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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Unity of Mystical Traditions: The Transformation of Consciousness in Tibetan and German Mysticism by Randall Studstill (Studies in the History of Religions, Vol. 107: Brill Academic) argues that mystical doctrines and practices initiate parallel transformative processes in the consciousness of mystics. This thesis is supported through a comparative analysis of Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen (rdzogs-chen) and the medieval German mysticism of Eckhart, Suso, and Tauler. These traditions are interpreted using a system/cybernetic model of consciousness. This model provides a theoretical framework for assessing the cognitive effects of mystical doctrines and practices and showing how different doctrines and practices may nevertheless initiate common transformative processes. This systems approach contributes to current philosophical discourse on mysticism by (1) making possible a precise analysis of the cognitive effects of mystical doctrines and practices, and (2) reconciling mystical heterogeneity with the essential unity of mystical traditions.

Randall Studstill, Ph.D. (2002) in Religious Studies, The Graduate Theological Union, is an Adjunct Instructor of Religious Studies at San Jose State University. He has published on the phenomenological method of Mircea Eliade and the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

The purpose of this study is to present and support a mystical pluralist interpretation of mysticism. Through the application of a systems-based understanding of mind to Dzogchen and German mysticism, Studstill shows that the doctrines and practices of these two mystical traditions and by implication, mystical traditions in general, bring about common transformative processes in the consciousness of the mystic, experientially realized as a deepening attunement to the Real. The mystical pluralist thesis has close affinities to a number of other essentialist and transper­sonal approaches to mysticism. Mystical pluralism, Forman's perennial psychology, Combs' systems approach, shares the same core thesis: mystical paths function in similar ways to decondition structures of ordinary consciousness. Studstill goes beyond this basic idea by addressing in more precise terms how mystical doctrines and prac­tices cause transformation and what this transformation involves. It also addresses areas of the mystical data often ignored or left unex­plained by essentialist, constructivist, and transpersonal theories: the nature of visionary mystical experiences and their relation to contentless, unmediated mystical states. The role of doctrine and ethics in generating mystical transformation, and the intrinsic epistemic value of mystical experiences is also delineated. As comprehensive as this account is in its reach and clarity, this reviewer finds a greater insistence on a divorce with “ordinary consciousness” that this study most seriously breaches aspects of the traditions taken to support  and account for mystical pluralism. There is too much insistence upon transformation rather than upon the recovery of the Real in the real of ordinary experience.

 For Studstill mystical pluralism is justified on two levels. First, it is justified by the fundamental inadequacy of constructivism alone. Specifically, Studstill argues that constructivism is inadequate in its description of the mystical data, and both philosophically and psychologically problematic. The problems with constructivism provide the grist for an alternative view of mystical that Studstill calls mystical pluralism, based on its own philosophical, epistemological, and psychological merits, as well as its ability to account for the data. Studstill explains what a systems approach to consciousness and mysticism involves, reviewing some of the general principles of systems theory and discussing how such principles may be applied to consciousness or mind. Next the study presents doctrinally nuanced mystical data through overviews of two mystical traditions: Dzogchen and German mysticism respectively. Using the systems-based model of consciousness, Studstill’s interpretation of these traditions focuses on the issue of therapeutic efficacy: how they might transform the consciousness of the practitioner who internalizes them and lives them. Studstill concludes the study by comparing the traditions from a systems per­spective. This systems approach shows how both Dzogchen and German mysticism function to elicit common transformative processes and thereby supports a mystical pluralist interpretation of mystical traditions.

I admire the close reading and clear presentation that Studstill’s work accounts for mysticism as the conscious alternation of conscious experience through meditative exercise. However Studstill’s account stresses the phenomenal, peak experience aspect of mysticism rather than the subtle deepening of “ordinary awareness.” I am reminded of Underhill’s youthful work Mysticism, 1901 which also tended to stress the extraordinary, to her own later more subtle formulations of contemplative experience. Perhaps Studstill will also exercise a more moderate and inclusive revision of his views, if he continues to develop his systems approach to a wider variety of religious experience.

