Types of Conceptual Blends

The theory of conceptual blending provides a framework for rigorously working through the different components of a blend and the unique integrated conception that emerges. The premise of Fauconnier and Turner’s (2002) theory of conceptual blending is that blending is a fundamental and ubiquitous mental operation, critical to even the simplest forms of thought, and that it underlies the distinctive cognitive advantages of modern humans. They further claim that the imaginative processes that underlie conceptual blending nearly all occur outside of consciousness and are opaque to typical introspection. As a general theory of conceptual integration, their framework brings together a wide range of conceptual patterns, including analogy, metaphor, and metonymy, within a single theoretical framework.

Blending allows conceptualization to operate on a more human scale, typically through compression. To get a sense of how compression operates in religious conceptualization, consider the case of Buddhist iconography. The Buddha is often shown with varied hand postures. In the “touching the earth” depiction, the bhumisparsamudra, he is shown seated in a meditation posture with one hand touching the ground. The gesture depicts a key moment in the Buddha’s spiritual career when he was tempted by demons who claimed that he had no right to occupy the spot where he was sitting. The Buddha responded by touching the earth, calling on the goddess of the earth to bear witness to his virtuous acts over many lifetimes. The goddess responded by making the earth shake, driving away the demons (Buswell & Lopez, 2014).The iconography, as a blend, works by compressing all the elements of this story into one image. Through a depiction of a salient key event in the narrative, it thus captures a range of divergent elements of Buddhist doctrine to include the importance of cultivating virtue across lifetimes, the need to overcome temptation, the importance of determination, and the superior position of the Buddha, who is honored even by the traditional religious deities of India.

In this example, disparate conceptual packets are brought together in a single blend. In Fauconnier and Turner’s framework, these conceptual packets are called mental spaces. Formed from schematic information taken from long-term memory

(i.e., frames) or input from chunks of information in working memory (e.g., knowledge of the immediate environment), these packets of information are interrelated and can dynamically shift as discourse unfolds. Although mental spaces are created dynamically within working memory, they can also become entrenched, at which point specific mental space configurations are stored in long-term memory and are thus available as raw material for more complex blends. Consider, for example, the reference in the first chapter of John to Jesus being the lamb of God: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).This evocative reference relies on the readers’ background knowledge of lambs as sacrificial animals and Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross in Christianity, a blend that would be very familiar to readers from Christian cultures.

Fauconnier and Turner depict input spaces as circles and the elements of the spaces as points within the circle. In this book, Fauconnier and Turner’s diagram style has been developed to better map connections across the different elements of a blend. In order to illustrate a relatively simple blend, Figure 7.1 shows the integration of the crucifixion of Jesus and the sacrifice of a lamb.

Relationships between elements in different input spaces are depicted using dotted lines. The simplest blend consists of at least four spaces: a generic space, which contains what the inputs have in common; a minimum of two inputs (here, the lamb and Jesus); and a blended space.The blended space contains emergent structure, which is established through three processes. First, composition brings together elements that do not necessarily exist together in each input space. Second, completion brings to the blend a structure which may be taken from one or more inputs or developed within the blended space. Third, elaboration allows people to “run” the blend. In the case of many sophisticated blends, the process of elaboration is what culminates in the sense of a special imaginative leap or insight.

Christ as the sacrificial lamb blend

FIGURE 7.1 Christ as the sacrificial lamb blend

To achieve human-scale understanding, blends typically rely on a set of conceptual associations called vital relations (Fauconnier & Turner, 2002). The most common of these are change, identity, time, space, cause-effect, part-whole, representation, role, analogy, disanalogy, property, similarity, uniqueness, and inten- tionality. Blends can be further broken down into four types of integration network: simplex, mirror, single-scope, and double-scope.

Simplex networks involve a basic mapping between frame and frame elements, and often the simple assigning of values to their appropriate roles in the frame. These are ubiquitous in language and thought. Rinderknecht (2018) makes use of this concept in his study of the dialogue between Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians on the topic of sacrifice in the Eucharist. He describes the Lutheran position, based on Melanchthon’s Apology of the Augsburg Confession, in terms of a simplex blend. Melanchthon rejected the idea that the Eucharist was a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice for people’s sins and instead viewed the death of Christ through the frame temple sin offering, connecting Jesus to the frame elements of victim, priest, and atonementfor sin. The integration in the blended space of Jesus with these roles resulted in viewing Jesus as a victim-priest who atones for human sin in obedience to God. For Melanchthon, the Eucharist could therefore only be regarded as a figurative thanksgiving sacrifice in response to Christ’s actual sacrifice on the cross.

Mirror networks involve blends in which all the input spaces share the same organizing frame. One example of this is contained in the extract from Merton: “See Christ here, on the Cross! See his wounds, see His torn hands”. In order to process the meaning of the words “here” and “see”, the reader integrates the mental space for Christ’s historical death (which obviously could not be seen by Merton) with the mental space for Merton’s perception of the Mass (as in some sense witnessing Christ’s death).

