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Lectures on Mysticism

The brahminic origins of Buddhist meditation

Alexander Wynne
20 Nov 2002

Related: Buddhism, Mysticism

Christian nuptial mysticism and parallels with Indian mystical trends

Dr Daniela Rossella
25 Feb 2004

Related: Bhakti, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Mystical Traditions in Comparative Perspective: Session One - Islamic mystical traditions‚ Sufis in India

Dr Talib Muhammad
29 Jan 2010

Mysticism is a term that has fallen out of use in recent years, partly due to the critique of essentialism in the history of religions, partly due to the recognition that mysticism is particular to tradition and culture and partly due to the orientation to understand religion in terms of a politics of culture that sees religion purely in constructivist terms. The abstraction ‘mysticism’ is a problematic category that has been developed from Christian mystical theology (in contrast to dogmatic or natural theology). Viewing other religions through the lens of ‘mysticism’, particularly the religions of India and China, has tended to give a distorted picture to the West, underlined by Radhakrishnan’s claim, among others, that the east is ‘spiritual’ while the west is ‘material’. Of course, the historical reality of religious traditions is much more complex than this. Nevertheless, religious traditions are interested in, and develop, keen senses of inwardness that lay stress upon a direct understanding or experience of transcendence. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the category ‘mysticism,’ this series of seminars intends to explore the mystical traditions of specific religions in dialogue with Hinduism. The series is seen as an exercise in comparative theology. Short lectures on the mystical traditions would be followed by a response from a Hindu perspective and general discussion.

Related: Comparative Theology, Islam, Mysticism

Mystical Traditions in Comparative Perspective: Session Two - Buddhist Meditation

Dr Sarah Shaw
5 Feb 2010

Mysticism is a term that has fallen out of use in recent years, partly due to the critique of essentialism in the history of religions, partly due to the recognition that mysticism is particular to tradition and culture and partly due to the orientation to understand religion in terms of a politics of culture that sees religion purely in constructivist terms. The abstraction "mysticism" is a problematic category that has been developed from Christian mystical theology (in contrast to dogmatic or natural theology). Viewing other religions through the lens of "mysticism", particularly the religions of India and China, has tended to give a distorted picture to the West, underlined by Radhakrishnan's claim, among others, that the east is "spiritual" while the west is "material". Of course, the historical reality of religious traditions is much more complex than this. Nevertheless, religious traditions are interested in, and develop, keen senses of inwardness that lay stress upon a direct understanding or experience of transcendence. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the category "mysticism" this series of seminars intends to explore the mystical traditions of specific religions in dialogue with Hinduism. The series is seen as an exercise in comparative theology. Short lectures on the mystical traditions would be followed by a response from a Hindu perspective and general discussion.

Related: Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Mystical Traditions in Comparative Perspective: Session Three - Christian mystical traditions 1 ‚ The Relevance of Christian Mysticism

Professor Oliver Davies
12 Feb 2010

Mysticism is a term that has fallen out of use in recent years, partly due to the critique of essentialism in the history of religions, partly due to the recognition that mysticism is particular to tradition and culture and partly due to the orientation to understand religion in terms of a politics of culture that sees religion purely in constructivist terms. The abstraction ‘mysticism’ is a problematic category that has been developed from Christian mystical theology (in contrast to dogmatic or natural theology). Viewing other religions through the lens of ‘mysticism’, particularly the religions of India and China, has tended to give a distorted picture to the West, underlined by Radhakrishnan’s claim, among others, that the east is ‘spiritual’ while the west is ‘material’. Of course, the historical reality of religious traditions is much more complex than this. Nevertheless, religious traditions are interested in, and develop, keen senses of inwardness that lay stress upon a direct understanding or experience of transcendence. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the category ‘mysticism,’ this series of seminars intends to explore the mystical traditions of specific religions in dialogue with Hinduism. The series is seen as an exercise in comparative theology. Short lectures on the mystical traditions would be followed by a response from a Hindu perspective and general discussion.