Mysticism and Morality, A New Look At Old Questions by Richard H. Jones (Lexington: Rowman & Littlefield) explores an often neglected area of comparative religious ethics: mysticism. By addressing a myriad of traditions, both Eastern and Western, Jones explores the question: Is mysticism moral? His discussion of this questions takes him through Hinduism, Jainism, varieties of Buddhism, Tantra, Daoism, and Christianity. Richard Jones's unique work is a salient addition to philosophy of religion, ethics, and religious studies.

After showing how our modern connection of religion and morality is a thoroughly modern juxtaposition, Jones deals with the  principle parameters of morality and most global concepts connected to  modern recognition of mysticism as distinct from the traditions. In Part II, mystics from five religious traditions are selected to examine the complexities of mysticism and morality. In Part III, the relation of types of mystical experience to morality is discussed, as will the issue of social action. Finally, what impact classical mystics' ideas on values and morality can have on the contemporary world is addressed.

In Part II, the truth of the traditions' factual claims is not be questioned but simply accepted; the objective of this study is to examine the ethics of these traditions and to see how morality does or does not figure in them. Both values (in particular, the central issue of concern for others) and factual beliefs (whether they permit or foreclose morality) is examined. The mystical path and the enlightened state are of central importance to the shape of moral claims. The amount of exposition varies from tradition to tradition—Daoism requires more because it is open to so many diverse interpretations, while Jainism requires very little because only a few points are of importance here. This a philosophical study of the moral status of mystical traditions, rather than a comprehensive survey of the ethical rules and norms of the different traditions.

From the various tradition individual mystics as exemplars are selected to illustrate the variety of positions and the issues involved examining mystical attainment and ethical behavior. The study is necessarily selective and not a comprehensive assessment of all mystical paths in these traditions. First, Jones focuses upon the "classical" mystics unaffected by modem Western scientific, philosophical, and ethical thought (although a few contemporary practitioners are noted in passing). Second, even within the selected religious traditions the survey snapshottish: only basic texts and representative mystics of chosen subtraditions are discussed. The foundational texts of a tradition or subtradition is the focus for the Eastern traditions, but for Christianity Jones’ focus is especially on the medieval period with its rich scholastic mystical practice. The selection within Hinduism and Buddhism is partial but at least sufficient enough to show that there are different points of view within the same tradition.

I missed some recognition of Judaism and Islamic mystical traditions but it is doubtful that their inclusion would have affected the analysis in the philosophical portions of the book, especially in part III where modernity as antimystical is most strongly asserted. 

Excerpt: In the 1970s, scholars in comparative religion made some very promising advances in methodology of "comparative religious ethics." But since then, scholars have mostly produced only narrow studies of different traditions of interest only to other specialists of those traditions. Most significantly, there has been very little on the philosophical issues involved in comparing value-systems and almost nothing on the philosophical issue of the relation of mysticism and morality.' The philosophical issue has typically been neglected or entirely screened out of the scholar's field of vision. The level of much current analysis is that because Buddhists follow a code of conduct they obviously are moral or that anything connected with a religious summum bonum is by definition moral—scholars do not even see an issue there to discuss. Indeed, the fundamental moral question is now the forgotten issue in comparative religious ethics.

All mystical traditions of course have codes of conduct, rules, normative ideals, and exemplars of conduct that cover both actions toward other people and personal inner self-development. Creating such codes may be a universal feature of human cultures. But are we simply to assume both that the codes and ideals must reflect a moral concern for others and that the factual beliefs entailed by adherence to any code cannot conflict with the factual presuppositions necessary for moral conduct? Scholars routinely present the codes and ideals of religious ways of life, but surprisingly few scholars discuss the issue of why they are followed—in particular, whether the codes are followed out of a genuine concern for the welfare of the people whom the mystics interact with or for other reasons. Is there a genuine concern for other people for their own sake, or are people treated simply as means for the mystic's own spiritual advancement even if they are not actually mistreated? It is obviously easier to deal only with the codes recorded in a tradition than to look at the "inside" of mystical actions (the mystic's intentions and reasons), but it is the latter that reveals whether a particular mystic is moral. It is this issue that remains the most fundamental issue when value-systems are approached philosophically for a moral evaluation.

