SEA 2017 -- Early American Mysticisms
“The mother sea and fountainhead of all religions lies in the mystical experiences of the individual.”
—William James to Henry Rankin, 1901
In the nineteenth century, mystical experience would become a hallmark of religious liberalism. William James affirms its prominence in this abstract’s epigraph, excerpted from a 1901 letter written during his composition of The Varieties of Religious Experience. And yet, the bent for mysticism in North America did not arrive in the nineteenth century (with Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendental Club, as many scholars would have it), but instead stretches back across the centuries to include a diverse array of theistic and non-theistic traditions. One aim of this panel is to recover a spectrum of early American mystical occurrences; another is to restore mysticism as a legitimate category of inquiry, one primed for reconsideration in current postsecular scholarship. While early American studies has long been at the forefront of investigating religions of all creeds, mysticism’s marginal religious practices and parareligious experiences and desires warrant greater attention. Both the postsecular turn and new interdisciplinary methodologies make this panel topic a timely one for reappraisal.
This panel welcomes submissions on any topic related to mysticism in the Western hemisphere and Atlantic World. Paper topics could range from the mystical strains of evangelical Protestant and Universalist theologies, to indigenous and African belief systems, to Jewish mystical traditions, to Anglo-American prophecy and Camisard spirit possession. The panel also encourages papers that explore the mysticism of political, social, and literary activity—slave revolts, the Cult of George Washington, Freemasonry, literary pilgrimage, and more. Since the forms and expressions of mysticism are often somatic, “Early American Mysticisms” isespecially interested in testing out both linguistic and non-linguistic approaches to the topic (performative, sensory, affective, material culture, etc.)