Dazzling Darkness: Mysticism and Philosophy Syllabus

We’ve launched a new MA programme at Winchester this year, and I’m looking forward to teaching postgraduate students again. We run a theology, a religious studies and philosophy module every year and this year I am designated philosopher, syllabus as follows and, as you might expect, featuring several of my co-bloggers and friends of the blog:

Catalogue Summary: This module will explore the relationship between mystical theology (primarily within the Christian tradition, but including discussion of Islamic and Jewish mystical traditions) and contemporary philosophy via an exploration of mystical texts and contemporary philosophical works which engage with these texts. Via an examination of mystical texts in their original context and in contemporary philosophical debates, students will explore the role of mystical theology in shaping contemporary philosophy, and consider the ways in which contemporary philosophical texts take up and transform theological concepts.

Learning Outcomes:

By the conclusion of this module, a student will be expected to be able to:

(a)   demonstrate advanced knowledge of key themes and concepts of mystical theology and its influence on contemporary philosophy;

(b)   utilise independently a range of academic materials to critically evaluate discussions of the relationship between mystical theology and contemporary philosophy;

(c)    deploy established techniques of analysis independently in order to devise and sustain arguments and to comment upon aspects of current research relating to the interaction of mystical theology and contemporary philosophy.

Assessment Pattern:

60% Essay (4000 words)

40% Presentation – 10 minute presentation plus 5 minutes questions

Assessment Tasks

Formative Assessment

Assessment Type: Presentation plus essay

Presentation Length: 10 minute presentation plus 5 minutes Q&A

Essay length: 4000 words

Percentage of total module mark: 0% – this is a formative assessment

For this assessment you will be expected to produce a presentation and an essay based on materials we have studied in the course. You will be expected to choose your own essay and presentation topic, in consultation with the module leader – this is so that you can focus in on aspects of the course that are most relevant to your interests and gain experience in developing research questions which will help you when you come to write your dissertation. This assessment is formative, which means it will not count towards your final mark for the module. You are allowed to use material from this assessment in your final assessment, though you will be expected to develop your work in response to feedback on your formative assessment and in response to the materials we cover in Semester 2 of the module.

Due date for assessment to be returned to student with feedback: 18/01/18

Marking criteria can also be found, listed by level, in the Programme Handbook

Summative Assessment

Due: Thursday 13 December, 15:30

Assessment Type: Presentation plus essay

Presentation Length: 10 minute presentation plus 5 minutes Q&A

Essay length: 4000 words

Percentage of total module mark: Presentation: 40%; Essay: 60%

For this assessment you will be expected to produce a presentation and an essay based on materials we have studied in the course. You will be expected to choose your own essay and presentation topic, in consultation with the module leader Assessment Notes: References in your written assessments must be formatted in FOOTNOTE format and a BIBLIOGRAPHY must be included. Instructions for this format can be found in the Programme Handbook. ALL WRITTEN ASSESSMENTS SHOULD BE SUBMITTED ONLINE VIA THE MODULE PAGE.

Instructions on how to submit via the Module Page are available in the Programme Handbook.

Marking criteria can also be found in the Programme Handbook.

Seminar Overview:

Semester 1

WEEK 1. Foundations of Mysticism: Plato and Plotinus

WEEK 3. The Invention of Mysticism: Dionysius the Areopagite

WEEK 5. Weaponised Apophaticism: The Politics of Mystical Theology

WEEK 7. Islamic Mysticism

WEEK 9. Jewish Mysticism

WEEK 11. Presentations

Semester 2.

WEEK 1/2. Being Nothing: Meister Eckhart

WEEK 3/4. Seeing Nothing: Georges Bataille

WEEK 5/6. Embodying Nothing: Angela of Foligno

WEEK 7/8. Ecstasy: Teresa of Avila

WEEK 9/10. One, Two, Nothing: Luce Irigaray

WEEK 11/12. Presentations Weekly Breakdown Canvas. For a general bibliography along with additional reading please see the Talis Aspire Resource List accessible through Canvas.

SEMESTER 1

WEEK 1. Foundations of Mysticism: Plato and Plotinus

The origins of the Western mystical tradition – Christian, Jewish and Islamic, lie in Platonism and Neo-Platonism. This week we will look at some of the key texts which form the basis of the mystical tradition in the West and consider the key themes, metaphors and philosophical ideas at work. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is crucial for its emphasis on the unreality of ordinary experience; Socrates’ speech in the Phaedrus introduces desire – eros – to discussions of philosophical and mystical progress, and Plotinus’ Enneads focus on the problem of oneness and multiplicity.