Evidence that scholars simply miss the philosophical issue is that they routinely translate terms for codes of conduct (e.g., the Jewish halakhah) as "ethics" and state without discussion that the religious are moral. They assume that because such codes are "ethics" that they are "ethical" systems, and, since "ethical" is inter-changeable with "moral," the followers therefore must be moral, i.e., concerned for . the welfare of others. In short, they go from "following a code of conduct" to "must be concerned with others' welfare" by nothing more than a simple translation. What is entirely missed is that there are two distinct concepts operating here: the notion of rules of interpersonal conduct ("ethics") and genuine concern for others as the reason for following those rules ("morality"). The substantive moral issue of whether a mystic is concerned for others is simply bypassed by substituting the modern term "morality" for a classical religious concept for a "code of conduct" and reading in all its modem connotations. But we cannot conclude by this sleight of hand that everyone following a code of conduct with rules against killing and stealing must be doing so out of concern for others (rather than some self-serving reason) and thus must be moral—the teachings and actions of the mystics must actually be examined closely.

"Ethics" can most broadly mean, as with Aristotle, the whole management of human life—what is the "good life" or whatever ends we should strive for—or it can mean only codes of conduct for actions affecting others. But "morality" involves another issue: do our actions exhibit a concern for other people's welfare? We cannot assume that any set of "ethics" must include a concern for other people—that is a substantive question of values that cannot be settled simply by definition but requires historical investigation. Thus, the concepts of "ethics" and "morality" each have different scopes. The term "ethics" in this study will be limited to any code or value-system for actions impinging on other people. The term "morality" will refer to exhibiting a genuine concern for others. (Thus, "morality" will not refer to all of one's personal values or to all social values. The more limited sense of the term will also restrict the scope of inquiry here to more limited questions.) We can be "ethical" by conforming to the values of a society. It is a matter of behavior that has nothing to do with the question of whether our reason or motive is "moral," i.e., whether we are conforming to the code because of a real concern for others. (Thus, being "immoral" is deemed a moral wrong While being "unethical" may not be.)

In short, operating by some "ethical code" is not the same as "being moral." We can speak of "Nazi ethics" and still legitimately ask whether the Nazis were moral. Similarly, we can identify Buddhist ethics and still ask whether Buddhists are being moral in holding these ethics. If someone follows a cultural code—even a religious one—only for personal gain, he or she is not praiseworthy as being moral. That mystical actions are "selfless" does not by definition mean that the mystics then must be acting out of concern for others' welfare or that their actions always have positive consequences for others. In sum, mystics always have a set of ethics, but the question is: are the mystics morally concerned with others or only concerned with their own self-development?

Part of the reason for the confusion is that we use "ethical" and "moral" interchangeably in ordinary English. We speak of "sets of morals" (i.e., ethical codes) or "personal morals" (i.e., a set of values for oneself) or "moral development" (i.e., either the inner personal cultivation of specifically moral virtues or any personal cultivation of any set of values). We speak of a "personal morality" (even though morality involves interpersonal action and has one universal value—a concern for others), and of "medical ethics" or "professional ethics" (but not of "professional morals"). Adding to the confusion, the term "value" in the context of what is worthwhile in one's life is also often uncritically equated with "moral" and "ethical." Thus, this confusion cannot be avoided by using "value-system" rather than "ethics." But this arbitrariness of everyday terminology means that rather than adopting "ethics" as the name for value-systems and "moral" to identify concern for others, one could just as easily call the former "morals" and the latter "ethical." But regardless of the labels, what is important is that the concept of "following a code of conduct" remains distinct from the concept of "acting out of a concern for others."

