TThe Mysticism Group of the

American Academy of Religion

  HOME ::

For the AAR Annual Meeting

in Atlanta, Georgia, USA

October 30-November 1:


Mysticism Group and Comparative Theology Group

Sunday 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Location: Marriott Marquis - A602

Divine Union or Divine Relation?:
Mystical Marriage as a Third Way beyond Mutuality and Elisio Alteritatis

The goal of this panel is to move beyond the dichotomous representation of spirituality that would envisage spiritual practice as either fostering a dissolution of the individual an elisio alteritatis- in the depths of the divine reality or as fostering an extrinsic dialectic of mutuality. Mystical marriage would be presented as a via media that would blend elements of both approaches, nurturing a move towards the divine that encompasses both unity and relationality. The panel would explore different Christian articulations of mystical marriage developed throughout the centuries and bring them into conversation with models of mystical marriage that emerged within non-Christian (specifically Hindu and Buddhist) traditions. The goal of the discussion would be to investigate the points of contact, as well as the differences, between these different paradigms, enabling us to adumbrate the specific traits of mystical marriage in contexts characterized by distinct assumptions about subjectivity, cosmology, and ultimate reality.


June McDaniel, College of Charleston


Francis X. Clooney, Harvard University
Wendy Farley, Emory University
Kurt Anders Richardson, McMaster University
Paul Collins, University of Chichester


Thomas Cattoi, Graduate Theological Union

Business Meeting

Thomas Cattoi, Graduate Theological Union


Mysticism Group and Comparative Theology Group
Sunday 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
Location: Marriott Marquis - A602

What has Bhakti to Do with Mysticism?:

Embodiment, Aesthetics, and Models of Realization

Comparative analysis is intrinsic to the process through which we construct and apply analytical categories such as "mysticism," which has historically assumed a central role in the academic study of religion. We construct and define the category "mysticism"whose genealogy derives from Christian formulations of the via contemplativa and then we survey and compare a range of potential candidates from a variety of religious traditions to determine in each case whether the indigenous categories accord with our scholarly constructions of the category. For example, the category "mysticism" has been used to interrogate the Hindu category bhakti and to raise questions concerning the viability of using the term bhakti to describe a particular mode of "mystical" experience. However, using Western constructions of mysticism as the default cultural template against which to compare and evaluate Indian categories of religious experience serves to perpetuate the legacy of "European epistemological hegemony" in the academy. The three papers in this panel establish "theoretical parity" in this cross-cultural encounter by using the Indian categories bhakti (devotion) and rasa (aesthetic enjoyment) to interrogate Western constructions of mysticism and to explore how the models of religious experience developed by certain bhakti traditions coincide and collide in mutually fructifying ways with the freighted category "mysticism" and more specifically with the models of "mystical union" that derive from Christian traditions. The three papers are concerned in particular to highlight the role of embodiment and aesthetics in constructions of religious experience, and thus as a starting-point for comparative reflection they focus on specific case studies drawn from Vaiava bhakti traditions that favor erotic, ecstatic, and aesthetic modes of devotion: the devotional hymns of the vr and the theological teachings of the Gauya Vaiava tradition.

Janet Bregar, California State University, Fullerton

Barbara A. Holdrege, University of California, Santa Barbara
Michelle Voss Roberts, Rhodes College
Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier, Loyola Marymount University
Charlotte Radler, Loyola Marymount University

Michael T. McLaughlin, Saint Leo University



Mysticism Group
Monday 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Location: Hyatt Regency - Hanover D

Mystical Paths in Islam

This panel will examine several mystical paths within Islamic traditions. First, the theological system of an "extreme" Shiite treatise titled Kitab al-Sirat (The Book of the Path)will be examined. Next, the panel will discuss the poetry of the Persian Sufi Sheikh Fard ud-Dn 'Ar Neishbr. Then, the panel will inquire into the role of Sufi masters in political parties in Bangladesh. Finally, the panel will inquire into the Turkish Bayrami-Melami Sufi order that appeared in the fifteenth century. A discussion at the end will attempt to ascertain if and how these mystical elements within Sufism relate to one another.

Rkia Elaroui Cornell, Emory University

Mushegh Asatryan, Yale University Mystical
Shi'ism between the Two Occultations: "Kitab al-Sirat" and its Milieu.

