Mysticism East and West [CRN 31350]

Discipline: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Instructor: Harmon
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 0800
End: 0920
Field Work: Day 1 | January 24, 2019 | Japan
Prerequisites: One (1) lower-division religion course Download Syllabus

Mysticism East and West will study the definition, nature, scope and effect of mystical experiences throughout the religious and intellectual traditions of the world.  The course will be a comparative and cross-cultural exploration of major expressions of mysticism, and philosophical interpretations of mysticism.  Because we travel through Asia during the first part of the voyage, students will first look at mysticism in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism.  We will then turn to mysticism from the west, focusing on the Greeks and the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Students will read primary texts in translation and study the relationship of the mystical tradition to its underlying body of thought.  We will be asking a variety of questions:  Is mysticism a universal experience in all traditions—East and West—and if so, what are its unifying characteristics?  Or should we just regard mysticism as an over-arching term to refer to multiple ways of experiencing and understanding the “divine,” the self, or nature?  Does the underlying tradition dictate the nature of the mystical experience?  If so, how?  What kind of “knowledge” is acquired through mystical experience and insight?  If “knowledge” is the wrong word, is there some another meaningful category that might be ascribed to mystical experience? Among the various traditions, what are the conditions required for having a mystical experience, and how are they created or acquired?

Field Work

Country: Japan
Day: 1
Date: January 24, 2019

The class will visit Ryoan-ji Temple, the home of one of the more famous “dry landscape” (kare sansui) garden. Students will then listen to a talk by a Zen master at the Tenryu-ji Temple. After the lecture, students will be instructed in how to do zazen and will be given an opportunity to engage in meditation. 

Learning Objectives:

  • To learn about the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, and the theory and practice of zazen meditation
  • To visit a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan and learn about its history and architecture;
  • To visit a Japanese “dry landscape” garden and learn about the theory of a kare sansui garden;
  • To give students an opportunity to experience two meditative zazen