New seeds, new harvests thirty years of tilling the mystic field

Barbara Newman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This article offers a retrospective on the last thirty years of scholarship on medieval mystics. After surveying some recent resources, such as Bernard McGinn's multivolume history, the Companions to Christian Mysticism, and the journal Spiritus, it discusses the varied approaches oflate-twentieth and early-twenty-first century work, notably the material turn and the linguistic turn. The former, embracing studies of the body and gender, emotions and eroticism, art and material objects, reacts against earlier conceptions ofmysticism as concerned exclusively with the timeless, invisible, and transcendent dimension ofhuman existence. Feminist scholarship, queer theory, historyof the emotions, and the studyofvisual culture have all figured prominently, while the relationship between mysticism and political activism is identified as an area ripe for further study. Complementing the material turn, the linguistic turn has brought new interest in apophatic theologyin the wake of Derridean deconstruction, but also entails fresh work on vernacular mystics and the role of vernacularity in disseminating spiritual wisdom. The essay closes with an account of imaginative theology and a call for more reading across linguistic and disciplinary boundaries, as well as the artificial boundary between sacred and secular writing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-20
Number of pages12
StatePublished - 2017


  • History of spirituality
  • Imaginative theology
  • Linguistic turn
  • Material turn
  • Medieval mysticism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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