A study of the historical development of Jewish mysticism, its symbolic universe, meditational practices, and social ramifications. While we will survey mystical traditions from the late-Second Temple period through modernity, the central focus will be on the rich medieval stream known as kabbalah.
Among the issues to be explored are:
- the nature of mystical experience;
- images of God, world, and Person;
- sexual and gender symbolism (images of the male and female);
- the problem of evil;
- mysticism, language, and silence;
- mysticism and the law;
- mysticism and community;
- meditative and ecstatic practices (ranging from visualization to chant, letter combination, and modulated breathing);
- kabbalistic myth and ritual innovation; and
- kabbalistic interpretations of history.
Modern interpretations of mysticism will also be considered. Readings for the course consist of secondary sources from the history of Judaism and comparative religion, and selected primary texts (in translation). Requirements include two exams and a research paper. Class lectures will be supplemented by discussion, contemplative exercises, and on occasion, music and other media.