From Mysticism to Spirituality, From Tradition to Individual

richardkingProf. Richard King, from the University of Kent in the UK, was on campus to deliver our 12th annual Aronov Lecture. Perhaps best known to some for his interest in the history of the study of religion in south Asia during the colonial period (e.g., his 1999 book, below),

orientalismandreligionhe spoke on a topic on which he’s currently working: how the onetime prominent scholarly focus on mysticism as the shared core to all world religions has, in the mid- to late-20th century, given way to the discourse on spirituality.

His argument was that with the decline of the world religions discourse among scholars, and with the continual rise of a consumer model driven by global capitalism (in which members of social groups are portrayed as isolated individuals, making free choices), it makes sense that a category such as “mysticism” — once closely tied with the notion of religious traditions — would no longer be as useful to people in describing themselves to others. “Spirituality,” then, becomes a sensible choice for those who presume (a key term in all this, of course) that they’re independent shoppers in the so-called religious marketplace.

We’ll soon be posting, on our Department’s Vimeo account (as well as on this blog), an interview with Prof. King as well as a video of his Aronov Lecture.

Thanks to everyone who helped to make
this another wonderful success.