Stuart Ray Sarbacker is an Associate Professor in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion at Oregon State University. He specializes in the Comparative Study of Religion with a focus on Indic religion and philosophy. His research and teaching is centered on the relationships between the Indian religious and philosophical traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. He has researched and written extensively on the theory and practice of yoga and meditation in South Asian religion and philosophy, both in their classical and contemporary contexts. He also works extensively on issues related to method and theory in the study of religion, especially with respect to religious experience and its interpretation. In addition to broad introductory courses on World Religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, he teaches a range of courses, such as “The Theory and Practice of Modern Yoga” and “Spirituality and Ecology: Green Yoga” that utilize innovative contemplative pedagogies aiming at bridging gaps between academic study, self-reflection, and engagement in civic life. In addition to his academic work, Sarbacker is trained as a yoga teacher, having studied and practiced modern postural yoga (especially vinyāsa-based systems) and a range of meditative practices drawn from modern Buddhist traditions (including Tibetan, Theravāda, and Zen).

Funded Project: Technology of the Self: Yoga, Buddhism, and the Social Implications of Human Augmentation

The development of technologies of human augmentation, especially the enhancement of human cognitive and physical functions, is radically transforming the nature of human embodiment and human relationship. These radical shifts in the nature of “being in the world” are only likely to accelerate in the coming decades and demand deep and sustained reflection on their social and ethical implications. Among such implications, one of the most important and pressing is the question of the ways in which technology can lead alternately to communion with or alienation from others, as is illustrated in contemporary reflections on virtual reality, smartphone, and social media technologies. There is a profound urgency to this task of reflection, given that the rate of change is so great and will likely become greater, and given the reality that reflection on the social implications of technology are often pursued only in the wake of scientific discovery and its application, not in preparation for it.

This project aims to contribute to this critical discussion of the implications of emerging technology on human relationships through examining how the philosophical and contemplative traditions of yoga and of Buddhism address the effect of human augmentation on interpersonal relationships. In particular, it will focus on the ways in which yoga and Buddhist traditions view the disciplining of mind and body as producing extraordinary modes of perception and action that have profound, but morally ambiguous, implications on human relationships. It will explore how the transformation of self through technologies of augmentation, from wearable tech to prosthetic limbs and cognitive and sensory enhancements, can be understood to provide an analogous set of issues and concerns, as such technology has an ambiguous effect on the relationship of the individual to others in the world. To what extent are such technologies about amassing power and control over others? To what extent are they a reflection of a transforming one’s mode of being in the world so as to expand the sphere of one’s kindness and compassion? This project will demonstrate how these issues raised by emerging technologies are anticipated in yoga philosophy and in Buddhist traditions, but call for novel applications and understandings that are relevant to 21st century life. In a historical era in which narratives of technological dystopia seem to have profoundly captured the popular imagination, contemplative traditions rooted in Indian religion and philosophy may offer alternative, and more hopeful, visions of present and future human community.