When Oravetz approached Wasserstrom with her insights, he encouraged her to explore them. The trick, Oravetz realized, was to design a way of identifying what was mystical about the writing-- or what made it an example of mysticism. This became the kernel of Oravetz's thesis: what exactly is mysticism-- as opposed to tradition or experience. Just as we know what the color blue is but have difficulty describing it, a mystical experience in many ways eludes words.

What Oravetz did first was turn back to her own experience as a reader. She asked herself what it was that made the text seem mystical, and why she thought Yagel was concerned with the apocalypse. Then she considered how the text revealed all of this to her.

Oravetz concluded that a mystical text attempts to mentally move the reader to a new orientation with respect to its contents. Where esoterism--an approach that layers the text with hidden meaning-- is a stylistic flair that might be employed in mystical writing, what is quintessentially mystical about a text is the fact that it acts to affect and reorient the reader to a position that transcends concepts. Oravetz developed an idea that mysticism is a critique of limited knowledge, or a critique of concepts, to express this crucial aspect of a mystical work. Oravetz employed terms used in the study of linguistics to categorize how a text acts with the respect to the reader--whether it is providing meaning, attempting argument, or possibly both. By focusing on what the text does to the reader, or how it tries to change the reader's mind, Oravetz avoided criteria of experience or tradition, which make it difficult to compare mystical critiques and evaluate them in a standard way.

The use of literary and linguistic criticism in the field of religious studies proved to be just what a text like Yagel's demanded. Her new theory in hand, Oravetz had an academic means of discussing what she otherwise intuitively found in A Valley of Vision.

"She proved to be creative but always careful and responsible," says Wasserstrom, who had become her thesis adviser. "Exhibiting the caution and good sense of a born scholar, she showed me that she was able to move into new areas of inquiry in a way that was not merely speculative, but rather would be intellectually supportable. And indeed it was."

As an undergraduate student who is challenging the ideas of established scholars, Oravetz also proved to be courageous, said David Sacks, who advised her on the period influences. "Anne is gutsy."

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