Skip to main content

The Presence of Light

Divine Radiance and Religious Experience

There is perhaps no greater constant in religious intuition and experience than the presence of light. In spiritual traditions East and West, light is not only ubiquitous but something that assumes strikingly similar forms in altogether different historical and cultural settings. This study examines light as an aspect of religiously valued experiences and its entailments for mystical theology, philosophy, politics, and religious art.

The essays in this volume make an important contribution to religious studies by proposing that it is misleading to conceive of religious experience in terms of an irreconcilable dichotomy between universality and cultural construction. An esteemed group of contributors, representing the study of Asian and Western religious traditions from a range of disciplinary perspectives, suggests that attention to various forms of divine radiance shows that there is indeed a range of principles that, if not universal, are nevertheless very widely occurring and amenable to fruitful comparative inquiry. What results is a work of enormous scope, demonstrating compelling cross-connections that will be of value to scholars of comparative religions, mysticism, and the relationship between art and the sacred.

* Catherine B. Asher
* Raoul Birnbaum
* Sarah Iles Johnston
* Matthew T. Kapstein
* Andrew Louth
* Paul E. Muller-Ortega
* Elliot R. Wolfson
* Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan
* Hossein Ziai

336 pages | 12 color plates, 13 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2004

Asian Studies: East Asia, South Asia

Middle Eastern Studies

Religion: Christianity, Comparative Studies and History of Religion, Islam, Judaism, South and East Asian Religions


The Presence of Light is a significant contribution to the history of religions and the study of mysticism. This is a rich collection of essays and an exemplary model of comparative inquiry.”--William Darrow, Williams College

William Darrow, Williams College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part One: The Divine Presence of Light
1. Fiat Lux, Fiat Ritus: Divine Light and the Late Antique Defense of Ritual
Sarah Iles Johnston
2. Suhrawardi on Knowledge and the Experience of Light
Hossein Ziai
3. Luminous Consciousness: Light in the Tantric Mysticism of Abhinavagupta
Paul E. Muller-Ortega
Part Two: Transformative Visions and Their Vicissitudes
4. Light, Vision, and Religious Experience in Byzantium
Andrew Louth
5. Hermeneutics of Light in Medieval Kabbalah
Elliot R. Wolfson
6. The Strange Death of Pema the Demon Tamer
Matthew T. Kapstein
Part Three: In the Sight of the Eye
7. A Ray from the Sun: Mughal Ideology and the Visual Construction of the Divine
Catherine B. Asher
8. Light in the Wutai Mountains
Raoul Birnbaum
9. The Eyes of Michinaga in the Light of Pure Land Buddhism
Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan
Part Four: Concluding Reflections
10. Rethinking Religious Experience: Seeing the Light in the History of Religions
Matthew T. Kapstein

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press