Research Stream


Ashok Collins (2016)
Australian National University

Mysticism and the Philosophy of Emotion in Secular Modernity

This project explores the European tradition of mystical emotional experience as appropriated and reinterpreted by twentieth- and twenty first-century continental philosophy. It aims to better understand how transcendent emotional states can be used to question the binary division between theism and atheism within secular modernity.

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A proliferation of recent scholarship has sought to re-evaluate the legacy of European mysticism, finding in mystical theology a potent resource for charting new directions in twentieth-century critical theory. More broadly, it is a reconsideration of mystical tradition that forms part of what has come to be called the ‘turn to religion’ within late twentieth- and twenty first-century thought. It is mysticism’s connection to emotion in particular that makes it a rich field of analysis, as it generates feelings such as empathy, communion and ecstatic states of pleasure that cut across binary oppositions between theism and atheism. Mysticism has thus provided a particularly useful outlet for thinkers working across the spectrum of belief, from explicitly theological studies to works of critical theory approaching the domain from a secular perspective.

This project seeks to capitalise on the point of intersection between the sacred and the secular by exploring how twentieth- and twenty first-century continental philosophy has appropriated a European tradition (1100-1800) of mystical emotional experience that ranges from the Judeo-Christian variety to more heterodox streams of thought, such as Spinozist pantheism and the sentimental aesthetics of early German Romanticism. It seeks to ascertain in particular whether transcendent emotional states can be used to analyse the transition point between the secular and the religious in a way that challenges our understanding of these mystical traditions as well as our understanding of secular modernity.

Image: Josefa de Óbidos, Transverberação de Santa Teresa, 1672, Wikimedia Commons