3. Comparative Thought Introduction

As mentioned, besides religious studies departments, the place where a course in mysticism is most likely to appear is in a comparative religion department. Most studies of mysticism proceed by figuring out what the system was of the particular mystic, and comparing him or her with other mystics in a tradition, and comparing traditions with each other. It is common, for example, to compare Western mysticism with Eastern, or Christian with Buddhist. We will be doing this in this course, although the comparisons will not be mainly with eastern mysticisms. We will try to decide whether there is a difference between Greek and Christian mysticism, between Christian and Jewish, between Catholic and Protestant, between theistic and non-theistic, between male and female ways of doing mysticism. Are these different ways of understanding really fundamentally different, or is there a unitive reality that each of these accesses, and the differences only come out later on, in the recounting and recasting? Are the different traditions of mysticism influenced by the doctrine of the tradition, or does that come after the fact?

All this is particularly true for the comparison between male and female mystics. It is not only true that both women and men have made major contributions to mystical literature, it is also the case that they have done so by, in part, reflecting on gender issues themselves. What are the differences and what are the similarities between men's and women's traditions of mysticism?