Related: Categories, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Mystical Traditions in Comparative Perspective: Session Four - Christian mystical traditions 2 ‚ Understanding Apophaticism

Professor George Pattison
19 Feb 2010

Mysticism is a term that has fallen out of use in recent years, partly due to the critique of essentialism in the history of religions, partly due to the recognition that mysticism is particular to tradition and culture and partly due to the orientation to understand religion in terms of a politics of culture that sees religion purely in constructivist terms. The abstraction ‘mysticism’ is a problematic category that has been developed from Christian mystical theology (in contrast to dogmatic or natural theology). Viewing other religions through the lens of ‘mysticism’, particularly the religions of India and China, has tended to give a distorted picture to the West, underlined by Radhakrishnan’s claim, among others, that the east is ‘spiritual’ while the west is ‘material’. Of course, the historical reality of religious traditions is much more complex than this. Nevertheless, religious traditions are interested in, and develop, keen senses of inwardness that lay stress upon a direct understanding or experience of transcendence. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the category ‘mysticism,’ this series of seminars intends to explore the mystical traditions of specific religions in dialogue with Hinduism. The series is seen as an exercise in comparative theology. Short lectures on the mystical traditions would be followed by a response from a Hindu perspective and general discussion.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Mystical Traditions in Comparative Perspective: Session Five - The Jewish Roots of Christian Mysticism

Professor Guy Stroumsa
5 Mar 2010

Mysticism is a term that has fallen out of use in recent years, partly due to the critique of essentialism in the history of religions, partly due to the recognition that mysticism is particular to tradition and culture and partly due to the orientation to understand religion in terms of a politics of culture that sees religion purely in constructivist terms. The abstraction ‘mysticism’ is a problematic category that has been developed from Christian mystical theology (in contrast to dogmatic or natural theology). Viewing other religions through the lens of ‘mysticism’, particularly the religions of India and China, has tended to give a distorted picture to the West, underlined by Radhakrishnan’s claim, among others, that the east is ‘spiritual’ while the west is ‘material’. Of course, the historical reality of religious traditions is much more complex than this. Nevertheless, religious traditions are interested in, and develop, keen senses of inwardness that lay stress upon a direct understanding or experience of transcendence. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the category ‘mysticism,’ this series of seminars intends to explore the mystical traditions of specific religions in dialogue with Hinduism. The series is seen as an exercise in comparative theology. Short lectures on the mystical traditions would be followed by a response from a Hindu perspective and general discussion.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology, Judaism, Mysticism

Mysticism in Comparative Perspective: Sufi Mysticism

Dr Samer Akkach
29 Apr 2010

Dr Samer Akkach is Associate Professor of Architecture and Founding Director of the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) at the University of Adelaide, Australia. He was born and educated in Damascus before moving to Australia to complete his PhD at Sydney University. As an intellectual historian, Samer has devoted over twenty years to the study of Ibn 'Arabi's mystical thought and intellectual legacy, and especially to their later revival by 'Abd al-Ghana al-Nabulusi (d. 1731). His Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam: an Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas (SUNY 2005), traces the influence of Ibn 'Arabi's thought on the spatial sensibility of premodern Muslim architects; while his 'Abd al-Ghan al-Nabulusi: Islam and the Enlightenment (Oneworld 2007), and Letters of a Sufi Scholar: The Correspondence of 'Abd al-Ghana al-Nabulusi (Brill 2010), examine the intellectual contributions of an influential and prolific Sufi master who considered Ibn 'Arabi to be his spiritual master and source of inspiration.

Related: Comparative Theology, Islam, Mysticism

Comparative Mysticism Seminar 1: Flowing Milk. A Lost Meditation, Tradition from the Silk Road

Lance Cousins
22 Oct 2010

This lecture examines a Buddhist meditation tradition exemplified particularly by visualisation text from central Asia. This is a seminar in our series on Comparative Mystical Traditions.

 
Lance Cousins is an expert in Buddhism, particularly the Theravada tradition and Pali commentarial literature, and Buddhist meditation traditions. He taught for many years at the University of Manchester where, among other things, he taught a course in comparative mysticism.

Related: Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Comparative Mysticism Seminar 2: Tasting God: The Ascetical and Mystical Theology of Rupa Gosvami

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
5 Nov 2010

This seminar explores Jiva Gosvamin’s theology and raises the question of whether he could be described as a mystic.

 
Dr Lutjeharms holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Oriental Studies (Indology) from the University of Ghent, Belgium and a DPhil from the University of Oxford (Theology). His DPhil was on the poet and theologian Kavikarnapura.

