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Introvertive Mystical Experiences: Monistic, Theistic, and the Theo-monistic*

  • Michael Stoeber (a1)


Some scholars have responded to the apparent differences between monistic and theistic mysticisms by emphasizing the role of socio-religious interpretations of the experiences. Both monistic and theistic experiences, they point out, are described as wholly unlike normal sensory events. These mystics claim to go beyond the usual categories of cognition; the experiences are said to be spaceless and timeless realizations which, though not strictly ineffable, defy precise and positive description. Moreover, the mystical exercises – the spiritual training and mental preparation – seem similar for both theistic and monistic mystics. Common mystical means, along with the cessation of normal categories of interpretation during the experiences, suggest that mystics interpret a singular experience type according to their particular theological or philosophical background.



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1 Evelyn, Underhill, Mysticism (New York: New American Library, 1974), esp. pp. 95 and 418–19.

2 Stace, W. T., Mysticism and Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1961).

3 Zaehner, R. C., Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), and Ninian, Smart, ‘Interpretation and Mystical Experience’, Religious Studies, 1 (1965), pp. 7587.

4 These views are most notably expressed by Steven Katz and John Hick. I will not be addressing the issues associated with these constructivist perspectives in this paper; I direct the reader to ‘Constructivist Epistemologies of Mysticism; a Critique and a Revision’, Religious Studies, XXVIII (1992), 107–16, where I develop the problems of these views. Also in that paper I propose the epistemological basis for the types of introvertive experiences clarified here.

5 Barnes, L. Philip, ‘Introvertive Mystical Experience’, The Scottish Journal of Religious Studies, XI (Spring 1990), 517, and Davis, Caroline Franks, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (Oxford: University Press, 1990), esp. p. 178.

6 See Ninian Smart, ‘Interpretation and Mystical Experience’, esp. p. 83.

7 See Ninian, Smart, Reasons and Faiths (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), pp. 132–47, and ‘The Purification of Consciousness and the Negative Path’, in Mysticism and Religious Traditions, Steven Katz, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), especially p. 117.

8 Stace, , Mysticism and Philosophy, pp. 95–7. Stace's emphases.

9 Stace, , Mysticism and Philosophy, pp. 98 and 99. Stace's emphases.

10 Matthew, Fox, ed., Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation (New York: Doubleday, 1980), p. 328.

11 Stace, , Mysticism and Philosophy, pp. 95–6.

12 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 76.

13 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 77.

14 Jan Van, Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, Eric Colledge, tr. (New York: Harper and Row, 1953), pp. 101–2.

15 Ruysbroek, The Spiritual Espousals, see esp. Book II.

16 Fox, , Breakthrough, pp. 92–3.

17 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 375.

18 Fox, , Breakthrough, pp. 304–5.

19 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 395.

20 As quoted by Forman, Robert K. C. in ‘Eckhart, Gezucken, and the Ground of the Soul’, The Problem of Pure Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 111. In this essay Forman associates Eckhart's use of the term Gezucken (enraptured) with the monistic, pure-consciousness experience, and he illustrates the non-relational and non-intentional structures of Eckhart's descriptions of these events.

21 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 93.

22 Lanzetta, Beverly J., ‘Three Categories of Nothingness in Eckhart’, The Journal of Religion, LXXII, 2 (Spring 1992), p. 262.

23 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 169.

24 Ruusbroec, , The Spiritual Espousals, p. 147.

25 Ruusbroec, , The Spiritual Espousals, p. 158.

26 Louis, Dupré, ‘The Christian Experience of Mystical Union’, The Journal of Religion, LIX, 1 (01 1989), 910. In this paper Dupré proposes an epistemological account of this transformative experience as it pertains to Christian mystica unio.

27 Fox, , Breakthrough, pp. 319–20.

28 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 148, my emphasese.

29 Graham, A. C., tr., Chuang-Tzu: The Seven Inner Chapters and Other Writings from the Book Chuang-Tzu (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), note p. 69. Also see esp. p. 18 and p. 35, n. 72.

30 Ruusbroec, , The Spiritual Espousals, p. 136. Also, see especially pp. 163, and 165–6.

31 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 282.

32 Fox, , Breakthrough, p. 441.

33 Robert, McKim, ‘Could God Have More Than One Nature?’, Faith and Philosophy, V, 4 (10 1988), pp. 378–95.

34 Donald, Evans, ‘Can Philosophers Limit What Mystics Can Do?’, Religious Studies XXV, (1989), pp. 57–8.

35 Louis Dupré, ‘The Christian Experience of Mystical Union’, p. 5.

* My thanks to Donald Evans, who provided very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, for their financial support. Also, various ideas of the paper were refined in discussion with my friends Philo Hove and Patricia Dold; I very much appreciate their help.

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Religious Studies
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  • EISSN: 1469-901X
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