updated 20.11.2020

Mysticism

Mysticism is negative theology: it defines God in opposition to his creation, and attempts to approach him by a process of negation — we know God by giving up our sensory and rational ways of knowing Him. Originally elaborated by the sixth-century Egyptian or Syrian monk, pseudo-Dionysius, and popular in a Catholic monastic setting, it was promoted in the eighteenth-century by Protestants who saw mysticism as a means to reform the minds and conduct of ordinary Christian men and women.

My work explores how this popularisation occurred, and its impact on the British and American Protestant traditions after 1600. One of my big arguments is that Scottish scholars were responsible for publishing the works of medieval and early modern Catholic mysticism for a Protestant audience. This was central to the eighteenth-century revival of mysticism across Britain and Protestant Europe.

Video presentation

Demystifying Mysticism Scottish Style’,
The Future of Early Modern Scottish Studies Conference
St. Andrews, 13-14 January 2017 | Transcript available here

Publications

‘The Episcopalians and the Promotion of Mysticism in North-East Scotland‘, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, vol. 48 (2018), pp. 31-56. View Online | Find in Library

Reveals how Episcopalians in North-East Scotland promoted mysticism, and places this in the context of the European reformation of manners movement, an attempt to reorient Christianity away from doctrinal controversy towards an interior religion of the heart.

Projects

  • A history of modern mysticism
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