Related: Comparative Theology, Hindu Theology, Mysticism

Comparative Mysticism Seminar 3: Unsayability and Meditative Ascent in Esoteric Hindu Traditions

Professor Gavin Flood
19 Nov 2010

In this seminar we examine two tendencies or spiritual languages in esoteric medieval Hindu traditions. On the one hand we have a style of mysticism that emphasizes a realisation or awakening in the world, usually accompanied by a monistic metaphysics, on the other we have a style and language of meditative ascent; that there is a journey from this world to the state of liberation through stages of development, often conceptualized as occurring within the body. The seminar will examine these tendencies with reference to particular texts. 

 
Gavin Flood is academic director of OCHS. Among his publications are The Tantric Body (2006), The Ascetic Self (2004), and The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism (2003).

Related: Comparative Theology, Hindu Theology, Mysticism

Mysterium Horrendum: Mysticism & the Negative Numinous

Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Study of Religions/Mysticism Seminar
Dr Simon Podmore
28 Jan 2011

According to Rudolf Otto’s ‘Idea of the Holy’, while elements of a so-called ‘mysticism of horror’ are well-acknowledged in Hindu traditions, this remains an under-recognised, yet undeniably present, strain in Western Christian mysticism. This paper explores Otto’s account of the ‘negative numinous’ with specific reference to the under-examined notion of the mysterium horrendum: a variant of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans in which the element of dread is ‘cut loose’ and ‘intensified’ to the point of ‘the demonic’. Drawing particular attention to accounts of the darkness, absence, and wrath of God in Western Christian mysticism, the lecture questions the essential relation between the demonic and the divine elements encountered in the numinous.

Dr Simon D. Podmore is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Gordon Milburn Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College. He is author of Kierkegaard & the Self Before God: Anatomy of the Abyss (Indiana University Press, 2011). His current research explores notions of ‘spiritual struggle’ in Western Christian mysticism.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Religious Experience in Early Buddhism

Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Study of Religions/Mysticism Seminar
Professor Richard Gombrich
18 Feb 2011

This seminar examines accounts of religious experience in early Buddhism as gleaned from our textual sources. Of particular importance here has been the role of meditation and living an upright and ethical life. 

Professor Gombrich was the Boden Professor of Sanskrit for many years. He is a world authority on Buddhism and has written definitive works on early Buddhism and the Theravada tradition. Among his publications are What the Buddha ThoughtHow Buddhism Began andTheravada Buddhism

Related: Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

The Relationship Between Religious Experience and Religious Belief: Essentialism, Scholarly Naivety, or Logical Positivism?

Mysticism Seminar/Interdisciplinary Seminar for the Study of Religions
Dr Gregory Shushan
9 May 2011

In recent decades, the study of ‘religious’ or ‘mystical’ experiences has been criticised by postmodern scholars who argue that because all experience is dependent upon language and culture, it is unintelligible to speak at all of some cross-culturally comparable event called ‘religious experience’. Because experience cannot precede culture, such scholars assert that it is ‘naive’ or otherwise methodologically or theoretically unsound to claim that the origins of religious beliefs can lie in ‘religious’ experience. Furthermore, the argument goes, in claiming that there is such a thing as cross-culturally comparable ‘religious’ experience, we leave the realm of the (ostensibly) objective Study of Religions, and cross the boundary into a kind of universalist theology. The issue thus intersects with various other theoretical problems at the core of the Study of Religions, including comparison per se, and views that the term ‘religion’ itself is a theologising construct. In defence of the study of ‘religious’ experience, this paper attempts to demonstrate the weaknesses in these arguments, firstly by showing that they are based upon a number of mutually-reliant but unproven axioms (themselves culturally-situated within a particular anti-scientific academic paradigm); and by giving cross-cultural examples which show a clear connection between ‘religious’ experience and religious beliefs (with particular reference to near-death experiences). 

Dr. Gregory Shushan is Perrott-Warrick Researcher at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, University of Oxford, researching comparative afterlife beliefs in small-scale societies worldwide in the contexts of shamanic and near-death experiences. His book, Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism, and Near-Death Experience (Continuum Advances in Religious Studies, 2009) was nominated for the 2010 Grawemeyer Award. 

Related: Comparative Theology, Mysticism, Religious Studies