Radboud Summer School 2017: Mysticism & Modern Critique
Monday 14 August – Friday 18 August 2017
Contrary to religion, which has lost its self-evidence, spirituality and mysticism make a better press. In the writings of the mystics, many find what they miss in institutional religiosity. Yet, what the study of the mystical corpus all too often neglects is the surprisingly critical dimension of the mystical tradition. Of course, that tradition is full of exemplary piety, but it cannot be reduced to only that. Piety did not prevent the mystics from developing a huge criticism, pointing at the hot topics of their day, including religious, ethical and political ones. The ‘Letter to Louis XIV’, for instance, by the 17th century French catholic mystic François de Fénelon, is one of the harshest criticisms of political absolutism of his time.
The Radboud Summer School Mysticism & Modern Critique offers a promenade through some well-known mystical texts showing how the critical dimension is present at the very core of their argument. In times when the Cartesian Ego was not yet established, it was already ‘deconstructed’ in the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. In the works of Thomas a Kempis and Ruusbroec, the criticism of the emerging ‘bourgeois’ mentality is an important aspect.
Not only is the mystical tradition inherently critical, it has itself become an important reference for contemporary cultural criticism as well. One of the basic texts in Christian mysticism, Pseudo-Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchies, lays bare the hidden fundamentals of Western political power, so the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues. And mystical asceticism has more strictly philosophical roots than generally thought; in that quality, it still influences strongly modern ethics, thus the thesis defended by Michel Foucault.
The Radboud Summer School offers a close-reading of some of the major mystical texts, and – by means of analyses developed by Michel de Certeau, Giorgo Agamben, Michel Foucault, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and others – show how the critical dimension in those texts is still relevant for today’s critical thought. It also shows how, in the mystical corpus, today’s critical theory can lay bare some elements able to shed a light on hidden mechanisms at work in modern culture.