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University of Kent: MA in Mysticism and Religious Experience
Fall, 1997

MA in the Study of Mysticism & Religious Experience

This course is distinctive not only in its subject-matter but also in its approach, offering as it does an experience of study intermediate between the tightly structured program of a conventional course work MA and the completely independent mode of study appropriate to a research degree.

The study of mysticism and religious experience, centered in the broad field of religious studies, involves subjects as diverse as philosophy, theology, psychology, parapsychology, anthropology, sociology, classics, history, literature, linguistics, art history, statistics, medicine, psychiatry and pharmacology.

Who may apply?
Applications are invited from interested graduate students with good academic qualifications (not necessarily in the more obviously relevant subjects) and an open, critical outlook. Faculty regulations require applicants to submit a recent sample of their written work, preferably a marked essay, to help the conveyors assess their suitability for the course. UK applicants are normally interviewed.

Students may take the course on a full-time basis (in one year), on a part-time basis (over two years) or on an extended basis (over three years). Applicants needing to improve their English language proficiency may take the course on an extended full-time basis (over two years), combining the MA with the English for Graduate Study program.

Applications can be made at any time. The course begins in October of each year. Those making initial inquiries will be sent a pack comprising five items: the latest version of the present document, some recommended reading, a set of essay titles for those needing to apply a sample of written work, an outline of the core course, and a checklist of the wide range of topics suitable for dissertation work.

Program structure and course assessment
The MA program comprises the following elements (to the total value of ten modules):

(1) a compulsory core course (comprising two modules);
(2) a weekly text seminar (one module);
(3) two programs of supervised study chosen from a menu of special options (two modules);
(4) a dissertation on an approved topic (equivalent to four modules);
(5) a research seminar which replaces the core course in the summer term (one module).

The MA is examined on the basis of six essays plus the dissertation. The essays include: an initiatic exercise in computing and bibliographical skills (counting as a first essay); one essay for each module of the core course; one essay for each of the special options; and one essay (typically a revised seminar presentation) for the text seminar. All students normally attend the core course and the text seminar in their first year, though extended-time students, and part-time students unable to visit the University more than once a fortnight, make special arrangements to complete the core course over two years. Part-time students are encouraged to attend the text seminar and research seminar in both years of their studies. Full-time students are encouraged to attend relevant undergraduate courses.

Supporting facilities
The University library is well-stocked with relevant books and periodicals, and students can also draw upon a range of documentary services (such as Inter-Library Loans) and computer-based resources. The course conveyor maintains a specialized database containing details of about 10,000 publications. All graduates are automatically registered as computer users through the Computing Laboratory, which offers a wide range of facilities, as well as various courses. This MA program actively promotes the development of skills in computing and IT. It is represented at various sites on the World Wide Web.

Students are encouraged to establish contact with other postgraduate students in the Faculty. The conveyors of this program aim to maintain academic and social contact with students throughout the year, and indeed to keep in touch with students after they have graduated. Some of our former students have been back to give seminars. Students past and present keep in touch with staff and with one another through a regularly updated Who's Who of Staff & Students.

1. The Core Course
The core course, Methods and theories in the study of religious experience, explores the methodological basis for the historical and comparative study of religious experience (and more specifically for the study of the texts describing such experience) and reviews some of the theories and debates which have informed influential twentieth-century scholarship. The core is currently time tabled for Thursday afternoons, 2:15 - 4:00.

2. The Text Seminar
The text seminar, Mystical traditions: texts and contexts, offers an opportunity for the discussion of selected texts from various religious traditions. It is time tabled to follow on from the core course on Thursday afternoons, 4:30 - 6:00.

3. The Special Options
In addition to following the core course and text seminar, students are supervised in two specialized areas of study, selected from a range of options. Students taking the course on a part-time basis normally take one option in each of their two years. Students taking the course on an extended basis negotiate appropriate arrangements with the course conveyors.

Teaching arrangements vary from one option to another, partly depending on the numbers of students involved. Not all of the areas of study listed below will be available as options in any given year.

Meditation and mysticism in Buddhism and Christianity
Varieties of transcendental experience in modern culture
Jung and oriental mysticism
Ficino and Renaissance Neo-Platonism
Plotinus and the western mystical tradition
Beyond birth and death: Tibetan Buddhism on the nature of mind
The mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Rudolf Otto on religious experience
The Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism
Sufism: the mystical tradition of Islam
Transpersonal psychology
The argument from religious experience in philosophy of religion
Experience of the sacred in the visual arts (and in cinema)
Visionary and prophetic experience in Biblical tradition
Parapsychology, consciousness studies and the New Physics

4. The Dissertation
In consultation with the course conveyors, students select a suitable dissertation topic, building on ideas and interests emerging from seminars, reading and essay work. The completed dissertation, 15-20,000 words in length, is submitted at the end of the course (September). Questionnaire-based projects and software presentations may be proposed as well as conventional monographs.

