Academic Programs 

Urgent Longings: A Course in Spiritual Theology  (TH-560-2)  (I-WR)     
Summer 2003

What is it that puts us into motion as men and women?  What is the source of our most urgent longings?  Many have suggested that at bottom it is a desire for happiness.  This course will examine how the desire for happiness has been viewed in several religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism), and how these traditions have construed our inner fragmentation and recommended, through human effort or divine grace, how to put us back together.  

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
June 9 – 13, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

William Newell
Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ethics

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500

Course Syllabus


This is a course in the theology of mysticisms, which is to say, in human transcendence: the way human desire figures in life.  We are a transcendence, desires in action or desires inoperative. There are many mysticisms, as you shall see. What they are, how they arise, how they compare, the one with the other, where God is in any one of them and who are the mystics is the subject of our investigations. There is no hard and fast definition of mysticism, or mysticisms, for that matter. They are too diffuse to nail down in a nifty definition. And they are ineffable anyway. They defy words. What we study is ourselves, and whatever God has vouchsafed to us in revealed texts and in the verified and authoritative mysticisms of three of the great religions, Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism. Then there are other mysticisms too, nature, natural, supernatural, supernaturally elevated natural mysticism, drug myticism, yoga, nirvana, and the line could go on for a long time. Who are the mystics? We are, in some way or another. Stay with us. Be patient, and we’ll travel far together.


For those taking the course for credit, some way of assaying your work is necessary on the part of the instructor. Hence, I will ask you to answer one question on each of the lecture/readings to be handed in one week from the end of the course. Then I will ask you to do a five page essay the next week on an acceptable topic covered in the course. This will offer me an opportunity to grade you on the course.

For the auditors: 
The lectures and readings should offer one not only the lecturer’s and authors’ take on mysticisms, but offer you an opportunity to try your own life experience against the horizon offered by not only me but the authors not only used in class, but those in the suggested reading list.


A Primer on Mysticisms, by William Lloyd Newell
The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. by William Johnston
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, by Gershom Scholem
The Foundations of Mysticism, by Bernard McGinn
The Essential Rumi: Translations by Coleman Barks

A Reading list of helpful books:

Mysticism Sacred and Profane, by R.C. Zaehner, a classic, needs much explanation but still useful

The Practice of Faith, by Karl Rahner [now out of print, but you can get it on the net, see me on this]

Karl Rahner Mystic of Everyday Life, by Harvey D. Egan, eminently useful personally and pastorally

Struggle and Submission: R.C. Zaehner on Mysticisms, by William L. Newell [out of print, but I can find it for you]

The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila

The Spiritual Espousals, John Ruusbroec, possibly the best theologian of mysticism in the Roman Catholic tradition

Mysticism Buddhist and Christian, by Mommaers and van Bragt, the best I’ve seen in bridging Christian and Buddhist religious experience, cutting edge, readable and pastorally useful

Reading before the Course: 

All from Newell’s Primer on Mysticism

I]   Mysticism of Matter- Lecture One in the Primer
II]   Nature Mysticism and its variants- Lecture Three in the Primer
III]  Some Religious Uses for Nature Mysticism- Lecture Six in the Primer
IV]  Isolation Mysticism and Yoga- Lecture Seven in Newell in the Primer
V]  The Philosophia Perennis- in Newell’s Primer, Fifth Lecture in the Primer

Schedule of Lectures: 

At the end of each day we will review the day and do a seminar on it.

Day One: All these are from a handout.

1]   I] A Rahnerian Theology of mysticism
      II] Where is God: the anthropology and Christology of it?
      III] God as Desire in Origin’s Mysticism-in McGinn, pp. 108 ff.

2] Day Two: 

I] The Apophatic and Kataphatic in Mysticisms
II] Ruusbroec on Natural Mysticism –Chap. 10 in Mommaers
III] Buddhism and Natural Mysticism- Chap. 11 in Mommaers
IV] A Critique of Natural Mysticism- Chap. 12 in Mommaers

3] Day Three: Ruusbroec’s Three Stages of Prayer-

Chief Marks of Mysticism in Ruusbroec’s Theology- in Mommaers, Chap. 3

4] Day Four:  Jewish Mysticism, in seven parts

I] Why Something Rather than Nothing?
II] Judaism
III] Real Presences
IV] The Hiddenness of the Presence
V] Jewish Mysticism
[VI] Kabbalism
[VII] Popular Kabbalism

5]  Day Five:

I] Mystical Awareness- in Mommaers, Chap. 1
II] Buddhism and Mysticism- in Mommaers, Chap. 2
III] Some thoughts on Teresa of Avila’s mystical theology

IV] Overview and seminar

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500