Introduction to Roots of Western Mysticism

There are many ways to introduce a course like this, because there are many ways to teach a course like this. I find it happens differently each time I teach it, so I have compiled a collection of introductions. The problem, of course, is that these are not just an assortment of parallel introductions. Some of them are at odds with others. Any course takes a position on its subject matter, and the positions I give you here can sometimes undermine each other. Taking the psychological approach, for example, may undermine the conviction of the religious or literary approach, that it is the meaning of the experience which is at stake, and not the cause. A comparative approach may implicitly say that there is one reality, and the various religious approaches are equally right or wrong; this may come in conflict with a religious approach that places significance in the revelation. And, the practical approach may undermine them all, by saying they are just words about experience, rather than instruction on how to get there.

By the way, for those of you who like clarity and simplicity at the beginning of a course, think of it this way: if one way of being clear is good, aren't 12 ways better?


  1. Philosophical
  2. Religious/Theological
  3. Comparative
  4. Post-Modern
  5. Psychological
  6. Social/Political
  7. Literary
  8. Historical
  9. Scientific/Cosmological
  10. Esoteric
  11. Practical/Spiritual
  12. Personal
  13. Conclusion