William Blake once wrote that "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Inspired by these poetic terms, Jeffrey J. Kripal reflects on how the modern study of mysticism has often been inspired by the mystical experiences of the scholars themselves. More specifically, he suggests, these "roads of excess" are often marked by erotic engagements with text and tradition that carry within themselves important theoretical insights into both the historical mystics and our own critical engagements with their remarkable texts.
To explore such possibilities, Kripal takes his readers on a tour of comparative mystical thought in Catholicism, Sufism, Hinduism, Tantra, and Kabbalah by examining the lives and works of five major historians of mysticism: Evelyn Underhill, Louis Massignon, R. C. Zaehner, Agehananda Bharati, and Elliot Wolfson. Kripal also critically analyzes his own mystical experiences in a series of revealing autobiographical essays and concludes the book with seven "palaces of wisdom" that envision the study of mysticism as a mystical phenomenon, with its own unique histories, psychosexual dynamics, ethical disciplines, existential paradoxes, and unitive goals.
“Original, even constructive, in its topic, approach, candor, and scope, Roads of Excess is nonetheless an excellent historical and biographical study, written with clarity and charm, demonstrating patience with those who have little familiarity with the discipline in which he is working or the scholars he is exploring. . . . This is the kind of methodological challenge that I hope more people will read and seriously engage.”—David Clairmont, Chicago South Asia Newsletter