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Keywords:

  • altered states of consciousness;
  • Christology;
  • cognitive neuroscience of religion;
  • kenōsis;
  • mysticism;
  • neurotheology;
  • phenomenology;
  • religion and science

Abstract.

We assess St. Paul's account of kenōsis in Philippians 2:5–8 from a neurophenomenological horizon. We argue that kenōsis is not primarily a unique event but belongs to a class of experiences that could be called kenotic and are, at least in principle, to some degree accessible to all human beings. These experiences can be well analyzed, making use of both a phenomenological approach and the cognitive neuroscience of altered states of consciousness. We argue that kenotic experiences are ecstatic, in that they involve—both phenomenologically and neurologically—one's “stepping out of” his/her self and history. This seemingly impossible task of stepping out has led to the understanding of kenōsis as a unique event. We conclude that kenotic experiences are continuous with common, everyday experiences of the self's intimate communion with everything that exists. This means that kenotic Christology does not necessarily have to rest solely on the scriptures but can also be arrived at by way of the worldly experiences of actual, living persons.