MIDEAST 490 - Topics in Middle East Studies
Section: 002 Hasidism as Mysticism: The Radical Teachings of Nahman of Breslov
Term: FA 2018
Subject: Middle East Studies (MIDEAST)
Department: LSA Near Eastern Studies
Waitlist Capacity:
May be elected twice for credit. May be elected more than once in the same term.
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; doubt and faith; complexity and simplicity. Students will probe Nahman’s creative rereading of the spiritual 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 (including his astonishing dream texts). 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.

Course Requirements:

Weekly reflections; one short essay; and one term paper or project

Intended Audience:

Advanced undergrads and grad students in Religion, Literature, Folklore, and Judaic Studies

Class Format:

One three hour seminar weekly

MIDEAST 490 - Topics in Middle East Studies
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
Th 4:00PM - 7:00PM
002 (SEM)
W 2:00PM - 5:00PM
003 (SEM)
Th 1:00PM - 4:00PM
004 (SEM)
MW 11:30AM - 1:00PM
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