REL 350

Mysticism: The Spiritual Search in the Christian Tradition

Mysticism describes a variety of ways in which humans endeavor to encounter the divine directly. The Christian tradition has a long history of mystical encounters, which are founded in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. As a text-based religion, Christianity has a complicated relationship with mysticism, since mysticism tends to focus on the directly experiential rather than the textual. And, even as they claimed that such experiences transcended language and expression, mystics often sought to express their experiences. This course examines the ways in which a mystical tradition developed in Christianity, and in which particular metaphors and images came to hold sway. In doing so, it pays attention to the wider social and political context in which the authors wrote and lived, and asks whether these mystics, particularly women, were able to acquire authority and charisma outside of the Church hierarchy. The course thus examines the ways in which mystics occupied an ambivalent space in Western Christianity. The clerical hierarchy has historically sought to limit charisma and prophecy. Mystics thus both threatened the official hierarchy, which sought to limit charisma, but also, sometimes, reinforced the status quo. Questions about power, the body, textuality, charisma, social structures, and authority will be central to our investigation of the Christian mystical tradition.