TThe Mysticism Group of the

American Academy of Religion

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For the AAR Annual Meeting

in San Diego, CA, USA

November 22-25.


Mysticism Group and Quaker Studies Group

Theme: Silent Dialogue? Quaker Mystics in Conversation with Other Religious Traditions

Jon Kershner, University of Lancaster, Presiding

Saturday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Hilton Bayfront-520

The purpose of this session, which is co-sponsored by the Mysticism group and the newly-established Quaker Studies group, is to explore the Quaker mystical tradition in conversation with a variety of different religious traditions. The first paper will develop a conversation between Liberal Quakerism and the thought of Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzan, while also referencing Rufus Jones’ theology of the Light of God. The second paper will explore the writings of seventeenth century Quaker theologian Robert Barclay, whose theological reflections on the Seed of Christ echoes Kabbalist understandings of Adam Kadmon. The third paper will explore African-American theologian Howard Thurman's creative appropriation of Quakerism and Buddhism from the 1920s through the 1960s. The final paper will take cues from authors such as Martin Buber, Howard Thurman, Thandeka, and Carter Heyward, in order to develop a feminist-liberationist critique of the “quietist” approach to the practice of Quaker meetings.

Daniel Randazzo, University of Birmingham
David Russell, Loyola University, Maryland

Andalusian Mysticism and Liberal Quakerism? Bringing Hayy Ibn Yaqzan and Rufus Jones into Dialogue

Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzan, once used by Quakers to provide historical precedence for the Indwelling Light, fell into disuse due to controversy over its Islamic origins. Since the development of Liberal Quakerism, it is possible to reengage with this Andalusian allegory in discussions of a universal mystical experience. Highlighting key passages of Hayy ibn Yaqzan as talking points, this paper will seek to open such a discussion for further investigation.

Michael Birkel, Earlham College

Robert Barclay and Kabbalah

Through the influence of his close associate George Keith, the seventeenth-century Quaker theologian Robert Barclay shows the influence of Kabbalistic thought. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth's Cabbala denudata, through the mediation of Francis Mercurius van Helmont, reached George Keith. Echoes of Kabbalist understandings of the Primordial Adam (Adam Kadmon) can be heard in Barclay's discussion of the Seed of Christ, a central early Quaker concept.

Stephen Angell, Earlham School of Religion

Howard Thurman: Universalist Approaches to Buddhism and Quakerism

This paper looks at African-American theologian Howard Thurman's increasingly universalist appropriation of Quakerism and Buddhism from the 1920s through the 1960s. Thurman, a member of the Wider Quaker fellowship, found both Quakerism and Buddhism useful in fashioning a spirituality that transcended creeds and culture, while criticizing sectarian aspects of each. Such important features of his life as his 1929 study with Rufus Jones, his 1935-1936 interactions with Buddhists in South Asia during the Negro Pilgrimage of Friendship, and his experiences at the Church of the Fellowship of All Peoples and as Boston University Chaplain will be examined to delineate a kind of Thurmanism indebted to his appreciative appropriation of his highly experiential and non-dogmatic interpretations of Quakerism and Buddhism.

Marie Vandenbark, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Quaker Meeting as Bridging Concept and Integrative Encounter: Buberian, Feminist, and Insider Perspectives

Few terms that Quakers might offer the philosophy of mysticism afford the rich mix of meanings and applications that the term “Meeting” does. Referring to gatherings, processes, organizations, and qualities of connection, this term cuts against the grain of much Western expectation regarding human-divine relations and the boundaries of religious life. By challenging dichotomies (of sacred and secular, public and private, thinker and doer, expert and novice, silence and speech) Quakerism opens spaces for fruitful conversation in theology and philosophy with special significance for interreligious dialogue and social transformation. While historically having privileged both inward seeking and social engagement over theological reflection, Friends have crafted language and practices that point toward a wholesome, bridge-building account of mystical encounter. Taking clues from Martin Buber, Howard Thurman, Thandeka, Carter Heyward and assorted Quaker writers, we can begin to appreciate the accessible, down-to-earth spirituality made visible through the frame of Friends’ “Meeting.”

