Guru love: On the tropes of eroticism in the spiritual relationship between master and disciple

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Ann Grodzins Gold


Spiritual relationship, Sigmund Freud and Carl G. Jung, Starets, Georges Bataille, Symeon the New Theologian, Ramakrishna, Master-disciple relationship

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Religion


This dissertation places in conversation a number of cross-cultural instantiations of the spiritual relationship between a master and disciple, examining the tropes of eroticism that may be discerned within them. The first chapter discusses the psychoanalytic concept of transference, and its similar functions in the psychoanalytic relationship and in the guru-disciple relationship. In addition to examining transference as a possible lens with which to view the guru-disciple relationship, certain aspects of both Freud's theory and his relationship with his disciple Jung are examined. The second chapter discusses the guru-disciple relationship as it is experienced in India. Major sources include the Kularnava Tantra and accounts of specific gurus such as Ramakrishna, Yoganada's guru Yuktesvar and Anandamayi Ma. In addition to exhibiting a similar process of idealization and mirroring as in psychoanalysis, Hindu tradition often images these relationships in erotic terms and frequently emphasizes the experiential ecstasy and transformation the disciple achieves at the hands of the guru. The third chapter traces similar motifs in Eastern Christianity. Major sources include the work of John Climacus and Symeon the New Theologian. Within the relationship of abba or starets to disciple, similar themes of idealization, the ecstasy of the disciple, and the disciple's transformation (theosis) are found. The fourth chapter contextualizes the spiritual master-disciple relationship in the light of various scholarly discussions of the relationship between the erotic and the mystical, placing such relationships in conversation with specific modern erotic practices and pleasures. Major sources for this final chapter include the work of Bataille and MacKendrick.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.