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September 28 , 2008

Zen and the Unspeakable God

Comparative Interpretations of Mystical Experience


Zen and the Unspeakable God reevaluates how we study mystical experience. Forsaking the prescriptive epistemological box that has constrained the conversation for decades, ensuring that methodology has overshadowed subject matter, Jason Blum proposes a new interpretive approach—one that begins with a mystic’s own beliefs about the nature of mystical experience. Blum brings this approach to bear on the experiential accounts of three mystical exemplars: Meister Eckhart, Ibn al-ʿArabi, and Hui-neng. Through close readings of their texts, he uncovers the mystics’ own fundamental assumptions about transcendence and harnesses these as interpretive guides to their experiences.

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The predominant theory-first path to interpretation has led to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of individual mystical experiences and fostered specious conclusions about cross-cultural comparability among them. Blum’s hermeneutic invites the scholarly community to begin thinking about mystical experience in a new way—through the mystics’ eyes. Zen and the Unspeakable God offers a sampling of the provocative results of this technique and an explanation of its implications for theories of consciousness and our contemporary understanding of the nature of mystical experience.

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