Spring 2025 | Asia, Africa, and Europe Exploration

PHIL 379 Mysticism East and West

Overview of Course

Throughout the ages and across different cultures, mystics have maintained that a properly cultivated consciousness can attain a deeper understanding of the world and life than is possible through everyday or scientific means. They further maintain that the mind of the mystic can grasp truths which are beyond the range of the logical intellect and the senses, but that the knowledge thus attained is not expressible in ordinary words and concepts, that it is, in a word, ineffable.
Although claims of mystical experiences are ancient, abundant and wide spread, its nature and value remain problematic. Do mystical experiences have cognitive significance, are they forms of knowledge or are they confined to the realm of feelings? Is mystical and religious experience evidence for the existence of God or some other transcendental reality?
In this seminar, we will discuss and try to answer these and other related questions. We will begin by reading some of the seminal works that help define “mysticism” as a particular form of religious experience, and the important related notion of the “sacred.” Then we will engage in a close reading of classical Eastern and Western mystical texts from Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, Saint John of the Cross, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and others. We will then turn to more recent texts from the Zen Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki and the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. The remainder of the seminar will be devoted to assessing the arguments made for and against the cognitive status of mysticism by a variety of contemporary philosophers.