Required Reading

Plato, ‘Allegory of the Cave’ in The Republic. Edited and translated by William Preddy and C. J. Emlyn-Jones. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2013. Section 514.a-520.a (Volume II, book VII, p107-125).

Plato, ‘Socrates Speech’ in Phaedrus, translated by Benjamin Jowett. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedrus.html [Accessed 6 August 2018] Extract available at: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~janzb/courses/rel3432/platophaedrus1.htm [Accessed 6 August 2018].

Plotinus, Book 1.6, The Enneads, edited by Lloyd P. Gerson, translated by John M. Dillon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 91-103.

Plotinus, Book 6.9, The Enneads, edited by Lloyd P. Gerson, translated by John M. Dillon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 880-898.

Recommended Reading

Amy Hollywood, ‘Introduction’ in Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism, edited by Amy Hollywood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 1-36.

Denys Turner, ‘Introduction’ in The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 1-10.

Michael A. Sells, ‘Introduction/Unsaying’ and ‘Awakening without Awakener: Apophasis in Plotinus’ in Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 1-13, 14-33.

WEEK 3. The Invention of Mysticism: Dionysius and Augustine

St Augustine of Hippo (a 4th century North African bishop) and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (a 6th century anonymous Syrian) are two of the founding figures of the Christian mystical tradition. This week we will explore the ways these two key thinkers bring together the themes and problems of Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy with newly-emerging Christian theology to create a synthesis of the two traditions which will profoundly shape the Western mystical tradition.

Required Reading

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, ‘The Mystical Theology’ in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, translated by Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 133-141.

Augustine, Book 7, 9.17-24 in Confessions, translated by Sarah Ruden (New York: Random House, 2018), 167-202, 255-265.

Denys Turner, ‘Cataphatic and the Apophatic in Denys the Areopagite’ in The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 19-49.

Recommended Reading

Marika Rose, ‘Ontology and Desire in Dionysius the Areopagite’ in A Theology of Failure: Žižek Against Christian Innocence (forthcoming, Fordham University Press, 2019).

Denys Turner, ‘Interiority and ascent: Augustine’s De Trinitate’ in The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 50-73.

Virginia Burrus, Mark D. Jordan and Karmen MacKendrick, Seducing Augustine: Bodies, Desires, Confessions (New York: Forham University Press, 2010).

WEEK 5. Weaponised Apophaticism: The Politics of Mystical Theology

Philosophy always takes place in the context of particular institutions and societies, and is shaped by its contexts as well as shaping them. This week will explore some readings of the ways in which mysticism reflects and shapes the social structures and hierarchies it takes place in. Giorgio Agamben argues that the hierarchy of names by which mystics seek to ascend to God reflects and enables social, political and ecclesiastic hierarchies. Grace Jantzen looks at the role of gender in the emergence of mystical theology and considers the ways in which key mystical tropes and ideas function to exclude women from power and access to philosophy.

Required Reading

Giorgio Agamben, ‘Angelology and Bureaucracy’ in The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government, translated by Lorenzo Chiesa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 144-166.

Grace Jantzen, ‘Feminists, philosophers and mystics’ in Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 1-25.

Recommended Reading

Anthony Paul Smith, ‘Against Tradition to Liberate Tradition: Weaponised Apophaticism and Gnostic Refusal’ in Angelaki 19.2 (2014), 145-159.

WEEK 7. Islamic Mysticism

This week explores Islamic mysticisms which share common theological and philosophical roots with the Christian mystical tradition. Medieval Islamic mysticism becomes especially important for the Western mystical tradition, and this week we will explore the work of several key medieval Muslim mystics.

Required Reading

Hallaj, ‘Iblis as Tragic Lover’ in Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur’an, Mi’raj, Poetic and Theological Writings, translated and edited by Michael A Sells (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 266-280.

Farid ad-Din ‘Attar, extracts from Fifty Poems of Attar, translated by Kenneth Avery and Ali Alizadeh (Melbourne: Re.Press, 2007), 69-73, 95-97, 129-131, 161.

Farid ad-Din ‘Attar, extracts from Farid ad-Din ‘Attar’s Memorial of God’s Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis, translated by Paul Losensky (New York: Paulist Press, 2009), 394-407.

