(Religious) Language and the Decentering Process
McNamara and De Sublimitate on the Ecstatic Effect of Language
Keywords:decentering, religious experience, sublime, religious language, ecstasy
This article outlines how the perspective of De Sublimitate concerning the effect of great literature resembles ancient and modern notions of religious experience. To demonstrate this similarity, the article draws on McNamara’s concept of the decentering process in religious experience. This concept of the decentering process serves as a framework for understanding how an encounter with writing that the author deems to be hupsos (“sublime” or “elevated”) has similar decentering effects. The article engages, but also moves slightly beyond, McNamara’s understanding of the role of language in the decentering process. The first part of the article provides an overview of McNamara’s concept of decentering. In particular, it highlights four aspects of the decentering process: (1) the loss of agency; (2) the experience of ecstasy; (3) the role of the emotions; and (4) the cognitive changes that occur during and after the process. The second part of the article demonstrates the presence of similar ideas in De Sublimitate’s discussion of the effects of encountering literature that is characterized as hupsos. The concluding section considers how this reading of De Sublimitate aids in an understanding of the relationship between religious texts and religious experience, drawing a connection with Celia Deutsch’s concept of “text work” as religious experience.
Deconick, April D. ed. 2006. Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature.
Deutsch, Celia. 2008. “Visions, Mysteries, and the Interpretative Task: Text Work and Religious Experience in Philo and Clement”. In Experientia, Volume 1: Inquiry Into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Christianity, eds. Frances Flannery, Colleen Shantz and Rodney Alan Werline, 83–103. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature.
– 2006. “The Therapeutae, Text Work, Ritual, and Mystical Experience”. In Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism, ed. April D. Deconick, 1–24. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature.
Flannery, Frances, Colleen Shantz and Rodney Alan Werline, eds. 2008. Experientia, Volume 1: Inquiry Into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Christianity. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature.
Grube, G. M. A. 1957. “Notes On the Peri Hupsous”. American Journal of Philology 78(4): 355–74. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/291724
Halliwell, Stephen. 2011. Between Ecstasy and Truth: Interpretations of Greek Poetics from Homer to Longinus. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hill, James J. 1966. “The Aesthetic Principles of the Peri Hupsous”, Journal of the History of Ideas 27(2): 265–74, http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2708642
“Longinus.” 1927. De Sublimitate, On the Sublime, trans. W. Hamilton Fyfe. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McNamara, Patrick. 2009. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511605529
Malinar, A. and H. Basu. 2008. “Ecstasy”. In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Emotion, ed. J. Corrigan, 241–58. New York: Oxford.
Russell, D. A. 1964. ‘Longinus’ On The Sublime: Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wildman, W. J. and L.A. Brothers. 1999. “A Neuropsychological-Semiotic Model of Religious Experiences”. In Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, eds Robert J. Russell, Nancey Murphy, Theo C. Meyering and Michael A. Arbib, 347–418. Berkeley, CA: Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.