Conceptual Blending

As shown in previous chapters, Cognitive Linguistics, through its analysis of conceptualizations involving frames, metaphor, metonymy, agency, and force dynamics, provides a powerful toolbox for the study of religious language. Yet in some cases, these tools can prove to be inadequate. Within religious discourse, figurative language can become quite complex, as believers attempt to describe what they understand to be connections between the natural world and the supernatural. Parables and teachings can include elaborate stories that require more than mapping single words onto other words or concepts, instead making a variety of connections across different concepts and events, and physical and metaphysical objects, to conceive and convey deeper insights. Cross-connections between different elements are not only present in obvious examples like parables, but also in the construction of beliefs and doctrine. In the extract from Thomas Merton’s biography from the previous chapter, Merton describes his experience of watching Mass at a Trappist monastery. As part of his description, Merton pictures Christ on the cross.

See Christ here, on the Cross! See his wounds, see His torn hands, see how the King of Glory is crowned with thorns! Do you know what Love is? Here is Love.

(Merlon, 1990, p. 323)

Merton’s observation reflects a standard Christian belief that the historical Jesus died on the cross to redeem mankind, but the Christian interpretation of this event involves a strikingly novel combination of several ideas, to include the Roman practice of torturing criminals on a cross, Old Testament practices of killing and draining the blood of an animal as a sacrifice to avert the anger of God, and the idea that Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah, embodying God’s love, appeared as a man and willingly gave his life as an intervention to save mankind. What appears at first to be a simple statement of belief actually involves a complex interaction of a medley of concepts. When Christian believers think about the crucifixion and take part in rituals like the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist, they are somehow able to integrate all these disparate elements together into a meaningful practice. In addition, the end product of this integration, rather than a mere juxtaposition of elements, contains unique entailments that go beyond the meaning of all the original parts.

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