5. The Third Term Research Seminar
The research seminar maintains formal contact with students during the third (summer) term. Building on the course work and special options of the first terms, the seminar provides a forum for students to discuss issues and problems relating to their dissertation work. Guest speakers are also invited.

Request for Application Form and Graduate Prospectus should be directed to: The Graduate Office, The Registry, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, UK
Telephone: 01227 764000
Fax: 01227 452196

MA in the Study of Mysticism & Religious Experience

The Core Course: Methods and Theories in the Study of Religious Experience

Seminar leaders: Peter Moore & Leon Schlamm

As the title suggests, this course comprises two elements. On the one hand students are introduced to the methods and problems encountered in the study of religious experience, using as examples a selection of texts drawn from a variety of traditions, including modern secular culture. Attention is focused on the relation of religious experience to the other elements of religion - doctrines, symbols, rituals, institutions, etc. Students will learn to identify the diverse ways and contexts in which religious experiences are described and interpreted, and in particular to explore the problematic relationship between experience and interpretation in mystical texts.

On the other hand students are introduced to some of the many analyses of and theories about religious experience formulated by psychologists, philosophers, theologians and others since the beginning of this century, starting with William James' Varieties of religious experience. Students will be led into an assessment of the contributions of leading scholars to a range of key questions about the subject: the identification of different types of religious experience; the epistemological status of religious experience and its alleged cognitive content; the influence of experience upon belief and doctrine and vice versa; and the various ideological uses of religious experience (e.g. in justifying religious beliefs, affirming religious orthodoxies, challenging religious authority, defining attitudes to other religions, and so forth).

Basic Bibliography

The written requirement for this course is two essays of 3000-4000 words each.

MA in the Study of Mysticism & Religious Experience Choice of Dissertation Topics

A. Choosing a topic

You may want to build on your existing knowledge by choosing a topic arising out of one of your MA (or even undergraduate) courses. Or you may want to be more adventurous and try something new. In either case you should make sure, in consultation with the course conveyors:

1. That the topic is neither too specialized nor too broad in scope
2. That there is sufficient reading material (or equivalent) available
3. That a suitable supervisor will be available for the period of your research

B. Types of topics

1. Conventional text-based research
2. Literature review or other bibliographical project
3. Questionnaire-based research
4. Practical project or scientific work
5. Non-print media (video, computer, etc.)

C. Some suggested areas for research:

1. The ideas, experiences or writings of a particular mystic
2. The ideas or theories of a particular scholar
3. Comparative study of two or more mystics from the same tradition
4. Comparative study of two or more mystics from different traditions
5. Study of one or more key concepts from a particular religious tradition
6. Comparative study of key concept(s) from two or more different traditions
7. Sociology of mysticism
8. Psychology of mysticism
9. Phenomenology of mysticism
10. The varieties of mystical language (imagery, symbolism, etc)
11. Problems about the nature and usage of language in mystical texts (ineffability, etc)
12. The cognitive or epistemological status of mystical experience
13. Problems about definition of mysticism and religious experience
14. The classification of altered states of consciousness (taxonomies)
15. Problems of interpretation (the experience/interpretation distinction)
16. Mysticism and questions of orthodoxy; mysticism and religious authority
17. Mysticism and questions of religious truth; competing truth claims
18. Influences upon historical development of mysticism
19. Mysticism and mystical experience as historical influences
20. The physical or physiological accompaniments of altered states of consciousness
21. Visionaries and visionary experience
22. Angelic experiences
23. Relationship between mystical and psychical states
24. Near-death experience
25. Out-of-the-body experience
26. Relationship between religious and aesthetic experience
27. Religious experience and the visual arts
28. Religious experience and music
29. Religious experience and drama
30. Religious experience and poetry
31. Examination of a particular meditation system
32. Comparison of mediation systems from the same tradition
33. Comparison of meditation systems from different traditions
34. Mysticism and religious pluralism
35. Mysticism and psychoanalysis
36. Mysticism and dreams
37. Nature mysticism
38. Experiences of the sublime and the elemental
39. The religious experiences of children
40. Peak experiences; experiences of well-being
41. Demonic experience
42. Spirit possession
43. Mysticism and shamanism
44. Ecstatic religion ecstatic states
45. Rationality and irrationality in mysticism and religious experience
46. Mysticism and madness
47. Mysticism and traditional cosmology
48. Mysticism and modern cosmology
49. Magic and the occult in relation to mysticism and religious experience
50. Mysticism and the natural sciences
51. Reductionist critiques of mysticism and religious experience

MA in the Study of Mysticism & Religious Experience

Recommended Reading

The following selection of titles will give prospective applicants some idea of the variety of themes and diversity of approaches represented within this MA program. For those not intending to apply for the MA, this bibliography offers a wide range of recommended reading in the subject area.

Full bibliographic details of these titles can be obtained from library catalogues or from the more detail course bibliographies, and information about currently available imprints from publishers' catalogues or from CD-ROMs of books in print.

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