Course Details

RELG 229: Monks and Mystics

Is mysticism just a religious word for what are actually natural, neurological processes? Is prayer a dressed-up form of positive thinking? Does mindfulness meditation have medical benefits, and should it be promoted by clinicians? Have monks been practicing a spirituality that science is now vindicating? Are these even the right questions to ask? This course offers a historical, comparative, and theoretical exploration of the techniques of rigorous bodily and mental discipline (asceticism) that humans in different cultural contexts have used as a strategy for union with the divine (mysticism). We will focus on ancient Jewish, Christian, and pagan texts that advocate ascetical practices for mastering the body’s passions, disciplining the imagination, and uncovering the deceits of the visible world, and we will trace the reception of these traditions in modern monastic and mystical movements. This course emphasizes close reading, active discussion, and critical reflection on constructions of the ideal body and the ideal mind in antiquity and the present day. Conditions permitting, there will be two field trips to monasteries in Minnesota. Each trip will take place on a weekend and will last for nearly a whole day.
6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2021-2022