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Can we take seriously religious experience, spirituality, and mysticism, without reducing them to either cultural-linguistic by-products or simply asserting their validity as a dogmatic fact? The contributors to this volume argue that we can, and they offer a new way: the “participatory turn,” which proposes that individuals and communities have an integral and irreducible role in bringing forth ontologically rich religious worlds.

The Participatory Turn explores the ways this approach weaves together and gives voice to a number of robust trends in contemporary religious scholarship, including the renewed study of lived spirituality, the postmodern emphasis on embodied and gendered subjectivity, the admission of alternate epistemic perspectives, the irreducibility of religious pluralism, and the pragmatist emphasis on transformation.

The first part of the book situates the participatory turn in the context of contemporary Religious Studies; the second part shows how this approach can be applied to various global traditions, ancient and contemporary, from Western esotericism to Jewish mysticism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sufism, and socially engaged Buddhism.

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Introduction: The Participatory Turn in Spirituality, Mysticism, and Religious Studies
Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman

PART I. Participation and Spirit: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives

1. A Genealogy of Participation
Jacob H. Sherman

2. Participation, Complexity, and the Study of Religion
Sean Kelly

3. Spiritual Knowing as Participatory Enaction: An Answer to the Question of Religious Pluralism
Jorge N. Ferrer

PART II. Surveying the Traditions: Participatory Engagements

4. Engaging with the Mind of God: The Participatory Path of Jewish Mysticism
Brian L. Lancaster

5. Esoteric Paradigms and Participatory Spirituality in the Teachings of Mikhaël Aïvanhov
Lee Irwin

6. Wound of Love: Feminine Theosis and Embodied Mysticism in Teresa of Avila
Beverly J. Lanzetta

7. Ibn al-‘Arabê on Participating in the Mystery
William C. Chittick

8. One Spirit, One Body: Jesus’ Participatory Revolution
Bruno Barnhart

9. Participation Comes of Age: Owen Barfield and the Bhagavad Gita
Robert McDermott

10. Pulsating with Life: The Paradoxical Intuitions of Henri Bergson
G. William Barnard

11. Connecting Inner and Outer Transformation: Toward an Extended Model of Buddhist Practice
Donald Rothberg

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“What a truly hopeful and beautiful book this is. Skillfully negotiating between the Charybdis of a reductive but precious rationalist contextualism and the Scylla of the profound but not always sufficiently critical religious traditions, these authors propose a new, more dialectical path for the future of Religious Studies—a path of participation that recognizes in a rare fashion the truly creative nature of that fundamentally mysterious process of human consciousness we so mundanely call ‘interpretation.’ Catalyzed by a
marvelous opening essay on the history and meaning of this participatory turn, the volume promises to become for a new generation what Katz’s and Forman’s pioneering volumes were for earlier ones.” — Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion

“In its quiet, careful way, The Participatory Turn is at once a nuanced portrait of a great sea change taking place in Religious Studies and a clear-eyed manifesto on behalf of that change. In their brilliant introduction, Ferrer and Sherman have managed to condense and summarize a vast and complex field, clarified its multitude of diverse strands, and set forth a richly coherent philosophical synthesis. One senses that with this book and the intellectual shift it describes, the academic study of religion has, quite dramatically, come in from the cold. The book delineates a pathway for the discipline to enter back into direct engagement with the great mystery it seeks to illuminate, employing the many critical advances of the past century’s scholarship but in a manner that is no longer constrained by the hidden reductionism of many conventional academic assumptions. The Participatory Turn presents an emerging orientation for Religious Studies that is not only cogent and empowering but perhaps even inevitable.” — Richard Tarnas, author of The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View

“Editors Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman make a strong case … They impressively articulate an emerging academic ethos in the field of religious studies that challenges the prevalent methodological dominance of the cultural-linguistic paradigm and its reduction of religious phenomena to language and culture … If you … fancy yourself as something of a gnostic scholar this book is a must read. It will also be of significant interest to anyone wanting to keep abreast of the latest theoretical twists and methodological trends in the academic study of religion.” — Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review

“…offers a sophisticated and complex look at an emerging orientation that will continue to be part of the internal dialogue within religious studies. As such, Ferrer and Sherman provide a timely contribution that is thoughtful and worthy of debate within the academy for many years to come.” — Sophia

“…draws on multiple perspectives to invite the reader into a plurality of spiritual approaches, each a delight in its own way, each preserved with its cultural background intact, and none compared with any others or melted down into one large ingot.” — Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

“…an insightful work that explores the profound roots and diverse meanings of the term ‘participation’ and exhibits ways that it can serve as a key to more adequate study of religious experience, groups, and institutions … the team assembled by Ferrer and Sherman show the way toward a potentially radical and meaningful shift in an understanding of things spiritual.” — CHOICE

“…The Participatory Turn … present[s] a powerfully convincing picture of what may be the most significant philosophical turn since Kant … I found it riveting reading which added substantially to my understanding of the world. I thoroughly recommend it.” — Chris ClarkeNetwork Review: Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network

“This book challenges our thinking in many important and fruitful ways.” — Resurgence

“As Rainer Maria Rilke reminded us, the essential thing is to ‘live our questions now’ and in the very posing of such questions, this brave and hopeful book offers much not only to the future of Religious Studies but also to the future of religious expression and interreligious dialogue.” — Tikkun

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