Guest Post: Wolf-Andreas Liebert,
Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Koblenz

New media breaks through familiar narrative patterns

Let me move next to sequences of a published movie titled “Satori” (OpenSkyFilms 2013). The Film is about a woman’s awakening in a small spiritual community. The documentary narrates not only the story retrospectively but includes material filmed during the awakening process.

In Zen Buddhism, Satori means a sudden insight into the nature of mind beyond rationality and language. The traditional sitting meditation (Zazen) or paradoxical interventions (Koans) are regarded as enabling conditions for a Satori. Although the term “Satori” comes from the context of Zen Buddhism, the community in the documentary has little to nothing to do with Zen Buddhism.

There is no recognizable Zen practice performed in the community and there is also no concern with the central sutras or the ethics of Zen. The website rather reveals a personal background of the spiritual teacher John David in the Neo-Advaita with reference to Sri H. W. L. Poonja (“Papaji”). In the film, the Zen term “Satori” is only contextualized by a few quotes from Alan Watts, among others. As mentioned earlier, bricolage is a key feature of late modern informal religiousness.

You can buy the documentary on DVD and watch the official movie trailer on YouTube.

What’s immediately striking is the autonomous body activities like shaking, babbling, screaming and moaning. There seems to be no more rational control. You remember that there were similar descriptions in Tolle’s awakening narrative but the film medium provides a much greater intensity. Like you were really attending this awakening process. As if you could observe the ineffable. The Zen quotations that appear suggest that this is not a pathological phenomenon, but a sacred transformation.

Another point is the retrospectiveness of awakening narratives. This example thus shows us how in this film narrative the purely retrospective character of a classical conversion narrative is broken in favour of a new narrative form. The documentary as a whole is actually retrospective but elements of it are not; these real time ‚awakening‘ snippets should surely be considered in detail in further research. This holds for many awakening narratives on YouTube and similar platforms and is possible due to the film medium.

As Thomas Luckmann (1967) has already written, the loss of significance of Christian institutions does not mean that there are no more experiences of transcendence in late modern societies. According to Luckmann, these show up as “invisible religion”. Interpretations of experiences of the sacred and the transcendent no longer lie in the established churches, but are increasingly lived and regulated by small communities and in the private sphere. Supported by social media they increasingly compete with the established churches and now claim their own visibility. This indicates that from the perspective of the Linguistics of Religion (Liebert 2017), it is worth extending research on conversion narratives to awakening narratives functioning in the field of informal religiousness.


Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2015): The Globalization of Esotericism. In: Correspondences, 3, 1, 55-91.

James, William (1917): The Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in Human Nature. Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902. New York, London, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras: Longmans, Green and Co. 28th ed.

Liebert, Wolf-Andreas (2015): Metaphern der Desillusionierung. Die Bereiche Theater, Höhle, Traum, Phantom, Gefängnis, Simulation und Hologramm als Ressource für Blendings. [Metaphors of disillusionment. The domains theatre, cave, dream, phantom, prison, simulation and hologram as a resource for blending] In: Köpcke, Klaus-Michael und Spieß, Constanze (Hg.): Metapher und Metonymie. Theoretische, methodische und empirische Zugänge. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter. (=Empirische Linguistik / Empirical Linguistics; 1). 111–142.

Liebert, Wolf-Andreas (2017): Religionslinguistik. Theoretische und methodische Grundlagen. [The Linguistics of Religion. Theoretical and methodological foundations.] In: Lasch, Alexander und Liebert, Wolf-Andreas (Hg.): Sprache und Religion. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter. (=Handbücher Sprachwissen; 18). 7-36.

Luckmann, Thomas (1967): The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society. New York: MacMillan.


OpenSkyFilms (2013): Satori – Metamorphose eines Erwachens – Trailer, YouTube: URL:; accessed February 17, 2019. (DVD 2012, English with German subtitles). Tolle, Eckhart (1999): The Power of Now. A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato, California: New World Library. Originally published in Canada by Namaste Publishing 1997. (German: Jetzt! Die Kraft der Gegenwart. Bielefeld: Kamphausen. 1