The purpose of this paper is to study the theological system of an "extreme" Shiite treatise titled Kitab al-Sirat (The Book of the Path), to find the time and place of its composition, and the religio-political milieu in which it was written. By comparing it to other works of similar content, and by studying the theological views about occultation found in it, I will demonstrate that it was composed in the Kufan Shiite milieu between the two occultations, and reflects the worldview of the more mystically inclined wing of Shiites of the time. Its author belonged to the ghulat opposing the 'Abbasid government, who, in his view, took the power from the rightful rulers, i.e. the Imams. The Imam, for the author, was the manifestation of God on earth, and the ultimate goal of a believer was to reach the degree of the Imam and to acquire mystical knowledge of God. This he could do by passing through a Path of seven degrees. This freed the believer from the necessity to perform religious duties, and gave him supernatural abilities.

Rafal Stepien, Columbia University
The Mystic Poetry of 'Ar Neishabr

The poetry of the Persian Sufi Sheikh Fard ud-Dn 'Ar Neishbr / (c.1142 c.1221 CE) abounds with references to the position of poetry itself in relation to the spiritual life. Scholars have traditionally emphasised selected passages of this meta-narrative meditation concerning poetry so as to place 'Ar on one or other side of what they have often considered to be an irreducible dichotomy between religio-mystical and literary-poetic pursuits. In order to elucidate and ultimately critique this approach, this paper traces 'Ar's conception of poetry, initially as opposed or merely subservient to the spiritual life, then as not only concordant with but as constituting the very culmination of spiritual endeavour. This conceptual divide is dissolved, however, in the final section, which argues that 'Ar deliberately oscillates between affirming and negating the spiritual value of poetry. In so doing, 'Ar undermines that very distinction in an effort to express the subtle synthesis in which alone he can fully embody the necessarily paradoxical position of mystic-poet: one who exists in self-extinction, and says the unsayable.

Sarwar Alam, Emory University
Encountering the Unholy: the Establishment of Political Parties by Sufi Masters in Modern Bangladesh

The generally held belief among the Muslims about a Sufi is that he is a wali Allah (guardian, protector or intercessor). Because of their reputation of piety, renunciation of or indifference to the worldly affairs, and mass support, Sufi masters exert their authority over the ruling elites throughout pre-modern Muslim history. But how does a holy man exercise his power and authority in a modern state? It has been argued that fundamentalist and modernist movements have marginalized the Sufis and their authorities upon the ruling elites. In this paper, I argue that Sufi masters still exert their authority over the ruling elites as well as the masses, and they do so by adapting themselves with modern political institutions, such as political parties. I support my argument by analyzing three Sufi oriented political parties of Bangladesh: the Islamic Constitution Movement of Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Jaker Party, and the Tariqat Federation of Bangladesh.

F. Betul Yavuz, Rice University
The Hidden Belief in the Manifest God: Exploring Unconventional Currents of the Ottoman Sufi Thinking

Sufism was one of the most important cornerstones of the religious life in the Ottoman Empire. Despite that there were examples of Sufi thinking and behavior that were too much to be tolerated by the religious and political authorities. This trend is exemplified by Shaykh Badr ad-Din of Simawna who was executed in 1420 for his dangerous ideas and involvement in a rebellion against the Ottoman sultan. His trend of thinking found a parallel in Bayrami-Melami Sufi order that appeared in the fifteenth century after the rapturous Emir Sikkini (1475) severed ties with the sober, madrasa educated representative of Bayramiyya, Ak Shams ad-Din (1459). Bayrami-Melamis were kept under surveillance by the Ottomans for centuries and at least three of their qutbs were executed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My presentation will explore this unconventional trend of Sufism in the Ottoman Empire. I will try to portray their worldview and belief system based on their writings. Texts I will be looking at include Varidat of Sheikh Badr ad-Din, Irshadnama of Haqiqi (a concise description of Bayrami-Melami teaching in manuscript form) and Sohbatnama of Sun'ullah Gaybi ( also in manuscript form, consists of collection of sayings of Oghlan Sheikh Ibrahim, a prominent figure of Bayrami-Melamis in the seventeenth century Istanbul).