Single-scope networks involve instances in which only one input space provides the organization for the blend—typically, a cross-domain mapping between a source domain and a target domain. This generally corresponds to metaphoric processing in Conceptual Metaphor Theory. The “behold the lamb” blend provides a good example of this, since the structural elements of the sacrifice of a lamb provide the organizing frame for the blend.

Finally, double-scope networks have inputs with different structures and a blended space that takes structure from two or more spaces to develop its own idiosyncratic structure. Rinderknecht’s (2018) description of the Lutheran view of sacrifice in the Eucharist (discussed above) was designed to emphasize the unique, once-for-all aspect of Jesus’s sacrifice in terms of a simplex blend. His description of a second view produced as a result of a dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans provides a good illustration of a double-scope network focusing on the same topic. The participants in the dialogue wished to continue to emphasize their view that Christ’s death was a once-for-all event, but also that God enables believers to be made present at that event. Rinderknecht’s (2018)

Double-scope blend of Christ’s sacrifice

FIGURE 7.2 Double-scope blend of Christ’s sacrifice

double-scope blend of this view is included in Figure 7.2, adapted from his diagram (p. 178).

In the example,“once-for-all” is integrated in the blended space with “repeated” to produce the notion of a unique event being continually re-presented to those taking part in the Eucharist. The sacrifice therefore remains once-for-all, but participants in the Eucharist are able to be present at that sacrifice again and again. One other tension addressed in the blend is caused by the traditional Lutheran fear that the Roman Catholic Mass is something that is done by believers to “earn” their salvation. The blend provides the dialogue’s response to this by placing “divine human” and “church” in separate generic spaces and then integrating them as the body of Christ in the blended space. In this conceptualization, it is not the believers who are doing something through their own power, but “the whole Christ (totus Christus)” who “is acting in union with its head” (Rinderknecht, 2018, p. 177).

Double-scope blends often involve the integration of elements that may not naturally appear to belong together or which may even seem contradictor)'. This kind of blend is therefore ideal for modeling the often paradoxical aspects of religious language. Some theologians also make the claim that key double-scope blends result in such a radical restructuring of categories and concepts that they can be referred to as tectonic (Masson, 2014, 2018). Masson gives the example of the conceptualization of Jesus as the Son of God. This tectonic shift in the understanding of Jesus also leads to radical shifts in the concept of God (e.g., the conceptualization of God as Trinity).

While Masson tends to focus on the formation of key Christian doctrines in his analysis of tectonic shifts, blending can also serve broadly as a general means of transforming concepts to convey the counterintuitive ideas typical of religious thought (Boyer, 1994). As discussed in Chapter 3,some of these ideas that involve two separate domains resist analysis as metaphor. Consider, as an example, the input spaces that are brought together in US Evangelical theologian John Piper’s discussion of hell-fire.

The final wrath of God will be terrible - indescribable pain ... So when the Bible speaks of hell-fire, woe to us if we say, “It’s only a symbol”. If it is a symbol at all, it means the reality is worse than fire, not better. The word “fire” is used not to make the easy sound terrible, but to make the exceedingly terrible sound something like what it really is.

(Piper, 2005)

Understanding this usage of hell-fire as literal fire is somewhat problematic because Piper’s point is that one is qualitatively distinct from (and thus more terrifying than) the other. At the same time, reducing fire to the level of a single-scope network or using it as a straightforward metaphorical mapping is also unsatisfactory. However, as a double-scope, tectonic blend, the painful sensation of being burned from one input space can be viewed as blended with a separate input space—in this case, the indescribably terrible quality of divine wrath, which is left open as an “indescribable” pain precisely to ensure the radical and open-ended nature of the blend. The blend is diagrammed in Figure 7.3.

The hell-fire blend

FIGURE 7.3 The hell-fire blend

In the generic space, there is the readily grasped notion of a force that has a negative effect for some period of time. The physical fire space highlights fire’s capacity to burn and inflict pain.Through an analog)’ link, this corresponds to the frightening aspect of God’s wrath. In terms of effects, fire is a highly salient and embodied experience of intense suffering which, through another analog)' link with the consequences of God’s wrath in the other input space, is associated with extremely undesirable consequences in the spiritual life. In terms of its enduring effect, fire only lasts as long as there is fuel, whereas divine wrath lasts forever. This disanalogy link provides the counterintuitive feature that marks off hell-fire as a minimally counter-intuitive idea. Importantly, some of the content from the two input spaces is combined in the blended space, whereas other content (e.g., the eternal nature of damnation) comes from only one input space. The blend shows why both literal and metaphorical analyses fail to capture the meaning of “hell-fire”. The emergent meaning in the blend selectively takes content from both input spaces so as to form a new concept.

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