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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Wexler, Philip, and Jonathan Garb [Eds.]
After Spirituality. Studies in Mystical Traditions. Vol. 1.
New York u. a.: Peter Lang 2012. 197 S. Kart. EUR 33,70. ISBN 978-1-4331-1738-1.
This volume, based on a research group that met at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, inaugurates a new series of publications devoted to the theme »After Spirituality«. The group was primarily concerned with recent sociological study of Jewish mysticism, a perspective evident in the volume despite its claims to adopt a wider perspective. Engagement with other traditions is sparse. There is an essay dealing with secrecy in Papua New Guinea, Tantric Buddhism, and contemporary »serial drama«. Another concerns »A Buddhist Perspective on the Axial Age«. Nevertheless, the lack of anything on Islamic mysticism and the single essay touching on Christianity, devoted to a marginal phenomenon in the recent revival of Christian mysticism, means that the collection will have little interest outside the confines of scholars of Jewish mysticism.
After Spirituality contains two essays that discuss theoretical issues in the modern study of mysticism. William Parsons provides a clear revisionist analysis of Freud’s developing theories on mysticism, and Philip Wexler attempts a broad sociological overview in his essay »Society and Mysticism«. Beginning with Durkheim, Weber, Troeltsch, and Scholem, Wexler touches on a number of contemporary sociological approaches to mysticism, rightly noting that »if sociologists have had little to say about mysticism, scholars of mysticism have had little to say about society« (112). There is, then, a real need for such a dialogue, but students of mysticism (at least Christian mysticism) may find it hard to find this volume a promising beginning. One crucial problem of the book involves its understanding of the terms » spirituality« and »mysticism«. It is difficult for historians or theologians to understand exactly what is meant when we are told that »spirituality«, is »aim-inhibited mysticism, analytically and historically [as] a precursor, though still continuing parallel, the appearance of a ›new mysticism‹« (122). Similar opacity confronts the reader in trying to make sense of the comments on pp. 10–11 about the relation of »spirituality«, »mysticism«, and the »new mysticism«. Perhaps the editors are correct in detecting a whole new paradigm, but the lack of any attention to the extensive discussion on the nature of spirituality in Europe and North American over the past quarter allows doubts. Some con-sideration of the history and current reception of the terms spiritualitas, an ancient word (rooted in the New Testament and first used in the late fourth century C. E.), and »mysticism«, first ap-pearing in French as la mystique (a relatively modern word from the 17th century), might help explain what is being argued. Such questions of naming are not trivial, especially in an era when other re-ligious traditions, rightly or wrongly, have been perhaps overly willing to adopt Christian terminology for their own traditions.
The first three essays in the collection are valuable for their contribution to the study of the current revival of Jewish mysticism. Jonathan Garb’s piece on »Contemporary Kabbalah and Classical Kabbalah: Breaks and Continuities« situates the current interest in Kabbalah in terms of distinction between non-continuous and continuous forms of Kabbalah in relation to Classical expressions, such as that of Isaac Luria. Those more directly involved in the study of contemporary Jewish mysticism will be able to give a better evaluation of the adequacy of this model, but it is certainly useful for the outsider. The essay of Yoram Bilu and Zvi Mark, »Between Tsaddiq and Messiah. A Comparative Analysis of Chabad and Breslav Hasidic Groups«, is an incisive analysis of two of the most powerful movements in contemporary Judaism, showing how surface differences often mask surprising similarities and inter-changes. Finally, Moshe Idel’s historical essay on »The Besht Passed His Hand over His Face« is a fine representative of this author’s ability to reveal new and challenging insights about classical texts and figures of Jewish mysticism.
After Spirituality demonstrates the need for a deeper encounter between historical, theological, and philosophical study of mysticism, on the one hand, and social scientific study, especially from sociology and psychology, on the other. In that sense, the beginning of this new series is to be applauded, though this reviewer holds out hope for more substantive contributions to come. Perhaps the mixed success of this first volume indicates that tradition-specific collections may be more helpful at this stage of the conversation between different ways of studying mysticism.