Mystical traditions imply a radical questioning of common-sense notions of reality, understanding, and being and an emphasis on paradoxes. This workshop explores the epistemologies of uncertainly involved in mystical traditions and probes the appeal of paradoxes in the contemporary world
Anthropologists tend to assume that humans generally are on a quest for certainty and security. When it comes to the study of religion, more particularly, it is often assumed that religion provides meaning and answers to the fundamental problems of human existence. Implied in mystical traditions, however, is a radical questioning of mundane or common-sense notions of the nature of reality, understanding, and being. Mystical traditions differ from mainstream religious traditions in that they involve a range of paradoxes which, rather than bringing meaning and certainty to its practitioners, tend to shake the ground beneath their feet and reverse standard orientations. Sufism, Islam's mystical tradition, to take just one example, encourages its practitioners to seek unity with Allah while simultaneously maintaining that Allah is beyond human reach. Sufism prompts practitioners to imitate the example of the Prophet while emphasizing the human limitations that make the realization of the prophetic ideal impossible. This workshop invites presentations that explore the epistemologies of uncertainly involved in mystical traditions and probe the appeal of paradoxes in the contemporary world. What motivates an emphasis on paradox and contradiction? Do paradoxes serve pedagogical purposes and can they, in the end, be subsumed under the grander goal of enlightenment and existential wisdom, or do paradoxes linger, uncomfortably? Are the paradoxes of mystical traditions, in other words, amenable to functionalist and hermeneutic analysis or are other approaches necessary - approaches that might help us question the place of paradox, doubt, and the (im)possibility of belief in religion more broadly?