Rogier van der Weyden: Beaune Altarpiece

Rogier van der Weyden: Beaune Altarpiece, ca. 1450. Oil on Oak. 220 cm x 548 cm. Detail: The resurrection of the dead. Hôtel Dieu, Beaune.

Project (2017-)

Transcendent Experiences: Phenomena, Ideas, and Judgements

Transcendent experiences can have a strong impact on the lives and thoughts of those experiencing them. Until now, their phenomenology, their impact on the history of ideas, and the ways of dealing cognitively with transcendent experiences have been neglected by scholarship. The project’s objective is to study these aspects of transcendent experiences and to develop elements of an "art of judgment" with respect to them.  

In the context of the project, transcendent experiences are understood as experiences that transcend ordinary reality or familiar categories of explanation. Examples are so-called otherworldly experiences, or experiences of a seemingly extra-ordinary influence of the mental upon the physical. Addressing transcendent experiences seems to be demanding in terms of judgement. Meticulous phenomenological analysis, careful conceptualization, and circumspect evaluation of the experiences in question often seem to fall victim to the need for cognitive closure. On the one side of the spectrum, we find the habit, particularly among non-experiencers, to block out and to debase transcendent experiences a limine. On the other side, there is a tendency both of experiencers and outside observers towards premature interpretations and explanations. And it would seem to be the case that misinterpretations of transcendent experiences can also have far reaching practical consequences.  

The first part of the project deals with the ideas of the resurrection of the physical body and of an eternal afterlife with this body in an earthly paradisiacal realm, as described in Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian sources. The working hypothesis is that the origin of these ideas lies in certain forms of otherworld experiences: encounters with the dead in brilliantly beautiful bodies and journeys through paradisiacal otherworld landscapes. It is suggested that experiences of this kind have been projected onto earth and have given rise to the (necessarily futile) expectation of a physical afterlife in a paradisiacal realm on earth.    

Rogier van der Weyden: Beaune Altarpiece, The resurrection of the dead.

Rogier van der Weyden: Beaune Altarpiece, ca. 1450. Oil on Oak. 220 cm x 548 cm. Detail: The resurrection of the dead. Hôtel Dieu, Beaune.