The definition of mysticism has shifted, in modern thinking, from a patristic emphasis on the objective content of experience to the modern emphasis on the subjective psychological states or feelings of the individual. Post Kantian Idealism and Romanticism was involved in this shift to a far larger extent than is usually recognized. An important conductor of the subjectivist view of mysticism to modern philosophers of religion was William James, even though in other respects he repudiated Romantic and especially Idealist categories (...) of thought. In this article I wish first to explore William James' understanding of mysticism and religious experience, and then to measure that understanding against the accounts of two actual mystics, Bernard of Clairvaux and Julian of Norwich, who, for all their differences, may be taken as paradigms of the Christian mystical tradition. I shall argue that judging from these two cases, James' position is misguided and inadequate. Since James' account has been of enormous influence in subsequent thinking about mysticism, it follows that if his understanding of mysticism is inadequate, so is much of the work that rests upon it. (shrink)
Donna Haraway, in her ‘Manifesto for Cyborgs’, issues a warning that in the postmodern world where grand narratives increasingly fail and subjects are seen to be irremediably fragmented, ‘we risk lapsing into boundless difference and giving up on the confusing task of making a partial, real connection. Some differences are playful; some are poles of world historical systems of domination. Epistemology is about knowing the difference’. Such an account of epistemology, which sees its central task to be a knowledge of (...) the significance of difference and a capacity to discern between innocent and oppressive forms of difference, is perhaps not one that would most readily occur to British philosophers of religion. It is, however, an account which has resonances both with many contemporary continental thinkers and with feminist epistemologists. Notwithstanding the many areas of divergence between and among these groups, on two points at least they converge: that the recognition and discernment of difference has become inescapable for epistemology, and that of the differences which must be dealt with, gender difference has a paradigmatic status. (shrink)
The great increase of interest in the study of spirituality and mysticism is reflected in the large number of articles that the Encyclopedia of Religion devotes to various aspects of this topic. As one would expect, there are long entries for ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Christian Spirituality’ and ‘Religious Experience’. In addition to these broad categories, attention is given to more specific aspects of spirituality such as ‘Asceticism’, ‘Silence’, ‘Prayer’, ‘Meditation’, and so on. This is complemented by entries on many of the (...) spiritual giants of the Christian tradition, both ancient and modern. I shall begin by discussing these articles on individuals, and go on to examine the more general articles later in the review. I shall suggest that, despite many merits, both sorts of entry display an editorial policy about which serious questions must be raised. (shrink)
Paul Helm's discussion of my book is a clear illustration of some of my central claims about Anglo-American philosophy of religion: he instantiates its undue preoccupation with beliefs, and its erasure of gender. In my reply I show how Helm conflates my objection to such preoccupation with the absurd claim that beliefs are unnecessary, and how he conflates philosophy of religion – even rationality itself – with its Anglo-American variants. He refuses to engage with the masculinism implicit both in his (...) selectivity and in the boundaries he seeks to maintain around the discipline; boundaries which, I argue, need to be opened up for philosophy of religion to flourish. (shrink)
Although there is a deep channel dividing British philosophy of religion from French thought associated with poststructuralism, much is to be gained from communication between the two. In this paper I explore three central areas of difference: the understanding of the subject, of language, and of God/religion. In each case I show that continental philosophy pursues these areas in ways which make issues of gender central to their understanding; and suggest that, while continental thought is neither monolithic nor beyond criticism, (...) its understandings of difference are of great value to religious thought. (shrink)
Most feminists take for granted that the One Father God, omnipotent, separate from the universe overwhich ‘he’ presides, which has been at the heart of western conceptions of deity, is a projection which ensuresthat all otherness is reducible to ‘a variant of the same’. In whatever way the divine might be thought, it should not be like that. From this agreed starting point, however, there is sharp divergence among feminists. Many feminists, rejecting this Big Daddy in the Sky, reject with (...) him all religion, directing their efforts toward practical and theoretical struggles for justice. In the light of the incalculable consequences of western theism in terms of colonialism, racism, homophobia, and sexism, such a refusal on the part of feminists to have anything further to do with it, even in terms of contestation, is wholly understandable and worthy of respect. (shrink)
This article challenges the widely held view that mysticism is essentially characterized by intense, ineffable, subjective experiences. Instead, I show that mysticism has undergone a series of social constructions, which were never innocent of gendered struggles for power. When philosophers of religion and popular writers on mysticism ignore these gendered constructions, as they regularly do, they are in turn perpetuating a post-Jamesian understanding of mysticism which removes mysticism and women from involvement with political and social justice.
An identical consciousness of close communion with God is obtained by the non-sacramental Quaker in his silence and by the sacramental Catholic in the Eucharist. The Christian contemplative's sense of personal intercourse with the divine as manifest in the incarnate Christ is hard to distinguish from that of the Hindu Vaishnavite, when we have allowed for the different constituents of his apperceiving mass.
What must I do to be saved? And is what I must do the same as what you must do? The Philippian jailor in the book of Acts received a most peculiar answer to the question: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, said St Paul, ‘and you will be saved.’ In the context, this hardly seems appropriate. The jailor was not asking how he could be assured of a place in the next world, or how he could be reconciled to (...) God or have his sins forgiven. His was a cry of quite unreligious desperation: was there any alternative to suicide, now that his prison was no longer secure and he had failed in his duty? The curious thing about the story is that it is recorded, not as an example of over–zealous bad manners, but as ultimately the right answer for even the jailor's situation. When Paul instructed him further, he and his household were baptized: the writer clearly intended the story to show that Paul's initial response was exactly right, and that belief in Christ brought salvation to the jailor and his family. (shrink)