This raises the issue of whether any code of ethics can itself be called "moral." Morality involves the intentions of the actors or the consequence of their actions and hence has an inner aspect that purely external phenomena—such as a code of conduct—cannot capture. Thus, it may make sense to call persons (either individually or collectively) or an action "moral" but not a code. A code covering actions affecting other people (e.g., requiring us not to harm others or to provide aid to them) may have been constructed out of a concern for others. Or it may not: an ethical code may instead reflect only self-restraint from selfish behavior or some other value (e.g., just to maintain the social order). Moreover, even codes constructed out of a concern for others cannot require that we act out of concern for others rather than for some self-serving motive. That is, the codes themselves Ì cannot compel the reasons and motives of those who adopt them—codes at best only control actions, not the reasons and motives for compliance. In sum, moral: concern remains a matter of intention, and codes at best only indirectly reflect that. Some scholars may want to consider a code to be moral if a moral person can adopt it. But, as will be seen in Part II, action-guides that restrict selfish behavior can be incorporated into both moral and nonmoral ways of life. Thus, it is difficult to consider a code of ethics in itself to be moral or not. The real issue remains whether the person following the code is moral. So too a mystical tradition can be deemedmoral if the reasons advanced in the basic writings indicate that a person should follow the codes out of a genuine concern for others and not merely to help oneself. To answer this, much more in mystical ways of life will need to be examined than merely noting that religious codes contain injunctions against killing, stealing, and so forth.

To most people, ethics infuse religion to the point that "religion" simply means "ethics," and thus the issue of the relation of religion to ethics does not arise. To many scholars too, religion simply is ethics, and thus they fail to differentiate "religion" and "ethics" at all. Or they assume the religious must be moral without seeing an issue at all. To cite a recent example: Joseph Runzo can say without further discussion that morality is an inextricable part of any religious meaning of life, that moral structures are a critical part of religious conceptions of the structure of reality, and hence "part of what it means to follow the religious life is to follow the moral life." Books on the ethics of the world religions most commonly are merely introductions to the basic beliefs of a tradition with the adjectives "ethical" and "moral" thrown in profusely and with no discussions of the philosophical issues of "ethics" or "morality." Other books focus on basic beliefs and codes of conduct alone and not on all the aspects of a tradition related to the issue of morality. Either way, the philosophical issue of morality is missed entirely.

To keep the philosophical issue clearly presented in this study, terms related to religious and mystical interpersonal value-systems will not all be translated "morality" and automatically deemed "moral." They will be treated as instances of the other category—the descriptive category for rules of conduct, "ethics." Thus, the moral issue will not be surreptitiously finessed by slipping in the concept of morality through a coarse translation. Replacing historical examination with such an uncritical assumption would be an instance of unconscious cultural imperialism: if we label a practice "moral" before we actually examine it merely because we value morality, we will be looking at it through a modem Western perspective and not letting it speak in its own terms. Thus, calling a text in this study "ethical" or a work of "ethics" should not mean that it is necessarily advocating moral values but only that it is an axiological work related to a tradition's values and norms concerning actions that impinge on others. The moral issue must be dealt with explicitly before any conclusion can be reached as to the moral status of a particular mystic's ethics.

Dealing with the issue of values in other cultures does touch a nerve. The modem concept of "morality" developed in the Christian West, but the idea of "concern for others" is not unique to the modern West, and it is not "bashing" other traditions to ask whether they advocate it too, especially when some will be shown to be clearly moral. Nevertheless, the reader should be warned that the politically incorrect conclusion will be reached that some of the non-Western traditions under consideration are not moral. But if the issues are seen clearly and if the traditions are approached without the preconception that all people must be moral, this is the conclusion that appears. Perhaps, then, another objective of this study should be a greater willingness on the part of modem Westerners to understand ways of life in their own terms rather than imposing our basic values on others.

Offering from the Conscious Body: The Discipline of Authentic Movement by Janet Adler (Inner Traditions) The exploration of the direct experience of healing and of the divine through the witnessing of movement becoming conscious. Uses sample sessions and descriptive theory to explain the discipline. Based on the author's 35 years of movement work.

Offering from the Conscious Body reveals both the theory and practice of a unique body-based process that is cathartic, creative, healing, and mystical-as presented by Janet Adler, the presiding voice in the field. This Western awareness practice encourages the individual to experience the evolving relationship with oneself, another, the collective, and the divine through the natural impulses of conscious movement, compassionate witnessing, and clear articulation of experience. Through the vivid examples taken from her own practice, Adler demonstrates that physical movement can invite direct experience of spiritual truths. The reader is led through the multiple layers within the discipline-moving and witnessing in dyads and then groups, in the presence of a witnessing teacher-to develop a comprehensive and experiential understanding of this innovative way of work. Designed for professionals and laypersons interested in psychology, bodywork, mystic traditions, or personal transformation, the discipline of Authentic Movement is at the cutting edge of emerging Western healing practices.

It is not surprising that though these words come from the world of dance, authentic movement has become a source from which both thera­peutic and mystical experiences manifest. Witnessing the emergence of a discipline with authentic movement reverberating at its center, I have been witnessing the body as a vessel in which healing occurs, a vessel in which direct experience of the Divine is known. As the vessel becomes conscious, it becomes more capable of enduring the darkness and receiving the light of our humanity.

This work has become a discipline because practice has unveiled an inherent order, creating a form with a theoretical ground, revealing a field of study. The discipline of Authentic Movement slowly became apparent as immersion in studio work relentlessly pushed toward the edges of that which we could not yet know. Trusting only what we could know, which was our experience in our bodies, was challenging, at times for me unbear­able. Stumbling into clearer seeing in blessed moments was ecstatic. It was as though the form itself was insisting on opening. I repeatedly experienced such a call directly in my body. The tension between the longing to see the emerging form clearly and the longing to surrender to the mysteries of embodiment within it contained potential for transformation of the work, and of the individuals committed to it. In moments of grace, the clarity and the mystery became one.

The architecture of the discipline of Authentic Movement is based on the relationship between a mover and a witness, the ground form. For each, work is centered in the development of the inner witness, which is one way of understanding the development of consciousness. In this discipline the inner witness is externalized, embodied by a person who is called the outer witness. Another person, called the mover, embodies the moving self

This relationship evolves within the study of three interdependent realms of experience: the individual body, the collective body, and the conscious body. The work is developmental but not linear, as both personal and transpersonal phenomena occur in the practice within each realm. Individualscan enter this evolving practice at any time if experience in another discipline appropriately prepares them.

The first realm concerns the study of the individual body. With a long­ing to be seen in the presence of a witness, a person moves into the empti­ness of the studio with eyes closed, learning to track her movement and her concomitant inner experience. The mover discovers an infinite range of physical movement, sensation, emotion, and thought as embodied experi­ences happen into consciousness. In this process, there is a discovery of movement that is authentic, truthful. As her inner witness strengthens the mover opens toward a longing to see an other. Becoming a witness, she learns to track another mover's physical movement while becoming con­scious of her own sensation, emotion, and thought as she sits in stillness to the side of the space.

Because language bridges experience from body to consciousness, the mover and the witness speak, within their developing relationship, after every round of work, each intending toward the demanding practice of clear articulation. As the work deepens, there is a freedom to directly enter the body and the word, to discover each as sacred.

Practice focused on the collective body, the second realm, concerns still another longing, a longing to participate in a whole, to discover one's rela­tionship to many without losing a conscious awareness of oneself. In this realm of study and practice people bring their experience of the ground form into a circle of movers and witnesses. Here individuals move with eyes closed as members of a moving body and sit in stillness with eyes open as members of a witness circle. In the beginning and ending of each round of work, the circle is empty. As individuals commit to witnessing the empti­ness, the vessel strengthens in relationship to the development of embodied collective consciousness.

