Religious awe: Potential contributions of negative theology to psychology, "positive" or otherwise

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 22 (2):174-197 (2002)
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A hallmark of Christian mysticism is negative theology, which refers to the school of thought that gives prominence to negation in reference to God. By denying the possibility to name God, negative theology cuts at the very root of our cognitive makeup--the human impulse to name and put things into categories--and thereby situates us "halfway between a 'no longer' and a 'not yet'" , a temporality in which "the past is negated, but...the present is not yet formulated" . The affective corollary of this "no longer" and "not yet" state is the "dark night of the soul" that mystics are known to have bouts of. One particular variant of the "dark night of the soul" is awe, which will be the focus of this paper. My investigation starts with an introduction to the two primary themes of negative theology--negativity and self-reflexivity, followed by a critique of D. Keltner and J. Haidt's model of awe, which is compared with R. Otto's phenomenology of mysticism in general and religious awe in particular. In the concluding section, I examine the relevance of religious awe to contemporary life on the one hand, and to emotion research on the other. 2012 APA, all rights reserved)



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