This Unit began as a Consultation within the AAR in 1987 and achieved formal Unit status in 1989. While its early focus was primarily Christianity and Western religions — and the study of experience and textual interpretation within those areas — the Unit has grown and changed over time, paralleling the change and growth in the AAR itself. Today, our conversations cut across boundaries that characterize many of the Program Units within the AAR — boundaries of discipline, tradition, temporality, and region. Members of our Unit use different methodologies and work across a variety of disciplines, among which are the psychology of religion, sociology of religion, history of religions, hermeneutics and textual analysis, biographical analysis, feminist studies, queer and trans studies, film studies, philosophy of religion, mysticism and science, art criticism, postmodern theory, cultural studies, and anthropology of consciousness, among others. This interdisciplinarity has importance not only to our work as scholars, but also to our work as teachers and public educators. We post our current call, past sessions, a selection of past papers, as well as links in the field of mysticism to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/aarmysticism/.
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Call for Proposals for November Meeting
“The Things We Do Not Talk About”: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism
Originally published in 2001, Jeffrey J. Kripal’s Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism opened doors into the hidden lives of scholars of comparative mysticism. By way of his own “secret talks” – vulnerable, first-person reflections, interwoven between historical case studies – Kripal demonstrated a methodology with the potential to redefine insider-outsider debates through rigorous, transparent, and participatory self-reflexivity. This panel invites papers that challenge the norms of objectivity and subjectivity in scholarship, extend first-person narratives into academic discourse, and interrogate the borders and boundaries between self and other, human and more-than-human, and the intimate intersections of eros and the body as sites of mystical transformation and transgression.
Trauma and Transcendence
The field of trauma studies serves as an inter-disciplinary framework for interpreting mystical phenomena that center the person, affect, psycho-spiritual models of development (and its interruption) and one that questions the boundaries and limitations of self and mystical knowing. Attending to this framework, we invite papers that explore the multiple intersections between mysticism, the body, the imagination, penetration and porousness, divine wounding, ecstasy, and transcendence. These can include articulations of trauma as part of the mystical path within specific traditions, understandings of trauma as a gateway to mystical states, and the utilization of mysticism as a way to heal sickness and trauma.
Violence, Non-Violence, and Mystic Narratives
Engaging with this year’s conference theme, “Violence, Non-Violence, and the Margin,” this panel interrogates representations of violence and bodily mortification in mystical writing and art. We invite papers that consider what happens when we refuse to separate the injury, pain, and mortification found in mystical texts from the concept or category of violence. While attending to the spiritualization and narrativization of bodily pain, we ask how violence is imagined and described by the art and literature produced in traditions and communities understood as mystical. Furthermore, how do we understand the difference between representations of violence and embodied experiences of violence, especially in mystical texts that blur the line between representation and reality? We also invite papers that consider how violence and nonviolence affect our understanding of the category of mysticism. And how reconfiguring the nature of violence and nonviolence might shift the relationship between the margin and the center.
The late 19th- and early 20th centuries saw a boom in what might today be considered “spiritual but not religious” movements. Spiritualism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, to name only a few, synthesized – often uncritically – post-Protestant Christianity with imported traditions from Central and South Asian yoga and tantric traditions, along with a vast array of symbolic and mythological themes drawing from Gnosticism to medieval alchemy to astrology. How might contemporary scholars locate much less “define” the boundaries between “mysticism” and “esotericism” – and, are these terms even useful in organizing and categorizing these areas? This panel invites papers that address issues of hybridization in mysticism and esotericism, particularly from outside of European traditions, as well as challenge methodological and definitional assumptions, particularly a too rigid separation of “the esoteric” from “the mystic.”
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Joy R. Bostic, Case Western Reserve University1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026
Nicholas Boylston, Harvard University1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
Fernanda Garcia-Oteyza, Harvard1/1/2024 - 12/31/2029
Marla Segol, State University of New York, Buffalo1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026
Glenn Young, Rockhurst University1/1/2024 - 12/31/2029