RELIGION 471 - Seminar: Topics in the Study of Judaism
Section: 001 Hasidism as Mysticism: The Radical Teachings of Nahman of Bratslov
Term: WN 2008
Subject: Religion (RELIGION)
Department: LSA Studies in Religion
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
May be repeated for a maximum of 9 credit(s).
Primary Instructor:

The focus of this course is on Nahman of Breslov (1772-1810), one of the most celebrated masters of Jewish mysticism and Hasidism, whose radical writings — poised on the precipice of modernity — have attained the status of spiritual classics. The ongoing fascination with Nahman stems both from his singular (mercurial, multi-tiered, questing) personality and from the profound and uncompromising nature of his theological vision.

In this class we will explore the existentialist Nahman confronting the absence of God (his Torah of the Void); the Messianic Nahman wrestling with depression and utopian grandeur; and the mystical Nahman, finding vivid manifestations of the divine in the realm of nature (in Forest and birds, the grasses of the field), in song and the outpouring of the heart, and in interpersonal dialogue and spiritual practices that deconstruct the ordinary self. Key themes will include: spiritual longing and the perpetual search for meaning; conflict and growth; exile and redemption, as well as the dialectic between sadness and joy; shatteredness and wholeness; madness and health; doubt and faith; complexity and simplicity. Students will probe Nahman’s creative rereading of the devotional life: including his theology of niggun (wordless song) and sacred dance. As Nahman continuously integrated his life-story into his thought, we will investigate the relationship between his agon-filled biography and his teachings. And finally we will consider his hermeneutical (interpretive) theory: a theory that celebrates continuous creativity — as Nahman’s quicksilver improvisations on sacred text bring to mind John Coltrane’s deep improvisations on a melody.

Our raw materials are “simple”: selections from Nahman’s mystically inflected disourses; his accessible yet enigmatic Tales; as well as his haunting dream-texts. Together we will learn how to decode his work. As a kind of cultural detail, we will also explore the Breslov musical tradition. These texts and songs will be supplemented by secondary literature: drawn from the fields of historical, literary, and religious studies.

While students may rely solely on English translations in this course, I will make available materials for those equipped to work in the Hebrew and Yiddish originals.

Pre-requisites: It is strongly recommended that students have prior background/coursework in Jewish Mysticism or other Jewish textual traditions, or have undertaken significant (university) study in other religious, contemplative or philosophical traditions.

RELIGION 471 - Seminar: Topics in the Study of Judaism
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
Tu 7:30PM - 10:00PM
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