its implications for theology. Beginning with the celebration of the Eucharist as the central place in Christianity where bodies and memory come together, this thesis examines what memory is being remembered and repeated at the altar. The identification of this somatic memory is then used as a hermeneutical lens through which to explore the foundational narratives of the Eucharist and the bodies involved in its celebration. This research reveals that the somatic memory at the heart of Christianity is the memory of the Annunciation-Incarnation event. This event ruptures the foundational eucharistic narratives of priesthood, sacrifice, and presence and demonstrates that Mary must have a central place in Christian theology. It reveals that Christian liturgy holds within it an unclaimed memory and experience of trauma, and an unacknowledged instinct for trauma recovery. The results of this research are significant because they offer a fresh perspective on Christian theology, in particular the Eucharist, and present a call to love the body in all its guises. Furthermore, this traumatic, somatic memory opens up new pathways for considering what it means to ‘be Christian’.
PhD in Theology & Religion