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20 Jun 2012 11:26 AM #1
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The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism
Title: The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism
Author(s): Fanous, Samuel and Vincent Gillespie
Publisher: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: 2011
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From The Medieval Review:
In this useful contribution to the scholarship on Middle English religious writing, Fanous and Gillespie propose a revised definition of "mysticism" in the English context. Instead of focusing only on the visionary or overtly mystical figures from medieval England--such as Margery Kempe, Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, and Walter Hilton--they consider "mysticism" to encompass the contemplative tradition in medieval England, a category that includes devotional, affective, and visionary literature (1). Pointing out that the phrase "mystical theology" is a relatively recent term that assumed its modern disciplinary meaning only in the seventeenth century (5), Nicholas Watson, in his introduction to the volume, argues that the term is in some ways "anachronistic" and "evaluative," and that "contemplation" is a more historically apt and inclusive organizing concept (11). Further, the twentieth- and twenty-first-century interest in visionary experience was not necessarily shared by medieval readers and writers; as Barry Windeatt notes, the visions in most fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century saints' lives were not the main source of interest in those texts (212). Our own concepts of "mysticism" are therefore due to be challenged, at least as they are applied to the medieval period, and "contemplation" is settled on here as a preferred term. "Contemplation," in this volume, means the cultivation of a state of receptivity to glimpses of the divine--"preparing and readying the soul to receive whatever sight, sound, word, or revelation might appear to be offered in a mystical experience," writes Gillespie (x). By engaging with medieval English conceptions of contemplative and mystical writing, this collection posits the genre as a coherent area of study that encompasses a wide array of cultural products.
Read the full review at The Medieval Review web site.
The widespread view that 'mystical' activity in the Middle Ages was a rarefied enterprise of a privileged spiritual elite has led to isolation of the medieval 'mystics' into a separate, narrowly defined category. Taking the opposite view, this book shows how individual mystical experience, such as those recorded by Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, is rooted in, nourished and framed by the richly distinctive spiritual contexts of the period. Arranged by sections corresponding to historical developments, it explores the primary vernacular texts, their authors, and the contexts that formed the expression and exploration of mystical experiences in medieval England. This is an excellent, insightful introduction to medieval English mystical texts, their authors, readers and communities. Featuring a guide to further reading and a chronology, the Companion offers an accessible overview for students of literature, history and theology.
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