Thanks to Peter for alerting me to a fascinating review of a new book called Mystics by William Harmless. Harmless examines a variety of both Christian and non-Christian mystics and interpreters of mysticism, and draws the conclusion that mysticism is so fundamentally embedded in its cultural and religious/theological context that the modern/romanticist notion that suggests “all mysticism is the same” is called into question. I have long felt that it is a mistake to see mysticism as reducible to a single, unified experience: there are many “mysticisms” even within Christianity, let alone within all faiths. I think the romantic insistence that all mysticism is the same really emerges from a laudable, if misguided, effort to assert unity across all cultures. It’s a way of stumping for religious tolerance. Now, I believe in religious tolerance because I think it is a good thing, regardless of whether our divergent mysticisms share anything in common. And while I think there can certainly be commonalities amongs the great mystical and wisdom traditions, the profound diversity in mystical experience — and particularly in mystical theologies — is not something to be shunned or feared, but rather something to be embraced, even celebrated. It is only when we honestly acknowledge our differences that we are liberated to find and rejoice in our authentic unity. That goes for mysticism as much as anything else.
June 24, 2008 by 6 Comments