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On Becoming God:Late Medieval Mysticism and the Modern Western Self

Late Medieval Mysticism and the Modern Western Self

Ben Morgan

Publication Year: 2012

Do we have to conceive of ourselves as isolated individuals, inevitably distanced from other people and from whatever we might mean when we use the word "God"? On Becoming God offers an innovative approach to the history of the modern Western self by looking at human identity as something people do together rather than on their own, as a way of managing and keeping at bay the impulses and experiences associated with the word "God." The "self" is a way of doing things, or of not doing things, with "God." The book draws on phenomenology (Heidegger), gender studies (Beauvoir, Butler), and contemporary neuroscience. It surveys existing approaches to modern selfhood (Foucault, Charles Taylor) and proposes an alternative account by investigating late medieval mysticism, in particular texts written in Germany by Meister Eckhart and others. It concludes by exploring the parallel between late medieval confessors and their spiritual charges, and late-nineteenth-century psychoanalysts and their patients, in search of a vocabulary for acknowledging and nurturing our everyday commitments to others and to our spiritual longings.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

copyright, dedication,

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

The initial idea and the first draft of this book was conceived, researched, and written up in collaboration with Katja Lehmann, who continued to comment on and guide its subsequent incarnations. The book in its final form is dedicated to her, without whom the whole project would not have been possible. ...

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pp. 1-8

A text that has become known as the Sister Catherine treatise, written in Strasbourg in the first part of the fourteenth century, tells of a woman who, toward the end of a journey that has been both spiritual and physical, awakens from a meditative trance to declare that she has “become God.”1 ...

Part I : Clearing the Ground

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pp. 9-10

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1. Some Recent Versions of Mysticism

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pp. 11-23

There are different ways of being disaffected, and many ways of remedying the situation when we are. Mysticism appeared as a remedy to intellectuals in the twentieth century who were disaffected with their identity and wanted something radically different.1 It was rare that they wanted to be mystics—Jung perhaps comes closest to this.2 ...

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2. Empty Epiphanies in Modernistand Postmodernist Theory

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pp. 24-36

This chapter presents, in a very brief form, a critique of an underlying structure in modernist and postmodernist theory in order to suggest the wider implications of an approach that, as it appeared in the last chapter, could potentially be construed as part of a parochial debate in mysticism studies. ...

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3. The Gender of Human Togetherness

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pp. 37-59

Heidegger’s sketch for a model of human identity that does not focus unduly on the isolated individual can be found in a brief passage in Being and Time that Hubert Dreyfus has suggested is the center of the book’s argument and that sympathetic readers of Heidegger have frequently returned to as a way of revitalizing ...

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4. Histories of Modern Selfhood

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pp. 60-82

When Foucault turned to his investigation of sexuality in Athens of the fourth century BC and Rome of the first and second centuries AD, it was precisely to write a history of forms of selfhood that did not confirm what he already knew. “The object was to learn to what extent the effort to think one’s own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, ...

Part II: A Brief Prehistory of the Modern Western Self

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pp. 83-84

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5. Meister Eckhart’s Anthropology

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pp. 85-100

In the closing years of the thirteenth century, Meister Eckhart was prior of the Dominican friary in Erfurt, a flourishing town in Thuringia in eastern Germany.1 One of his responsibilities was to lead evening sessions, or collationes, for the instruction of novices, during which the interpretation of scripture and more general questions of monastic and spiritual life ...

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6. Becoming God in Fourteenth-Century Europe

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pp. 101-124

One of the peripheral texts in the Meister Eckhart corpus is a legend that, both in its content and in the form in which it has been transmitted, illustrates the social and psychological context from which Meister Eckhart’s preaching emerged. In manuscripts in Munich and Wolfenbüttel, it is entitled “Of the good conversation which a good sister had with Meister Eckhart.” ...

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7. The Makings of the Modern Self

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pp. 125-148

The Church in the fourteenth century did not approve of individuals aspiring to “become God” in this life, even if only momentarily. The orthodox position, following Thomas Aquinas, who was canonized in 1323, was that man could become God’s full image only in the afterlife.1 From this vantage point, the church regulated and controlled the spiritual life ...

Part III: Alternative Vocabularies

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pp. 149-150

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8. Taking Leave of Sigmund Freud

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pp. 151-199

When on December 31, 1900, Freud’s patient Ida Bauer (“Dora”) broke off her analysis, she left behind not only her physician. She left behind a number of other things that her treatment with Freud—with or without his help—had enabled her to overcome.1 She abandoned the image of the cherished father, of whose death she dreamt shortly before ending the therapy. ...

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9. Everyday Acknowledgments

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pp. 200-222

With The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud hoped to transform everyday interactions, as he drew attention to the unacknowledged impulses that accompany and interrupt our day-to-day exchanges and challenged us to face up to them. To put Freud’s approach in context and so come to a revised sense of how we might transform our relationship with our everyday life, ...


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pp. 223-276


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pp. 277-296


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pp. 297-302

Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823246342
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823239924
Print-ISBN-10: 0823239926

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy