Student Report: Mysticism Colloquium

Reported by Siyu Wang, Class of 2025

This is a hybrid colloquium in the theme of mysticism.

On December 2nd and 3rd, Duke Kunshan University’s Humanities Research Center held a colloquium themed on mysticism with three lectures given by Boaz Huss, Benoît Vermander, and Wendell Marsh, one student workshop hosted by Wendell Marsh and three panels with the topic of Practices of (De-)mystification, Mysticism and Modernity East and West, and Mysticism and Technology respectedly. Meanwhile, participants all got the chance to enjoy fine food at Dayu Bay and DKU Executive Dining Hall.

Opening Keynote: Mystifying Kabbalah: Academic Scholarship, National Theology, and New Age Spirituality

Boaz Huss, a scholar from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, introduced us to his book Mystifying Kabbalah, which focuses on the formation of Jewish mysticism—both as a concept and as an academic filed of research. He addressed two main questions in his lecture: 1) how the term Jewish Mysticism appeared for the first time in the 19th century became the main concept according to which several Jewish traditions especially kabbalah is categorized, researched, interpreted, and practiced. 2) how did the concept dualization of kabbalah and Hassidism has Jewish mysticism direct shaped, but also limited the way kabbalah and Hassidism are studied in the academia.


Panel #1: Practices of (De-)mystification

With the given theme, Megan Rogers, Amber Griffioen, and Bryce Beemer shared us with their research findings and thoughts. By sharing the phenomenon of Chinese educated professionals’ efforts at making religion scientific and rational, Rogers encouraged us to be aware of the ongoing process of de-mystifying religions. Griffoen started with the move to problematize the phrase mysticism itself, and by using medieval Christian as a prototype, she revealed the re-mystifying behind political resistance. Beemer introduced us to the possibility of de-mystify mystical practice by treating it as historical source with the material of the religious lives of Manipuri slave descendants in Myanmar.

Workshop with Wendell Marsh

On December 3rd, Wendell Marsh, a scholar from Rutgers University, had an in-depth discussion with students about how to read a mystical (or any kind of) text closely. Together, they had some translation and text reading exercises.

Panel #2: Mysticism and Modernity East and West

By briefly introducing the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo and his work, James Miller linked kenosis to Chinese Yinyang Cosmology. By stating the concept weak belief/religion, he explained the relationship between atheism, secularization, and modernity. Echoing to the talk Huss gave on December 2nd, Yitzhak Louis revisited the figure Gershom Scholem and his thought, and explored the connection of mysticism and modernity, religion, and enlightenment.

Panel #3: Mysticism and Technology

Bogna Konior shared her research on stigmata, teledildonics and remote cybersex by framing them as determination from the outside. Lai Xinran zoomed in on the relationship between Tarot reading and intimacy, and discussed her findings about what do people seek when drawing a card. Ben Overmine introduced us to the norm of network effect by focusing on the narrating non-dual

experience in recent space opera novels.

Closing Keynote: Mysticism and Knowledge: The Dionysian Tradition and “Arcane Studies (xuan xue)”

Benoît Vermander, a scholar from Fudan University, provided his thoughts on how to treat and approach mysticism—as  quest shared among cultures and religions, a quest that has to do with the nature of knowledge, and notably with the following question: whether there can be a form of knowledge independent from both purely logical reasoning, on the one hand, and empirical evidences, on the other hand.