TThe Mysticism Group of the

American Academy of Religion

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For the AAR Annual Meeting

in San Francisco, CA, USA

November 19-22:

Time and room assignments are subject to change; final time and room assignments are available in the onsite Annual Meeting Program Book.

Location Key: CC Moscone Center West
MM Marriott Marquis
IC InterContinental
PW Parc55 Wyndham
HI Hilton Union Square

Paper titles underlined below may be downloaded in PDF format.


Mysticism Group

Sunday - 3:00 pm-4:30 pm
MM-Yerba Buena 14;
June McDaniel, College of Charleston, Presiding

This session will be held in honor of Robert Forman, founder of the Mysticicm Group Committee of the AAR, and lead scholar in the contemporary revisioning of mystical perennialism. The goal of the panel is to explore the points of contact, as well as the notable differences, between the ways in which ineffability is construed in different religious and cultural contexts. Darryl Smith’s paper explores the intersection between the Christian apophatic tradition and the African-American tradition of signifying, focusing on its literary rendition in works by W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison. Regina Walton argues that the apophatic deconstruction of devotional poetry in George Herbert’s works transforms the author’s self-understanding as well as his relationship with the divine. Annette Wilke re-reads Vivekananda’s contribution to the transmission of Advaita Vedanta to the West in light of Sankara’s more “authentic” version of Vedanta inviting us to reflect on the way in which philosophical discourse may itself be limited by language. Throughout the three papers, ineffability is seen to reconfigure one’s inner life, as well as one’s conception of self. Robert Forman will comment on the papers.

Theme: Revisiting Ineffability Across Traditions

Darryl A. Smith, Pomona College
"The Darkness of Lightness": Negative Theology and Apophatic Language in the African American Literary Tradition

Regina Walton, Boston University
Sighs, Groans, and the Mystical Paradox of Wordless Speech in the Poetry of George Herbert

Annette Wilke, University of Münster, Germany
Learning Nonduality. The Teaching Method of Traditional Advaita-Vedanta

Robert K. C. Forman, Forge Institute


Mysticism Group

Monday - 9:00 am-11:30 am
Charlotte Radler, Loyola Marymount University, Presiding

Tibetan Buddhist mysticism is often seen as detached from the world and as the domain of men. Such depictions are ultimately limiting to practitioners of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as they ignore the very practical functions and potentialities for mystical practice to be incorporated into the everyday world. This panel will focus on different approaches to utilizing Tibetan Buddhist mystic practice for women dealing with traumatic experiences, including death, violence, war and natural disasters. A gendered approach to this is necessary, in order to represent different victims of trauma and power differentials that influence these experiences. The panellists will challenge conventional notions of the applicability of mystical experiences in everyday life through demonstrating how tools of meditation, visualization, and generating compassion can be used to help in the healing of the most unpleasant circumstances including traumatic episodes of natural disaster, violence and war.

Theme: Combining the Inner and Outer Worlds: Women's Uses of Tibetan Buddhist Mystical Practice for Dealing with Trauma

Karma Lekshe Tsomo, University of San Diego
Knowing the Unknowable: Mystical Experience from a Tibetan Buddhist Perspective

Ruth Gamble, Australian National University
Healing Trauma's Faultlines: Gendered Approaches to the Use of Mysticism in Preparing for Natural Disasters

Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa, University of Alabama
Violent Visions of Enlightenment: Experiences of Wartime, Violent Trauma, and Mystical Healing in Tibetan Buddhist Women's Literature

Business Meeting:

Laura Weed, College of Saint Rose


Mysticism Group and Music and Religion Group

Monday - 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
MM-Sierra J;
LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant, Williams College, Presiding

What role does the study of music play in the investigation of mystical experience, trance, and ritual? Our first paper will suggest one theoretical foundation for this question by arguing that the work of Schleiermacher offers resources for considering music as uniquely expressive of certain aspects of human receptivity. Drawing from two traditions influenced by non-Western materials — the phenomenon of batá drumming in Santería ritual and the Sufi-inspired Dances of Universal Peace movement — we will explore uses of music to evoke distinctive psychological experiences and express community values. Then we will shift to consideration of mystical turns in contemporary music groups. The issue of theodicy is taken up in very different ways, we will find, by Monsters of Folk and The Roots, and the religious self-understanding of a particular group of Grateful Dead fans — the Spinners — will take us into a consideration of alternative forms of consciousness as “tokens of transcendence.”

Theme: Music, Mysticism, and Religion

Jonas Lundblad, Lund University
The Musical Self: A Nonemotive Reinterpretation of Schleiermacher’s Aesthetics of Feeling

Kenneth Schweitzer, Washington College
“Drumming” Ritual Identity in Santería

Neil Douglas-Klotz, Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning
From Breath to Dance: Music as a Language of Experience in an American Sufi

Christopher Driscoll, Rice University
Taking Shape of Musical Theodicy: Monsters of Folk, the Roots, and Responses to Human Suffering

Paul Cassell, Boston University
What the “Strange Trip” of the Deadhead Community Can Teach Us about Religion