Mysticism & space: space and spatiality in the works of Richard Rolle, 'The cloud of unknowing' author, and Julian of Norwich

Carmel Bendon Davis

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


Mysticism and Space examines the influence and representation of space in the texts of three medieval mystics, Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, and The Cloud of Unknowing author. To date, examination of medieval mystical texts has tended to proceed from several ideologically loaded theoretical perspectives, which have categorized mystical experience as being either an authentic or a socially constructed phenomenon. In this book, Carmel Bendon Davis offers a range of insights into the mystical texts through the application of a spatial perspective. In so doing, she allows mysticism to be understood as both a social construct in its exterior representations and interiorly as an authentic experience of God. To understand both the theological and spatial parameters, Davis considers the mystical experience as being not only an exclusively “inner” apprehension but also an embodied one that takes place in what she designates as “mystical space.” In conception “mystical space” is analogous to the literary figure of the mise en abyme, an impression of infinite regress that duplicates within all its layers the qualities of the larger, initiating structure without. Such a conception acknowledges that space has been widely conceptualized through the centuries, and it allows both medieval and contemporary theories of space to be employed in examining the mystics’ lives and works. Henri Lefebvre’s theory of space as a social production provides a prominent, though not exclusive, contemporary filter for the examination. Pierre Bourdieu’s explication of habitus, Michel Foucault’s heterotopias, and Mikhail Bakhtin’s grotesque realism also inform the book’s argument. Davis concludes that as mystical experience is a transcendent experience unmediated by time it is more absorbent and reflective of spatial, rather than chronological, interpretation.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWashington, D.C.
PublisherCatholic University of America Press
ISBN (Print)9780813215228
Publication statusPublished - 2008


Dive into the research topics of 'Mysticism & space: space and spatiality in the works of Richard Rolle, 'The cloud of unknowing' author, and Julian of Norwich'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this