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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 29 May 2008
By 
Origen (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Negativity in Western Christian Mysticism) (Paperback)
This profound study of some of the most widely read medieval Christian 'mystical' authors is at once an historical expose and philosophical argument in its own right. Professor Turner, formerly of Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge, and now of Yale University, offers the bold argument that the medieval Christian mystics did not, as is commonly thought, conceive their 'mysticism' in inward looking, experientialist terms but rather sought to emphasise the mysteriousness and 'spiritual' nature of existence as a whole - especially the everyday.

In our age of privatised spirituality, where mysteries are conventionally thought to unveil themselves in the context of sustained contemplation or meditation, the writings of the medieval Christian mystics are accepted as natural forerunners. Professor Turner counters not only that our modern appropriation of these writers is historically suspect in that it does not obviously do justice to their original motivations, but that the vision of 'spirituality' as a privatised and internalised phenomenon which we assume them to have held was something the Christian mystics actually sought to critique! In my opinion, his argument carries a great deal of weight and it is to the author's credit that he expresses himself very eruditely and eloquently throughout - never becoming polemical, and remaining aware of the sophisticated nature of his material and of the meticulousness his arguments require, but always being trenchant and clear.

This book is a must read text for those whose religious or 'spiritual' lives have been touched in some way by any of the medieval Christian mystics - especially Denys the Areopagite, Augustine, John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhart - as well as for those who wish to explore further the nature of 'spirituality' and 'mysticism' in the Christian tradition. It is, I should add, not a text to be recommended for the uninitiated but for educated laypeople, students, and academics.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an important text, 14 Oct 2011
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This review is from: The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Negativity in Western Christian Mysticism) (Paperback)
It seems that mysticism is at last being brought in from the exile to which it had been consigned by mainstream theology during the Modern period. This re-engagement has coincided with an increase in popular interest in 'spiritualities' and mysticism. For some time it may have been thought that one had to look to Asia as a source for an engagement with this sort of thinking, so the discovery that we have a long and and well developed mystical tradition within Christianity is a bit like finding the 'one pearl of great value'. This is all to be welcomed but does not come without risk: it is important that unbridled enthusiasm does not cloud a proper understanding of what is really at issue for the mystics and at worst descend into syncretism.

I have to agree with 'Origen's' review that this is not a book for the beginner, but for anyone who wants to think deeply about mysticism 'The Darkness of God' is a book that will eventually need to be tackled; it is one of those books which represents a marker point in the field. Whether one agrees with Turner or not, anyone discussing mysticism post Turner must have a position on his thesis . In a sense William James' 'The Varities of Religious Experience' of 1902 was a similar book. Ever since James it has been a commonplace to assume that mysticism is about the 'experience' of something, and the debate has focused on what that 'something' might be.Turner turns that whole argument on its head by taking the reader from the apophatic roots of the patristic period, through Eckhart and the 'cloud of unknowing' metaphors common in the medieval period. He argues persuasively that this is a continuous tradition whose language seeks to place 'God' beyond all naming and knowing. He argues that this tradition was interrupted by developments in Western thinking during the Modern period which was characterised by an increasing move toward individualism. One of the side effects of this was to propose personal experience (or lack of it) as one of the objects to be found if we are to verify religious claims.

It would however be quite wrong to see Turner as a spoilsport for all things mystical. What he is trying to say is that to base one's engagement with the Christian mystical tradition on a fundamental misreading really only serves to trivialise it. He is inviting us to see that a true understanding (as he argues it) is actually more challenging and has inevitable implications for the living of an authentically Christian spirituality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book on Christian Mysticism, 5 Oct 2013
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This review is from: The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Negativity in Western Christian Mysticism) (Paperback)
Turner really is "the" expert on Christian Mysticism - and this is an excellent initial introduction to the topic - just right level of academic rigour and basic explanation - just right for Theology students and those with a general interest alike.
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