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Joseph Adler 

Religious Studies 482


Joseph Adler


Fall 2003

Ascension 312


Wed. eve, 7:30-10:00 pm



202 W. Brooklyn St.

Tel. 427-5290


Office hours: M 3-4, TTh 2-4


and by appointment

This seminar will explore the religious phenomenon and category of "mysticism" in a variety of traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Taoism, and Buddhism. We will read some of the seminal works that helped define "mysticism" as a particular form of religious experience, including William James, Evelyn Underhill, and Walter Stace. Then we will examine a selection of mystical texts from the various traditions. Finally we will focus on the methodological and philosophical problems involved in interpreting mystical experience in cross-cultural perspective. Particular questions to be addressed include: the nature of mystical experience and religious experience in general, the relationship between religious experience and other aspects of religious traditions, the question of the universality of mystical experience, and the nature and purpose of the academic study of religion itself. Prerequisite: Any 100-level course AND any 200-level course in Religious Studies.


Available in Bookstore

Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Jewish Mysticism: An Anthology
Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, trans., Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle
Burton Watson, trans., Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings
Steven T. Katz, ed., Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis
Robert K.C. Forman, ed., The Problem of Pure Consciousness

On Course Reserve

Robert S. Ellwood, Mysticism and Religion, 2nd ed.
Ninian Smart, Dimensions of the Sacred
William James, Varieties of Religious Experience
Steven T. Katz, ed., Mysticism and Religious Traditions
Victor Mair, Experimental Essays on Chuang Tzu
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vols. 55, 56
Steven T. Katz, ed., Comparative Mysticism: An Anthology of Original Sources
      (if and when it is received by the library)

Course requirements and grading

  1. Participation (20% of grade). The seminar format requires regular attendance, completion of reading assignments, and active participation in discussion by all members. Necessary absences must be cleared in advance with the instructor; unexcused absences will result in a grade penalty.
  2. Nine 2-4 page response papers (6% each). These should be critical responses to the week's readings (not summaries).

  3. Research paper (20%) and oral report on your research (6%). The paper will be 12-15 pages in length (plus bibliography), on any subject related to the course, using at least two books or articles outside of assigned reading. The topic and preliminary bibliography must be discussed with me by Wednesday, Nov 5. The oral reports will be given during the last two weeks of seminar. The paper will be due by Friday, Dec. 19.

"Beside me on the left appeared an angel in bodily form . . . He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, who seem to be all on fire . . . In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one can not possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it -- even a considerable share." (Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, ch. 29).
Gianlorenzo Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa" (1647-52),
in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Marble, 11' 6" high.

Seminar Schedule

 1  Sep 3  What is mysticism?
  • Louis Dupré, "Mysticism," in Mircea Eliade, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion [ER, in library reference section], pp. 245-247 (top of right column)
  • Ellwood, Mysticism and Religion [CR], pp. 1-22

 2  Sep 10  Some classical theories of mysticism
  • James, Varieties of Religious Experience [CR], chs. 16-17
  • Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics [handout], ch. 1
  • Zaehner, Mysticism: Sacred and Profane [handout], pp. 198-207

 3  Sep 17 Mysticism as a form of religious experience; 
  • Smart, Dimensions of the Sacred [CR], ch. 4
  • Stace [handout], ch. 5

 Sep 24  Jewish mysticism
  • Dupré, "Mysticism" [ER], pp. 258-261 ("Eschatological Mysticism")
  • Cohn-Sherbok, Jewish Mysticism, pp. 13-42, 56-132

 5  Oct 1  Christian mysticism
  • Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pp. xi-xix, 1-29, 33-39, 85-196
  • Dupré, "Mysticism" [ER], pp. 251-256

 6  Oct 8  Taoist mysticism
  • Chuang Tzu, pp. 1-140
  • Mair, Experimental Essays on Chuang Tzu [CR], pp. 125-139 (Yearley)
<< October break >>
 7  Oct 15  Hindu mysticism
  • Stace [handout], ch. 2
  • Dupré, "Mysticism" [ER], pp. 247-249 ("Mysticism of the Self")
  • Katz, Mysticism and Religious Traditions [CR], pp. 191-225 (Carman)

 8  Oct 22  Buddhist mysticism
  • Stace [handout], ch. 3
  • Dupré, "Mysticism" [ER], pp. 249-251 ("Mysticism of Emptiness")
  • Katz, Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, pp. 170-199 (Gimello)

 Oct 29  "Constructivist" theory (1)
  • Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, pp. 10-21 (Smart), 22-74 (Katz),
    75-100 (Keller)

10   Nov 5  "Constructivist" theory (2)
  • Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, pp. 141-169 (Streng),
    235-258 (Mavrodes)
  • Mysticism and Religious Traditions [CR], pp. 3-60 (Katz)

 11  Nov 12  "Perennialist" theory (1)
  • Forman, The Problem of Pure Consciousness, pp. 3-49 (Forman),
    98-120 (Forman), 163-210 (Rothberg)

12   Nov 19  "Perennialist" theory (2)
  • The Problem of Pure Consciousness, pp. 211-219 (Almond),
    220-236 (Bernhardt), 269-287 (Prigge and Kessler), 288-304 (Franklin)
  • Huston Smith, "Is There a Perennial Philosophy?" in Journal of the American Academy of Religion [JAAR] [CR], vol. 55, no. 3 (1987), pp. 553-566
  • Sallie King, "Two Epistemological Models for the Interpretation of Mysticism," JAAR, vol. 56, no.2 (1988), pp. 257-280
  • Katz, Smith, and King, "Responses and Rejoinders," JAAR, vol.56, no.4 (1988), pp. 751-761
<< Thanksgiving break >>
 13  Dec 3  Research presentations

 14  Dec 10  Research presentations
Edit date: 11/4/08