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Reviewed by:
  • Modernisme, mystique, mysticisme par Giacomo Losito et Charles J. T Talar
  • Kathryn Brown
Modernisme, mystique, mysticisme. Sous la direction de Giacomo Losito et Charles J. T Talar. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 543 pp.

This collection of essays offers a detailed account of the 'return to mysticism' evident in twentieth-century Roman Catholicism in Europe and the United States. Developing and extending the approach of Charles J. T Talar in Modernists & Mystics (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), which focused solely on US examples, the present study engages closely with a wide range of cultural contexts and unites an international team of specialists to explore the role of mystical experience in the 'crisis of modernism' (1893—1913) that unfolded in Church history. The book thus permits the reader to draw comparisons between examples from different geographies and demonstrates the opportunities that mysticism offered to those whose interest in modern philosophical, historical, sociological, and psychological theories led to a questioning of traditional Catholic teaching. In his Introduction to the volume, Giacomo Losito offers a helpful overview of the 'modernist turn' towards mysticism that is problematized throughout the volume. The increasing importance of the social sciences and the widespread interest in positivist philosophy at the turn of the twentieth century impacted significantly on Catholic theology. Against the background of the Vatican's condemnation of modernism in the Papal [End Page 316] encyclical of 1907 (Pascendi dominici gregis), many theologians turned to mysticism in the hope of charting a new path for Catholicism. For Church authorities, however, a revival of mysticism that both privileged subjectivity and questioned institutional structures represented a form of religious experience that undermined ecclesiastical control. The central premise of the present study is that mysticism and modernism were not antithetical. Rather, they were united in the writings of key twentieth-century figures with a view to synthesizing ancient and modern thought, revitalizing Catholicism, and fuelling conceptions of a more progressive Church. Some of these issues are examined through a bio-graphical lens. Discussions of the lives and writings of individuals including Alfred Loisy, Maurice Blondel, Albert Houtin, Isaac Thomas Hecker, George Tyrrell, Baron Friedrich von Hügel, and Giovanni Boine, among others, offer insight into debates about the nature of religious experience and the different functions that mysticism served within specific national traditions. Other essays take a more thematic approach. Claude Langlois discusses the emergence of a 'feminine mysticism' at the beginning of the twentieth century and charts important links between visionary experience (notably of Teresa of Ávila) and the psychiatric experiments of Jean-Martin Charcot; Jean-Baptiste Amadieu examines how ideas about mysticism were pursued in French literature that represented a 'Catholic Revival' between the two world wars; Frédéric Keck and Stéphane Gumpper consider the relevance of mystical experience to wider debates in philosophy and the social sciences from the turn of the century to the end of the 1920s. This collection of essays is an important contribution to the study of twentieth-century Roman Catholicism and to culture studies more generally. Its comparative approach and rigorous analysis of case studies offer significant insights into the imbrication of mysticism and modernism in religious thinking. The volume demonstrates the wider significance of a key moment of Catholic history in a range of literary, social, and scientific contexts.

Kathryn Brown
Loughborough University


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pp. 316-317
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