As the circle expands toward work within the conscious body, the third realm, the form itself becomes more transparent. Personality shifts toward experience of presence, empathy shifts toward compassion, and, in moments of grace, suffering becomes bearable. Practice toward presence develops into moments in which the body as a vessel is experienced as empty.

Another longing, a longing to offer, emerges out of this emptiness. The body moving becomes more transparent, becomes dance, and dance be-comes an offering. Words, becoming transparent, transform into poetry, and poetry is an offering. When energetic phenomena, which can be known in the body as direct experience of the Divine, concentrates within and moves through the conscious body, the energy itself becomes an offering—to the mover, to the witness, to our world evolving, to our world longing for con­sciousness. As the collective receives and, at times, enters the offerings, we are reminded that this discipline grows from ancient ground.

The roots of this work, apparent in all three realms of the discipline, are directly known in dance, healing practices, and mysticism. The dyadic rela­tionship between a mover and a witness most clearly reflects the root system originating in early healing practices, what has come to be understood in the West as a therapeutic container. In many ways, the Western therapist mani­fests specific and defining qualitites of the ancient rabbis, priests, and shamans who consciously held both the emotional and spiritual lives of individuals, of communities. In the discipline of Authentic Movement, the literal force of moving and witnessing the embodiment of sensation, emotion, and spirit infuses relationship with new ways of knowing the self and the other.

Because of such depth and complexity of the embodied inner life of the mover, the witness, and their developing relationship, at this time it is most appropriate for a teacher of this discipline to be a professionally trained dance/movement therapist or a body-based psychotherapist. Other thera­pists, meditation teachers, choreographers, political activists, and movement practitioners who include aspects of this discipline in their professional practice can safely strengthen their work by commited practice with a teacher of the discipline. It is essential for a teacher of the discipline of Authentic Movement to have extensive practice and study in personal process within the developmental work of the form. The discipline is alwayscontinuing to evolve because of each person who enters it and because of each teacher who offers from her own developing perspective.

The teacher guides the conscious development of relationships between the moving self and the inner witness, between the individual body and the collective body, between the self and the Divine. Being seen and seeing, par­ticipating and offering, movers and witnesses return toward themselves as they commit to the rigorous practices of concentration and discernment, as they discover experiences of intuitive knowing, of awe.

This book, my offering, tracks the development of a discipline that I have come to experience as a mystical practice. One way mystical practice can be recognized is when individuals commit toward that which cannot be known by committing to a practice revealing that which can be known—conscious embodiment. In different ancient and contemporary traditions, descriptions of mystical experiences are similar. There is a call toward entering emptiness. With eyes closed and with focus inward, there is an intention toward staying present, toward practicing the art of concentra­tion. There is practice toward the rigor of impeccability in tracking inner experience. There is a longing for a language that could describe direct experience, that which is indescribable. Ritual occurs, becomes necessary. The blessing of clear, silent awareness can become known. There is a long­ing for daily life to manifest such a blessing, such awareness. Coming into conscious relationship with mystical experiences requires a strong enough inner witness, one which evolves out of an extensive grounding in an embodied awareness practice.

As the discipline of Authentic Movement unfolds, individuals become a part of a woven reality, simultaneously knowing the clarity and aloneness of their separateness and the essential warmth, the compassion emerging from the direct touching with the ones who are near them doing what they are doing. There can be moments in which the graceful blessing of unitive consciousness can be known, a direct experience in which the boundaries describing all relationships, within and without, dissolve.

Language, Self and Love: Hermeneutics in the Writings of Richard Rolle and the Commentaries on the Song of Songs by Denis Renevey (University of Wales Press) The author discusses the correspondences between the discourse of love in the Song of Songs and the language of mysticism in the writings of William of St Thierry and Richard Rolle, where the self is described in its attempts at establishing a direct relationship with God. The late medieval period has received insufficient attention with regard to its contribution towards a language of interiority. More often than not, the account of Augustine's immense impact on the language of inwardness for the Western tradition of thought is fol­lowed by accounts of the ways authors of the Enlightenment accommodated the Augustinian model to their new preoccupations. The aim of this volume is partly to fill in the gap between Augustine and Rousseau by considering a range of texts which align themselves to the Augustinian model of the inwardness of radical reflexivity while delv­ing into the complexities of a specific biblical text, the Song of Songs. It is also with the appeal to the first-person standpoint that, from the twelfth century onwards, commentators of the Song of Songs engage with this highly performative book in their search for truth.

