Event Description

The Comparative Mysticisms conference aims to bring together several scholars from different disciplines and areas of study to examine how a variety of traditions has tried to express direct experience with the divine. A mystical event presents as a serious paradox: it is an event entirely dissimilar to anything else, but offers assimilation to the divine, which must be conveyed in comprehensible terms, which form the subject of this conference.

All traditions use words and sensuous vehicles to express the notionally ineffable. Even if experiences differ, the same channels of discourse are used across traditions. In trying to express the paradox inherent in the mystical encounter, the language employed taps into other sources of perception and experience. Our first panel aims to examine how these vehicles of description move across media and genres and how these recurring patterns function alongside one another. The two papers on this panel take their examples from pre-modernity, and both try to place their monuments (the works of Dionysius the Areopagite and Ste. Foy in Conques) in their full sensory context. The second panel addresses how the individual event becomes public and what happens in its aftermath. These sensuous metaphors are embedded in the physical, the site of political experience. Although these stem from individual, private experiences, they require a common corporeality, a sense of oneself as embodied in a social community, and the movement from private to public life must be enacted in some manner. Both papers consider the fundamental issue of group experience and embodiment: the one synchronically (the case of late antique Jewish poetry) and the other diachronically (Chinese Buddhism across time and place). In the third and final panel, our speakers explore the movement of mystical events into new contexts. After the initial experience, mystical encounters take on lives of their own: they spread and adapt. Through such a movement, however, they take on different meanings and are re-interpreted to fit new situations. The papers in panel complicate understandings mysticism as universal or generalizable: one locates a particular French mysticism that runs the course of modernity up through the works of Georges Bataille and the other asks what “mysticism” means in the twenty-first century and how it might be understood as an ongoing phenomenon.

Image: Flammarion Engraving, Firmament Dome Flat Earth

(All times are in U.S. Eastern Standard Time)

9:45am – Opening remarks

10:00am — Keynote Speech: Amy Hollywood (Harvard Divinity School), “Psalms, Aesthetics, and Comparative Mysticism”

11:00-11:10am – Break

Panel 1: Mysticism and Aesthetics

Chair: Chase Padusniak (Princeton University)

11:10am – Niklaus Largier (UC Berkeley), “Dionysian Mysticism and the Experience of Beauty”

11:35am – Bissera Pentcheva (Stanford University), “Audiovision: Image and Chant at Ste. Foy in Conques”

12:00pm – Respondent: Christian Wildberg (University of Pittsburgh)

12:40-1:30pm – Break

Panel 2: Mysticism and Politics

Chair: Nikolas Churik (Princeton University)

1:30pm – Laura Suzanne Lieber (Duke University), “The One Turns Toward the Other: Ascents to Heaven in Byzantine Jewish Hymnody and Art”

1:55pm – Robert Scharf (UC Berkeley), “In Defense of a New Perennialism”

2:20pm – Respondent: Jonathan Gold (Princeton University)

3:00-3:10pm – Break

Panel 3: Reception of Mysticism

Chair: Jiani Fan (Princeton University)

3:10pm – Charly Coleman (Columbia University), “Mysticism, Enlightenment, and the Revolution: The French Case”

3:35pm – Laura Wittman (Stanford University), “Mysticism, Near-Death, and the Narration of Trauma”

4:00pm – Respondent: Sara Poor (Princeton University)

Concluding Remarks

4:40pm – Francis Clooney (Harvard Divinity School)

Event Co-Sponsor(s)
Humanities Council
Comparative Antiquity: A Humanities Council Global Initiative
Department of Classics
Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies

Event Details

May 21, 2022, 9:45 am4:40 pm
Events Venue
Zoom, Online Event