The mysticisms reading group will explore the category of mysticism both within and across different traditions – primarily Christian, Jewish and Islamic. Mysticism, broadly speaking, has been considered to be the "quest for direct experience of" some ultimate alterity - God, Being, Reality, etc. The attempt to express this quest for the ineffable produces texts, and these will be the matter for this reading group. Each week we will read a primary text from each tradition along with a methodological or theoretical text. While within and across traditions the vehicles and rhetoric employed to express these experiences often appear quite similar - beauty, sublimity, totality, transcendence -, these expressions reside in a particular context in which their variety and difference become apparent. In the course of the reading group, then, we plan to examine the manners of expressions employed in each text and to consider both how these stand in relation to expressions in other mystical works and how they reflect their own original circumstances, in order to understand an apparently common phenomenon in the specificity of each manifestation. We would also take the opportunity for self-criticism and investigate the conditions under which the comparative study of mysticism occurs.

In taking a comparative approach to mysticism we ultimately hope to provoke discussion on broad questions such as how do we define mysticism? Is there any aspect of the mystical experience that can be usefully compared across traditions and overtime? What approaches allow us to study something both individual and transcendent – something which has fascinated psychoanalysts, feminist theorists, and myriad thinkers for its relation to the innermost mysteries of the human soul - and yet historical and rooted in social and cultural contexts which determine the form, genre, language, and transmission of mystical texts? How, too, within different traditions, has mystical thought shaped political thought, society and its institutions, and movements for social change? What is the relationship between mysticism and gender within and across different traditions?  For more information please contact [email protected]