Mysticism and Language

Mysticism and Language

Mysticism and Language

Mysticism and Language

Synopsis

This is a collection of original essays designed to continue and expand the groundbreaking discussion begun in Katz's previous collections, Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (OUP 1979) and Mysticism and Religious Traditions (OUP 1984). The publication of the earlier volumes established Katz as a leading authority on mysticism and a major figure in the study of comparative religion, and his approach to the subject has been both influential and controversial. Each of the ten essays included in Mysticism and Language analyzes the relationship between language and mystical experience in one of the world's great religious traditions. The essays are by some of the foremost authorities in the field, including Ninian Smart, William Alston, Moshe Idel, Bernard McGinn, Carl Ernst, Ewert Cousins, Steven Katz, Bernard Faure, Stephen Phillips, and Bimal Matilal.

Excerpt

One of the recurring, fundamental issues in the study of mysticism is the status of language. Or put more exactly, the question is regularly raised whether language can appropriately apply to the objects/subjects of mystical concern and to mystical experience. Most often the mystics themselves and those who study them answer no and adopt, at least nominally, some form of the ineffability thesis; that is, they argue that ultimate objects/subjects and ecstatic moments transcend linguistic description. So common, in fact, is this position in the primary and secondary literature that it is often presented as an unassailable truth, an unquestionable premise, of any and all study of mystical sources. Yet our libraries are full of texts that purport to help others in the pursuit of such putatively ineffable experiences and that, in some oblique sense at least, describe mystical occurrences after they have transpired. Moreover, the place and purpose of mystical experience within the larger structure of religious traditions is unambiguously described in theoretical and doctrinal works of all sorts. Texts ranging from the autobiographical and poetic to the dogmatic and theological do not tell us everything about mystical experiences, but they do tell us a good deal. And they certainly reveal far more than a simplistic reading of claims of ineffability would suggest.

Something more than is usually assumed and asserted is at work here. The relationship of mysticism to language is more variegated and complex than once believed. Yet it is no easy matter to define this relationship — to bring into the open the subterranean principles and unspoken premises of mystical discourse. The very difficulty of comprehending how language interacts with-and even penetrates — the mystical experience makes this an appropriate, indeed required, subject for further study. Building on the revisionist methodological, epistemological, historical, and philosophical . . .

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