Fall 2019

F64 Mystics, Heretics, Saintly Madmen, and Holy Fools in World Spiritual Traditions NEW

Oct. 10 – Nov. 28 (8 sessions)

Thursdays, 12:10 – 1:50 p.m. 

by Svitlana Kobets, PhD

Chelsea Hotel, Monarch Room

In this course we will examine extraordinary spiritual personalities representative of the paradigm of sacred madness, as well as the religious traditions to which they belonged (including Christianity, Judaism, Hellenistic tradition, Islam, and Tibetan Buddhism). Concepts central to our discussion will include orthodoxy and heresy, canon and deviance, mysticism and gnosis, as well as what Michel Foucault aptly called “the technologies of the Self.” Our focus will be on cultural developments and beliefs, which informed and brought to prominence such representatives of saintly subversion as Hebrew prophets, early Christian mad saints (Saloi), Western mystics (e.g. Francis of Assisi), as well as Tibetan Buddhist (Düdjom Lingpa) and Sufi (Rumi) visionaries. They might have appeared subversive and their teachings inconceivable, but they have left an important mark in history and their legacy endures to this day.


1.    October 10 

Introduction. Hebrew Prophet and the paradigm of sacred madness. The Hebrew prophet as mystic. Jesus Christ as a Hebrew prophet. Imitation of Christ. Apostle Paul's "The First Epistle to the Corinthians." The Desert ascetics.

2.    October 17 

The New Testament and mysticism: Jesus Christ, St. Paul and mystical visions. The Desert ascetics. Life of Antony the Great. 

3.    October 24 

God's Secret Saints and holy fools: Palladius' "The Nun Who Feigned Madness"
Ascetic movement and subversive virtue: beggars, wanderers, returning ascetics and holy fools. Wandering for Christ's Sake and Palladius' "Sarapion the Sindonite.

Study questions

Additional: Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov The Song of Alexis, the Man of God, op 20 for Chorus and Orchestra

4.    October 31 

Visionaries of the Hellenistic World. Early Christian Visionaries. Visions in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. Visions in The Shephard of Herman. Visions in the Desert.

5.    November 7 

Mysticism in Early Judaism: Apocalyptic literature, Hellenistic Judaism of Philo of Alexandria, Jewish monks: the Essenes and the Therapeutae. Ascetic perfection and modified mind. God's secret servants in the Tale about  Euphrosynus the Cook and in The Life of Alexis the Man of GodThe perfect Christian as a fool for Christ: Syrian Liber Graduum (Book of Steps). 

6.    November 14 

John Climacus and Leontius of Napolis—the holy fool as a visionary. Andrew the Fool of Constantinople and Basil the Younger: the holy fool as a mystic. 

7.    November 21

Holy fools in Western Christianity: Sacred and secular fools in Medieval Europe. St. Francis of Assisi. Mad lovers of Jesus. Female holy fools: subversion and folly in Eastern and Western Christian traditions. Divine madmen and mystics in Islam: the Qalandar and Sufi

8.    November 28 

Visionary Tibet. Holy fools in the modern world: the holy fool in literature and culture. The fool as a cultural archetype. Conclusions

© 2022 by Svitlana Kobets. All right reserved.