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Modern European Mysticism and Psychological Thought

The course will examine the psychological thought of the modern mystical traditions in Europe. We shall focus on two topics with wider cultural implications – the soul and the heart.


Course at a Glance


About the Course

In the revival of mysticism today, mysticism has become more psychological while psychology is increasingly interested in mysticism. This course will provide an entry into the complex world of modern mysticism, through studying its psychological thought. We shall begin with exploring the interpretations of mystical experience offered by psychoanalysts in the twentieth century, starting with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and ending with contemporary thinkers such as James Hillman. However, we will see that the European mystical traditions, including Kabbalah in the Jewish world and those of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant worlds, developed their own elaborate systems of psychological thought. Thus, we will mostly examine mystical psychology on its own terms. We shall especially look at two terms that are very much in use also in general culture: the heart (as an emotional rather than a physical center!...) and the soul, looking at the unique mystical concepts of their nature and destiny and asking if there were influences and meetings between the different religions.

Course Syllabus

Lecture 1: Introduction
Mysticism: Various Approaches. Magic, Mysticism, and Psychology. The Transition to Modernity. Defining the European context. The Situation of Judaism in Modernity. Psychology.

Lecture 2: Kabbalah and Psychology
History of Kabbalah and Kabbalah Research. History of Kabbalistic Views of Psychology.

Lecture 3: Kabbalah and Psychology: Close Reading of a Text
20th Century Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Psychology. Close Reading of a 20th Century Text by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. 20th-21st Century: Later Development of Kabbalistic Schools. Discussion points: Will; Freedom; Depths; Cosmic theory; The soul.

Lecture 4: The Psychology of Hesychasm (Eastern Christian Mysticism)St. Theophan the Recluse, Turning the Heart to God. Archimandrite Zacharias, The Hidden Man of the Heart. Discussion Points: The Psychology of Sin and Repentance; Transformation; Social Psychology; Positive Psychology.

Lecture 5: The Catholic Revival and the Religion of the Heart
Quietism: Miguel de Molinos. Feminine Spirituality. The Move to America. Discussion Points: Language and Silence; Active and Passive Models of Mystical Psychology.

Lecture 6: Psychology in Protestant Pietistic Mysticism
Pietism and German Mysticism in the Early Modern Period. Jacob Böhme, Forty Questions of the Soul. Discussion points: Will; Alchemy and Psychology; Wonder; Soul; Political Angle in Psychoanalysis; Gender.

Lecture 7: Concluding Discussion
Main Themes of the Course. Mystical Psychology in the Global Contemporary Context. Psycho-Spirituality. Mysticism in Contemporary Psychology.

Recommended Background

No background is required, all are welcome!

Suggested Readings

The full list of suggested readings will appear on the course session website

Ted Campbell, The Religion of the Heart. Eugene, Oregon 2000

Jonathan Garb, Shamanic Trance in Modern Kabbalah. Chicago 2011

Wolfgang Geigerich,
The Soul's Logical Life: Towards a Rigorous Notion of Psychology. Frankfurt am Main 1998

James Hillman, Insearch: Psychology and Religion. Dallas 1994

Jess Byron Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment. Philadelphia 1996

Jeffrey J. Kripal, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. Chicago 2010

Tanya M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God. New York 2012

William B. Parsons, Freud and Augustine in Dialogue: Psychoanalysis, Mysticism and the Culture of Modern Spirituality, Charlottesville and London 2013

Elliot R. Wolfson, A Dream Interpreted within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination. New York 2011

Course Format

The course consists of seven lectures, each lasting 60-90 minutes. Lectures are divided into several 5-15 minute segments. Occasionally there will be in-class learning reinforcement exercises (These will not be calculated into the final grade of the course).

Each lecture will be followed by a homework assignment which will consist of several questions. The answers will be peer-graded by other students in the course; from our experience, this method is one of the best ways to ensure that students think about and "internalize" - not just memorize - the material they have learnt. The final grade of the course will be the average of the student's five highest grades (out of seven) on the homework assignments.

In this course there is no required reading. A full list of suggested readings will appear on the course session website, for those interested in deepening their understanding. 


What is the coolest thing that I will learn in this course?

That actually twentieth century psychoanalysis itself may be indebted to religious and mystical ideas.

Do you recommend that I read anything in order to prepare for the course?

It is a good idea to do some wiki-based research on Mysticism, Kabbalah, and Psychoanalysis - especially as it appears in the thought of Carl Jung and James Hillman.

Will I get college credit for this course?

Coursera and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem do not provide college credit for this course; however, students who satisfactorily complete the course requirements will receive a certificate of completion.