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Life Arts

The Awe Spectrum: A Reply to Rob Kall's "Awe is a Bottom-up Experience"

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 26, 2015: Before I saw the title of Rob Kall's article "Awe is a Bottom-up Experience" at (dated May 24, 2015), I had never before thought of awe as a bottom-up experience.

To tell the truth, I also had never thought of awe as a top-down experience either.

In any event, I am happy that Rob Kall has taken the position that awe is a bottom-up experience.

You see, if we were to imagine awe as a top-down experience, then we would most likely attribute it to God.

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But it strikes me that we should think of the awe spectrum.

At one end of the awe spectrum are certain people who are incapable of having deep experiences of awe.

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At the other end of the awe spectrum are persons who are able to draw fruit from deep experiences of awe such as profound mystical experiences.

In addition to deep experiences of awe such as profound mystical experiences, there are passing experiences of awe such as passing experiences of nature mysticism.

In addition to passing experiences of awe such as passing experiences of nature mysticism, literary artists report having epiphanies, from which they may be able to draw fruit.

In addition to literary artists having passing experiences of awe known as epiphanies, readers of works of imaginative literature may have experiences of awe -- known as experiences of the sublime -- from which they may be able to draw fruit.

In his new book THE DAEMON KNOWS: LITERARY GREATNESS AND THE AMERICAN SUBLIME (2015), Harold Bloom (born in 1930), a secular Jew in English at Yale, calls attention to the possible experience of the sublime that readers of imaginative literature may have, which involves the experience of awe.

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In Aristotle's POETICS, he discusses the experience of pity and fear as a result of responding deeply to a work of literary imagination. No doubt the experience of such pity and fear involves the psychodynamics of awe.

No doubt the fear of God also involves the psychodynamics of awe.

In his landmark philosophical treatise INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (5th ed., 1992; 1st ed., 1957), the Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) calls attention to another kind of experience of awe -- the experience of awe involved in having an insight

However, in all kinds of experiences of awe, the trick is to draw fruit from the experience of awe and thereby expand one's consciousness not just in the moment of the experience of awe but in a deeper and transformative way.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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