Proposed Class on Christian Mysticism

The good folks at the Emory Center for Lifelong Learning have given me the green light to prepare a proposal for a class on Christian mysticism. I’ve taught an “Introduction to World Mysticism” class there for the past four years, and it shows no signs of easing its popularity, so now it’s time to see if a class that focusses on the Christian tradition would likewise appeal to the continuing education community.

My proposal is due on the program manager’s desk on Monday. Here is what I’ve come up with — please give me your feedback. Would you sign up for a class like this? What changes do you think I could make to this proposal to make the class even more appealing?

Introduction to Christian Mysticism
Proposed course for Evening at Emory

The renowned twentieth century German theologian Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” What could he have meant by this? In the popular mind, mysticism is associated with eastern spirituality, like Yoga or Zen. But there is a little-known tradition of meditation and spiritual awakening even within Christianity. This non-sectarian class will survey the history of Christian mysticism from Biblical times to the present, explore the meaning of mysticism and why Christians often view it with suspicion, and consider the role that mysticism might play in Christianity of the present and future.

Five evening sessions, 7:00-9:00 PM

Learning Objectives:
1. Understand what mysticism is, and how its meaning has evolved over time
2. Survey the key Christian mystics from Biblical times to the present day
3. Learn the reasons why mysticism is controversial within Christianity
4. Understand mysticism’s relationship with monasticism, and what kinds of spiritual practices mystics have engaged in over the centuries
5. Speculate on how mysticism can remain vital to Christianity in the future

Course Outline
Class 1: Introduction

  • Defining mysticism
  • How the concept of mysticism has evolved over time
  • Distinctive qualities of Christian mysticism
  • How mysticism differs from occultism, esotericism, gnosticism and piety

Class 2: History of Mysticism through 1200

  • Mysticism in the Bible
  • The Alexandrian Mystics
  • The Desert Fathers and Mothers
  • Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, and the Greek tradition

Class 3: History of Mysticism from 1200 to the present

  • High medieval mysticism: Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans
  • Northern European Mysticism
  • Southern European Mysticism
  • Protestantism and Modern Mysticism

Class 4: What Mystics Do

  • Ascetical Practices: Monasticism, Celibacy, Austerity
  • Lectio Divina and Biblical study
  • Meditation and Contemplation
  • The Relationship Between Mysticism and Works of Mercy/Social Action

Class 5: Understanding Mysticism

  • Mysticism and Heresy: Why have so many mystics been rejected by the Christian mainstream
  • The Protestant Reformation and the Marginalization of Mysticism
  • The Twentieth Century Renaissance (Christianity encounters eastern mysticism)
  • Thoughts about how mysticism will evolve in the future

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality
Carl McColman
Hampton Roads Publishers, 2010
ISBN 9781571746245

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Amy

    Carl: This looks fascinating and wonderful. I think you have covered the most important aspects of mysticism. Would you by any chance have an online version? I’m in DE, and so don’t have the opportunity to attend a regular sit-down class. But if I were closer, this would certainly draw me.

  • Terri West

    Maybe you could video it or provide a transcripts on-line for those who are not able to attend? I live in Florida!your class sounds very interesting!

  • Jack

    Looks good, Carl. I would go!

  • Maggie Daly

    Sounds great! A lot of ground to cover in a short time but it should be a stimulating class. Wish I could participate but the commute would be a little rough (I live in Wisconsin). I agree with Amy and Terri — any possibility of an on-line version?

  • soooooo

    Living in the southern hemisphere, an online structured opportunity to engage your class’s thorough and balanced teachings, would help feed the mouth of this somewhat isolated christian mystic, hungry for this information, imparted in such an engaging communal context.

  • Tracy

    I would second Amy’s motion! There are so many flexible online interfaces for teaching and learning–any support for that kind of outreach from Emory?

  • Kelly

    I will absolutely attend, and I feel sure several other members of your most recent Wednesday night class will as well. The sooner the better!

  • harry davidson

    when does it start and will there be an online version?

  • Carl McColman

    Here’s the information:

    September 23-October 21, 2010 (Five Thursday Evenings); 7-9 PM — “Introduction to Christian Mysticism” through Evening at Emory. To register, visit the Emory Center for Lifelong Learning Website (registration begins later this summer).

    Sorry, no plans at the present for an online version, but that is definitely something I want to do in the future!