Mathematics, Mysticism, and Secularization

Years of Activity: 2018

Research Status:


Raz.Chen-Morris, Noam Cohn, Ariel Furstenberg, Talia Leven, Ilya Moshkov, Ofra Rechter, Assaf Rinot, Amit Shomrat, Uzi Vishne, Shai Wozner

This research group aims to study the connection, in twentieth-century thought, between mathematics and mysticism, on the one hand, and secularization, on the other. The group’s research is conducted on two tracks: One track focuses on the philosophical approaches to mathematics that developed at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, in which the question of the place of mathematics on the secularization–mysticism axis played a key role. We will review mystical approaches to mathematics, both in antiquity and in the modern era, and we will look at what is unique in the mystical approaches formulated in the twentieth century. We will also examine whether the development of mathematics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries contributed to the formulation of mystical approaches to it, and we will attempt to locate the mystical approaches to mathematics on the secularization–religion axis.

The other track is more speculative. It examines the connection between vision and mathematical visualization. This is an investigation that many philosophers and mathematicians have engaged in in the modern era, and it is not infrequently found to be significantly related to mystical approaches. From Plato to our times, the attempt to understand the nature of objects and mathematical structures and how mathematical knowledge is possible has led to ideas that touch on vision in the religious and ecstatic senses. The concept of "vision," which appears in the two contexts, is an example of such an interface. We aim to explore the appearance of such ideas and how they are received today, after some 300 years in which the development of mathematics and mathematical science has contributed to the marginalization of religion and mysticism and the flourishing of a culture that encourages rational, nonmystical approaches to reality.

We are of the opinion that the combination of the two perspectives—the historical and the speculative-conceptual—can provide fertile ground for examining the status of mathematics today. We also see this combination as a basis for exploring how mathematics contributes to an understanding of the current era, specifically in clarifying the place of science in the contemporary culture and in characterizing the religion–secularization (post-secularization) axis.


Group activity

The group meets monthly. The meetings are devoted to key texts concerning the group’s research topics and also to presentations and discussion of studies by the group’s members.