Language, Self and Love demonstrates the importance of the commentary tradition for the shaping of the medieval self which personally engages with the writing of commentaries in particular, and medieval subjectivity in general. It participates in uncovering this medieval sense of inwardness not by looking at the popular penitential literature which followed the implementations of the 1215 Fourth Lateran Council decisions on the need for the laity to receive confession annually, but by looking at a highly specialized body of Latin and vernacular theologies where the self is described in its attempts at establishing a direct relationship with the deity. That relationship is negotiated with the mediation of the amorous discourse of love of the Song of Songs.

Language, Self and Love accounts for the development and transformation from a self-reflexive to an altruistic discourse which allows the reader to take possession of the text and to perform it. The writing process, which is usually essential to mystical performance, is here replaced by a text which makes of reading an active perform­ance. By constructing an audience alongside a discourse whose main characteristic is the inwardness of radical reflexivity, Rolle posits a compromise in the form of the epistolary genre which allows for greater accessibility and performative possibilities on the part of his audience. The latter is only distantly aware of the sources for the rich love imagery which pervade the epistles. Hence, rather than providing an account of the authorial roles played out by Richard of St Victor, William of St Thierry and Richard Rolle, among others, Language, Self and Love contributes instead to inform our under­standing of the making of their selves in particular, and the medieval self in general, on the basis of information drawn from their writings.

Language, Self and Love makes accessible some of the important liturgical and lexio divina aspects of self-shaping in reading and writing, utterance and listening as reflections on motives. It is sure to have a solid impact upon how the medieval mystics are likely to be read as well as a good demonstration of historically informed, nuanced hermeneutical reading.

Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality by John Horgan (Houghton Mifflin) it may well be at the 21st century will put an end to any war between science and spirituality according to Horgan in this episodic and quixotic investigation into the heather lands of science and religion. Has a pass contributing editor to Scientific American, scientists, scallywags to comment upon the basic questions of the convergence of mysticism and science. What resulted from this investigation is an entertaining and provocative discussion of the cutting edge in scientific and mystical inquiry. Horgan wonders if our understanding is any better about what happens in the brain during meditation or prayer.  What is the relationship between drug ecstasy and mystical experiences? Have we mapped in the brain neurological links between enlightenment and madness? How is analytical research related to seeking Nirvana? Do mystical experience serious insight into the nature of the cosmos, mind, and the eternal verities. The way Horgan approaches these questions is to seek out and interview a number of unusual scientists and adventurers of the mind. He speaks to Andrew Newberg, the rate at a radiologist whose search for the brains “God module” was highlighted in 2001 Newsweek cover story and also the psychologist Michael Persinger, was created a device (called by him “the octopus” and by others “the God machine”) that stimulates the brain, triggering religious and mystical visions. Be interviewed the neurologist and Zen practitioner James Austin who has a written extensively about his own-states of consciousness  the mechanisms of enlightenment. He also meets with the psychopharmacologist Alexander Shulgin, who has synthesized more than 200 and mind altering drugs a substantial portion of which he has tested on himself.

As much as I have enjoyed reading Rational Mysticism, I find this anecdotal and personality approach to the big questions of science and the significance of mystical experience to be a little too thin with encompassing theory and systematic insight to be a completely pleasurable romp into the margins of science and the humanities. Horgan though still never ceases to provoke a witty comment and a wry insight when one least expects it, such as when Houston Smith recalled the scientist at MIT who summed up the different between his work as a scientist and Smith’s as a representative of the humanities with the devastating a double entendre: “I count and you don’t.”

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