Mystical experience in religion is no doubt not the easiest phenomenon to grasp. Far from being the product of intellectual abstraction, it is a journey, often personal, the expression of which, when it is not simply hidden, uses and abuses the symbols and hyperboles belonging to a certain poetic language which brings with it significant problems of hermeneutics. Mystical experiences are expressed in all religions, and in spite of the fundamental divergence between the immanent religions of the Asian Sub-continent, East Asia, Oceana, Africa and America on the one hand, and on the other, the transcendent religions, in particular, the three principal monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, mystical experiences in their development, their practices, even the words to describe them, intersect in the most fascinating way.
During the course of previous centuries and into the contemporary era, religious as well as political authorities have appealed to divine transcendence in order to justify acts of violence. In contrast, other religious authorities have made efforts to redirect, limit or ban violence. In order to understand the way in which the dynamics at play operate in the peace/war dialectic of religions, it is essential to take an historical perspective of the phenomenon, to distinguish between the reference texts and their interpretation, the context of episodes of conflict or pacification, and the practices of individuals and collectives. In this way we can shed light on the major tensions that can lead to acts of violence, especially of war.
Throughout 25 centuries of questioning figurative representation, believers of different faiths have pondered three questions: how is one to represent what is conceived of as transcendent? Is the restitution of the creative act upon living things by pen, brush or any other tool permissible? What kind of relationship should the believer maintain with such a representation? The interest of this issue’s history consists in showing that each religious tradition has, in response to time and place, actually held diverging positions. Three salient moments stand out: the 7th-6th centuries BCE when the ban is spelt out in writing alongside stories that show that it was not ever thus; the 7th century during which the main theoretical tenets of the religious relation to images are framed for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike; the 19th-20th centuries, marked by the growing impossibility, both for technical and political reasons, to control the flow of representations.
Exiles, flights, departures – voluntary or otherwise… over the past five centuries, significant population shifts have affected all the faiths sharing the Euro-Mediterranean space.
In order to grasp the phenomenon within its context, the comparative study of four types of migration observed an exacting brief addressing their causes (which outstrip purely religious issues), the manner of their management as well as their memorial impact.
Upon the disappearance of the Holy Roman Empire and the waning of the Byzantine Empire, shifts in the relationship between the political and religious authorities yielded new State structures. Whether north or south of the Mediterranean the bonds between them did not answer a linear drive towards affirmed autonomy at the expenses the heteronomous formula originally prevalent between the 11th and the 16th century. As from that time, however, the political authority showed more assertive in the European space. It is significant that the settlement of the wars between Catholics and Protestants was formulated by jurists unconnected to theologians. In order to study this intricate picture, the modules’ authors have approached its analysis from three angles: theories of the State, politico-religious institutions; practices of power
Throughout antiquity, the Mediterranean and its shores were an intensely lively theatre of human transit, commercial and cultural exchanges, military and political conflicts. Religious cults were part and parcel of this activity. They were not, in most cases, at the heart of the power stakes but neither were they without. The traces found by archaeology or in written sources point to many and manifold ways religious references or practices were created, adapted and repurposed. Beyond any teleological perspective, HEMED academics have sought to consider this specific moment in religious history along three lines of thought: sacred grounds; religious mutations; interactions between religions and power.
The relation between science and religion is a controversial field of study. Historiographical issues include outlining what happened in 17th century Europe and situating the religious heritage, be it Jewish, Christian or Muslim. The contents of the HEMED history module are set downstream from this period and follow three strands. The first consists in showing how the “humanities and natural sciences” achieved independence from “religious knowledge”; the second is focussed on the full range of responses from religious authorities faced with scientific and technological progress; the third aims to give an account of contemporary debates around epistemological questions. We strove in our approach not to set aside as a matter of course the history of cultural environments all too often construed as frozen in time.
Speaking in the name of a political or religious authority has essentially been the preserve of men. Though they may have found women’s equality admissible in matters of faith, they no less maintained and reinforced the privileges they enjoyed within confessional hierarchies while allowing women their autonomy in specific fields. Modernity, which placed the human person at the centre of organisational and representational systems, represents a turning point. However the promotion of women’s roles in diverse societies and the transformations in their legal status did not follow a linear course. Positions in support of women’s emancipation were up until the sixties shared across religious persuasions. The subsequent half-century has seen “feminism” assume sometimes vastly diverging forms.