Transcendence and Transformation

Transcendence and Transformation

The Center for the Study of World Religions at HDS is pleased to announce a new research initiative devoted to Transcendence and Transformation.

This initiative will study religious and spiritual traditions and practices—ancient and modern, global in reach—that aim for the transcendence of our normal states of being, consciousness, and embodiment, and the consequent transformation of individual, community, and society.

This initiative affirms the existence of the sacred, different levels of reality, seen and unseen, and different modes of access to them. This initiative will investigate what might be called “metaphysics and mysticism,” by which is meant the traditions across time, people, and place that have cultivated practices of transcendence and transformation, and have articulated scaffolded worldviews to make sense of those practices.

These “spiritual exercises” are often termed “ecstatic”—that is, they usher us outside (ek-) our accustomed states of being and understanding (stasis), and invite us into new relationship with ourselves, our fellow humans, and our more-than-human neighbors, including the earth’s mineral, plant, and animal life, but also those beings we name spirits, angels, demons, and gods—visible and invisible, real and imagined, malevolent and benign.

This initiative will take seriously reports of extraordinary experiences of the sacred and the changes such experiences elicit in our minds, souls, and bodies. It will pair disciplined inquiry with an openness to the archive of such experiences, ancient and modern. It will explore different ontological and epistemological frameworks for interpreting such experiences appreciatively and critically. 

As is fitting for the CSWR, such an initiative will study the traditions of transcendence and transformation in the so-called "world religions," but will also attend carefully to those traditions excluded by that framework, including indigenous religious traditions, and those that have been, for better or for worse, grouped under such categories as “animism,” “paganism,” and “shamanism” (to name only a few).

Transcendence and Transformation is committed to the historical study of these traditions and practices for its own sake, but also as a resource for contemporary religion and spirituality. It will attend to the ways elements of these traditions and practices are continually disassembled and reassembled for contemporary use—what often goes under the name of “syncretism”—especially by so-called “seekers,” those who identify as “spiritual but not religious.”

Photo by Sami Takarautio on Unsplash