Thomas Cattoi, Graduate Theological Union



Focus on Sustainability

Mysticism Group
Theme: One Cosmos, Many Paths: Mysticism of Nature from Carpenter to Entheogens and Posthumanism

Laura Weed, College of Saint Rose, Presiding

Sunday - 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Hilton Bayfront-501B

This panel will explore different approaches to nature mysticism, starting from the work of the English poet Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and his notion of Cosmic Consciousness, moving to the use of entheogens and their relationship to mystical states, and concluding with a discussion of contemporary posthumanism and its understanding of mystical phenomena. The first paper will focus on the sources of Carpenter's “Cosmic Consciousness” and his unique form of environmental ethics, which blended socio-political activism and a mystical bond with nature. The second paper will explore the relationship between mysticism and entheogens, charting the current state of our understanding of entheogen-mediated mystical experience. Finally, the last paper will call for a broader understanding of mystical states from the point of view of posthumanism, an approach that values human and nunhuman modes of experiencing vulnerability and thereby opens up the boundaries of the mystical beyond the limitations of human nature.

Jason James Kelly, Queen's University

Edward Carpenter: The Lost Prophet of Spiritual Ecology

The growing interest in the study of religion and environment has led to a renewed appreciation of nature mysticism. However, this turn to nature mysticism is problematic because despite the measure of value many scholars in the field of religion and ecology place on nature mysticism, as a whole the field has failed to critically interrogate the historical trajectory of the category. I hope to contribute to rectifying this oversight by tracing the mystical roots of spiritual ecology through the life and teachings of a specific nature mystic, the English poet Edward Carpenter (1844-1929). I claim that some of Carpenter’s key writings capture distinct moments in the evolution of spiritual ecology. I draw on these writings as historical touchstones to illustrate how Carpenter utilizes the concept of “Cosmic Consciousness” to foster a unique form of environmental ethics that blends a mystical bond with nature with a rationally-based socio-political activism.

Ronald S. Cole-Turner, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Entheogens and Mystical Experience: New Research and Perennial Questions

The use of entheogens, more commonly known as psychedelics, is associated with altered states of consciousness including specifically mystical states. Natural entheogens have been known for millennia but are now supplemented by synthesized forms like LSD. After fifty years of suppression, the past decade has seen renewed research and expanding public acceptance of psychedelics as pathways to mystical experience. Two key components of this research are summarized. First, drawing on work actively underway at Johns Hopkins, the entheogen/mystical experience association is explored. Second, turning to research pursued in London using fMRI, the entheogen/neuroscience link is described. This biomedical research raises three questions: How similar are entheogen-related experiences to more classical mystical experiences? How might these studies help resolve age-old epistemological questions about the source of these experiences and their ontological implications? And in particular, how ought Christian theology respond to this research and its popular impact?

Chad Pevateaux, St. Mary's College of Maryland

More Radical: From Empiricism to Enactivism and Posthumanism in the Study of Mysticism

With turns to participation, embodiment, and affect, scholars studying modes of experiencing that we may deem mystical have laid down a clear path in walking away from perennialist-constructivist divides. Less myopically, recent studies encompass greater historicization of terms, broader analyses of human difference, and deeper appreciation for nondiscursive processes of cognition. The many ways these turns mean a return to Jamesian radical empiricism, I argue, will be much helped by putting pragmatism into relation with enactivism, which sees cognition as not merely embrained but more extensively embodied and emplaced, and posthumanism, which values nonhuman animals and the eco-systemic interrelations of all life in a shared suffering of exposure to vulnerability. These more radical modes open possibilities for more empathic, less violent relations with others— whether other humans, other nonhuman animals, ecosystems, religions, or whatever others may come.

William Parsons, Rice University


Mysticism Group

Theme: Searching the Imaginal Space: Dreams, Serpents, and the Other

Jason N. Blum, American University in Cairo, Presiding

Monday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hilton Bayfront-313

The purpose of this panel is to explore the way imaginal space/dreams have been used as a resource for the study of mystical phenomena, while also touching on the dangers of associating ‘the mystical’ with femininity and the 'Other’. The first paper relies on a recent (2013) ethnographic study of kundalini meditation, discussing how participants invited kundalini into their dream awareness and then offered a phenomenological description of their mystical experiences. The second paper will explore an analogous qualitative inquiry into the lived experience of a small group of Christian Dream work practitioners, while the third paper will introduce Julian of Norwich’s visionary experiences and her theological appropriation of inner imaginal space. The last paper will offer a reflection on the dangers of routinely associating ‘the mystical’ with the visionary/private/domestic dimension, thereby turning mystical phenomena into the subordinate 'Other' even within feminist approaches to mysticism or religious practice.

