The Mystical Turn

Episodes

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01W R Inge20110516

Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, explores the revival of interest in mysticism and religious experience generally - at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century.

The late 20th and early 21st century have witnessed a decline in churchgoing with an increased scepticism about institutional religion.

At the same time, there has - paradoxically - been an increased desire for spirituality - for God "outside" religion.

This is usually regarded as a post Second World War trend, but in this week's Essay series, Jane Shaw explores the late 19th and early 20th century roots of this phenomenon - in what she calls the "mystical turn".

In the first programme in our series, The Mystical Turn, Jane Shaw examines the role of the "gloomy Dean" - Anglican priest and academic WR Inge.

His book, Christian Mysticism - published in 1899 after Inge had spoken on the subject at Oxford University's prestigious Bampton Lectures the previous year - had a profound influence on Christian thought and practice, and gave rise to a deluge of books on the subject, the most famous being William James's Varieties of Religious Experience and Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism.

Dr Jane Shaw explores the revival of interest in mysticism at the end of the 19th century.

02William James20110517

Continuing our series, The Mystical Turn, Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, evaluates the enduring influence of American psychologist and philosopher William James's book on personal spirituality, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Harvard professor William James, elder brother of the novelist Henry James, believed that humans have a religious propensity, a natural leaning towards religion.

In his Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature - first given as the 1902 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh - James documented numerous events which he believed illustrated his thesis.

James's goal was to show the universality of religious experience, and its validity.

In doing so, he unearthed the deep current of spiritual seeking that ran through America and Britain at the time and produced a book which still resonates with readers today.

Producer: Ian Willox

Executive Producer: Alan Hall

A Chrome Radio production for BBC Radio 3.

Jane Shaw on the enduring influence of Wiliam James's book on personal spirituality.

03Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism20110518

In the third programme in our series, The Mystical Turn, Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, explores the appeal of Evelyn Underhill's bestselling book, Mysticism, first published one hundred years ago.

Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness, was a major contribution to the revival of interest in mysticism in the early 20th century, and has been republished many times.

For years on the margins of the established Church, Evelyn Underhill was attuned to the spiritual longing of the times.

But in contrast to WR Inge - the Oxford don and later Dean of St Paul's Cathedral - whose book, Christian Mysticism, had triggered a revival of interest in mysticism at the end of the 19th century, Underhill took mysticism out of the realm of the purely intellectual and into the practical.

Her emphasis was on prayer, meditation and personal ascetism.

For her, the mystic way was a largely individual endeavour and it was open to everyone.

Producer: Ian Willox

Executive Producer: Alan Hall

A Chrome Radio production for BBC Radio 3.

Dr Jane Shaw explores the appeal of Evelyn Underhill's bestselling book, Mysticism.

04Adela Curtis20110519

In the fourth programme in our series, The Mystical Turn, Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, explores the life and writings of the little-known, but charismatic, English mystic Adela Curtis.

Mystic, vegetarian, bookseller, sewage expert and much more besides, Adela Curtis was a remarkable woman.

Born in 1864, she lived to the age of 96.

After running a restaurant and bookshop in Kensington in the early years of the 20th century, she went on to found her own religious order for women - the Order of Silence - in Coldash, near Newbury in Berkshire.

Members were celibate, vegetarian and contemplative, but the Order was not aligned with any particular church.

In 1921, aged 57, Adela Curtis then retired to live near Burton Bradstock in Dorset.

But her followers visited with such frequency that a new community was formed.

Each member of the community lived in a simple hut surrounded by a small piece of land for cultivation.

The women wove their own robes from undyed silk or cotton - resulting in their being dubbed the 'White Ladies' - by the locals.

Visitors came from far and wide and Aldous Huxley thought Adela Curtis, who died in 1960, one of the greatest living mystics.

Producer: Ian Willox

Executive Producer: Alan Hall

A Chrome Radio production for BBC Radio 3.

Dr Jane Shaw explores the life and writings of little-known mystic Adela Curtis.

05 LASTKandinsky And Contemporaries20110520

Concluding our series, The Mystical Turn, Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, explores the relationship between spirituality and mysticism in the work of Russian artist Kandinsky and his contemporaries.

Artists - as well as devout Christians and seekers on the edge of institutional religion - sought a path to union with the divine.

Kandinsky's manifesto on the relationship between spirituality and art - The Art of Spiritual Harmony (later retitled Concerning the Spiritual in Art) - was first published in English in 1914 (it had originally been published in German in 1912).

Kandinsky believed that art belonged to the spiritual realm, that form and colour were central, and that there was a link between so-called "primitive art" and the spiritual.

He was not alone.

His views were echoed in the art of his contemporaries: in the paintings of the Post-impressionists; in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which had its premiere in Paris in 1913; and in The New Science of Colour by New York poet, Beatrice Irwin.

Producer: Ian Willox

Executive Producer: Alan Hall

A Chrome Radio production for BBC Radio 3.

Dr Jane Shaw explores art's relationship with spirituality in the early 20th century.