Ibn Al ‘Arabi, ‘The Wisdom of Reality in the Word of Isaac’ in Ibn Al ‘Arabi: The Bezels of Wisdom, translated by R. W. J. Austin (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 96-103.

Recommended Reading

Navid Kermani, The Terror of God: Attar, Job and the Metaphysical Revolt, translated by Wieland Hoban (Cambridge: Polity, 2011).

Louis Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam, translated by Herbert Mason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).

Michael A. Sells, ‘Ibn ‘Arabi’s Polished Mirror: Identity Shift and Meaning Event’ and ‘Ibn ‘Arabi’s Garden Among the Flames: The Heart Receptive of Every Form’ in Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 63-89, 90-115.

WEEK 9. Jewish Mysticism

Kabbalah emerged in medieval France and Spain and has continued as a key strand of the Jewish mystical tradition ever since, both shaped by and shaping Christian and Islamic mystical and philosophical traditions. This week we will explore the work of two key contemporary philosophers and historians of Jewish mysticism: Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel.

Required Reading

Gershom Scholem, ‘Religious Authority and Mysticism’ in On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, translated by Ralph Manheim (London: Random House, 1996), 5-31.

Moshe Idel, ‘Methodological Observations’ in Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 17-34.

Recommended Reading

Ronald Kiener, The Early Kabbalah (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1986).

Arthur Green, Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible Through the Middle Ages (Independent Publishers Group, 1989).

Michael Fagenblat (ed), Negative Theology as Jewish Modernity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017).

WEEK 11. Presentations

SEMESTER 2

WEEK 1/2. Being Nothing: Meister Eckhart

This semester we will focus particularly on the way that mystical thinkers have been read by contemporary philosophers. First up is Meister Eckhart, account of the soul as becoming so united with God as to become indistinguishable from God has been of interest to contemporary philosophers of subjectivity. Alongside two of Eckhart’s most important sermons we will read Alex Dubilet’s attempt to use Eckhart to offer a contemporary philosophical account of absolute immanence.

Required Reading

Meister Eckhart, Sermon 52 and Sermon 2 in The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense, translated by Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1981).

Alex Dubilet, ‘Non-philosophical immanence, or immanence without secularization’ in Mystical Theology and Continental Philosophy: Interchange in the Wake of God, edited by David Lewin, Simon D. Podmore and Duane Williams (London: Routledge, 2017), 231-244.

Recommended Reading

Alex Dubilet, The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence, Medieval to Modern (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018).

Karmen MacKendrick ‘Redeeming language: Meister Eckhart’ in Immemorial Silence (New York: SUNY Press, 2001), 33-46.

Denys Turner, ‘Eckhart: God and the Self’ and ‘Eckhart: detachment and the critique of desire’ in The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 137-185.

Michael A. Sells, ‘Meister Eckhart: Birth and Self-Birth and ‘Porete and Eckhart: The Apophasis of Gender’’ in Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 146-179, 180-205.

WEEK 3/4. Seeing Nothing: Georges Bataille

One of the key figures in the transmission of medieval mystical texts and ideas to contemporary philosophy is Georges Bataille, philosopher and medievalist. This week we will read extracts on Bataille’s work, which circles repeatedly around the question of the relationship between the intensity of the mystical encounter with God and the intensity of sexual transgressions alongside a selection from Amy Hollywood, whose important book Sensible Ecstasy seeks traces the influence of mystical theology on contemporary philosophy.

Required Reading

Georges Bataille, ‘Foreword’ and ‘Introduction’ in Erotism: Death and Sensuality (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986), 7-25.

Georges Bataille, ‘Foreword’ and ‘Part 1’ in Inner Experience, translated by Stuart Kendall (Albany: SUNY Press, 2014), 3-29.

Amy Hollywood, ‘The Scandal of the Real’ in Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference and the Demands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 36-59.

Recommended Reading

Alex Dubilet, ‘Sans Emploi, Sans Repos, Sans Réponse: Georges Bataille’s Loss without a Why’ in The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence, Medieval to Modern (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018).

Karmen MacKendrick ‘And my memory from the minds of men: Georges Bataille’ in Immemorial Silence (New York: SUNY Press, 2001), 33-46.

Kent Brintnall and Jeremy Biles (eds), Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015).

Bruce Holsinger, ‘Para-Thomism: Bataille at Rheims’ in The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 26-26.