Theodore Esser, Sofia University

Intentional Experiences of Kundalini in Lucid Dreams: An Approach to Enlightenment and Awakening

This paper summarizes a recent study (2013) about how kundalini manifests in the lucid dreaming state by the use of a meditation protocol, where over a two-week period, thirteen experienced spiritual practitioners and frequent lucid dreamers meditated nightly as they fell asleep, intending for kundalini to appear in their lucid dreams. Once lucid, they again invited kundalini into their awareness and meditated. Participants optionally explored other experiences, such as inviting nondual awareness. A statistical and phenomenological analysis of the thirteen participants’ results was completed. Six participants’ twenty-three successful protocol dreams received a closer level of scrutiny, examining dream themes, structures, and other attributes. For some participants, kundalini and nonduality continued into the waking state. The discussion of the findings focuses on how the results compare to previous studies of phenomena in the waking state (Greenwell, 1985 & 1995; Sannella, 1987; Scotton, 1996; Lukoff, 1998; Louchakova & Warner 2003).

Sheri Kling, Claremont School of Theology

The God of Their Dreams: A Qualitative Inquiry into the Lived Experience of Christian Dream Workers and the Mystical Nature of their Experience

Newcomers to the Haden Institute’s Summer Dream and Spirituality Conference held annually in NC are often surprised and relieved to encounter like-minded Christians there who also drink from wisdom streams not generally discussed in their congregations such as mysticism, divine dialogue in dreams, and discovering a sacred presence through inner, psychological work. In the Spring of 2014, the presenter will conduct a pilot qualitative inquiry into the lived experience of a small group of Haden conference attendees that seeks to describe their shared phenomenon of doing Jungian dream work as a spiritual practice and to explore whether Christians who practice dream work interpret their experience as a mystical encounter. In this paper, the presenter will discuss the results of this examination of a spiritual practice rooted in psychological thought, its implications for further research, and its application to Christian spiritual formation and praxis.

Kerilyn Harkaway-Krieger, Indiana University

The Time of the Vision: Julian of Norwich's Slow Revelation

This paper explores the way that Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth-century English visionary, troubles the tidy binary between gradual and immediate mystical experience. Julian receives her original visions in the space of one day, and she outlines them in brief form several years after her experience. She then spends another twenty years reflecting on what she has seen, before documenting both the visions and the daring theological insights that she gains through her reflections. Julian marks both experiences, the instantaneous seizure of her attention through divine revelation, and her ongoing understanding of that revelation, as equally inspired. Julian carefully situates her own understanding in an unfolding timeline—she figures her revelation as begun, ended, and maintained by discrete moments of interpretation. The time that it takes Julian to comprehend her visions is also intimately connected to her growing understanding of the revelations as figurative, containing metaphoric meanings that must interpreted.

Sara Haq, University of Maryland, College Park

The Othering of Sufism in Feminist Theory: Analyzing Challenges to Using Mysticism as Epistemological Approach to Women's Studies

This paper is an intra-disciplinary study questioning whether Islamic mysticism can be used as an epistemological approach to women’s studies. It studies the mutual methodological imbrications between “post-Orientalism” and post-colonial feminist theory to tackle the question of why mysticism is marginalized as the Other within feminist theory. Drawing on contemporary critical theorists Richard King (Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and ‘The Mystic East’) and Trinh T. Minh-ha (Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism), a critique of oppositional models of thinking in modern Western thought are used to examine two critical epistemological blind spots: 1) the (mis)understanding of the notion of silence, and 2) the stubbornness to reduce the meanings of text to merely the literal. Analyzing works of Fatemeh Keshavarz and Raimon Panikkar, weaving in examples from Rumi and Bulleh Shah, the paper aims to explore pores through which neo-orientalist thought seeps from religious studies into women’s studies.

June McDaniel, College of Charleston

Business Meeting:
Stuart R. Sarbacker, Oregon State University, presiding