Peter Tracey Connor, Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

Alexander Irwin, Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil and the Politics of the Sacred (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

WEEK 5/6. Embodying Nothing: Angela of Foligno

This week we will continue our exploration of the relationship between desire, embodiment and mystical encounter with God through an examination of the work of Angela of Foligno, a medieval Christian mystic whose work focuses intently on bodily suffering, and Amy Hollywood’s exploration of Angela’s influence on the work of Georges Bataille.

Required Reading

Angela of Foligno, ‘Christ’s Passion’ and ‘Transforming Suffering’ in Angela of Foligno: Complete Works, translated by Paul Lachance. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1993. 179-218.

Amy Hollywood, ‘Mysticism, Trauma and Catastrophe in Angela of Foligno’s Book and Bataille’s Atheological Summa’ in Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference and the Demands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 61-87.

Recommended Reading

Cristina M. Mazzoni, ‘Feminism, Abjection, Transgression: Angela of Foligno and the Twentieth Century’ in Mystics Quarterly 17.2 (1991), 61-70.

Molly Morrison, ‘Ingesting Bodily Filth: Defilement in the Spirituality of Angela of Foligno’ in Romance Quarterly 50.3 (2003), 204-216.

Dino S. Cervigni, ‘Angela Derrida Foligno’s “Memoriale”: The Male Scribe, the Female Voice, and the Other’ in Italica 82.3/4 (2005), 339-355.

WEEK 7/8. Ecstasy: Teresa of Avila

One of the ways in which the question of the relationship between sexual desire and desire for God shows up in contemporary philosophy is in psychoanalytic discussions of the relationship between the two. This week we will look at Teresa of Avila, another medieval Christian mystic whose work emphasises the intensity of the mystical desire for God and the ecstasy of the mystical encounter with God alongside Amy Hollywood’s discussion of the role that Teresa’s work plays in the thought of Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst.

Required Reading

Teresa of Avila. Chapters 9, 18 and 20, The Life of St Theresa, Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/life.viii.xix.html; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/life.viii.x.html; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/life.viii.xix.html [Accessed 7 August 2018].

Teresa of Avila. The First Mansion, chapter 1; The Second Mansion; The Seventh Mansion, chapters 1-3. http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/tic/index.htm [Accessed 7 August 2018].

Amy Hollywood. ‘Jacques Lacan, Encore: Feminine Jouissance, the Real, and the Goal of Psychoanalysis’ in Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference and the Demands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 146-170.

Recommended Reading

Marika Rose, ‘The mystical and the material: Slavoj Žižek and the French reception of mysticism’ in Sophia 53.2 (2014), 231-240.

Dany Nobus, ‘The Sculptural Iconography of Feminine Jouissance: Lacan’s Reading of Bernini’s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy’ in The Comparatist 39 (2015), 22-46.

WEEK 9/10. One, Two, Nothing: Luce Irigaray

Our final week’s reading looks at the work of Luce Irigaray, which engages with many of the key themes and thinkers of the course so far, from Plato to Lacan. For Irigaray the key question – as for the Neoplatonists – is the question of difference, of how one becomes two; but in contrast to the Neoplatonists, for Irigaray the key arena in which these questions play out is the relationship between men and women.

Required Reading

Luce Irigaray, ‘This Sex Which Is Not One’ in This Sex Which Is Not One, translated by Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 23-33.

Luce Irigaray, ‘Return to the Name of the Father’ and ‘“Woman’s” Jouissance’ in Speculum of the Other Woman, translated by Gillian C Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 346-364.

Amy Hollywood, ‘From Lack to Fluidity: Luce Irigaray, La Mysterique’ in Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference and the Demands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 187-210.

Recommended Reading

Amy Hollywood, ‘Beauvoir, Irigaray and the Mystical’ in Hypatia 9.4 (1994), 158-185.

Anne-Marie Priest, ‘Woman as God, God as Woman: Mysticism, Negative Theology and Luce Irigaray’ in The Journal of Religion 83.1 (2003), 1-23.

Phyllis H. Kaminski, ‘Holy Mary, Holy Desire: Luce Irigaray and Saintly Daughters’ in The Postmodern Saints of France: Refiguring ‘the holy’ in contemporary French philosophy, edited by Colby Dickinson (London: T&T Clark, 2013), 169-182.

WEEK 11/12. Presentations

 

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