Skip to main content Accessibility help

Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experiences, Part I: The Case of St Teresa

  • Evan Fales (a1)


Several writers have argued for the implausibility of there being naturalistic explanations of mystical experience. These writers recognize that the evidential significance of mystical experiences for theism depends upon whether explanations that exclude supernatural agency can be discounted; but they seem unaware of some of the best scientific work done in this area. Part I of the present paper introduces the theory of I. M. Lewis, an anthropologist, and tests it against the case of St Teresa. I use Teresa because of her prominence, and because we have considerable biographical data for her. I conclude that Lewis's approach, suitably supplemented, is strikingly successful in explaining this case.



Hide All
Alston, William P. (1991). Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Alston, (1964). ‘Psychoanalytic Theory and Theistic Belief’, in John, Hick, ed., Faith and the Philosophers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 63102.
Bell, Rudolph M. (1985). Holy Anorexia. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Bourguignon, Erika, etc. (1973). Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, and Social Change. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
Bell, (1976). Possession. San Francisco: Chandler and Sharp.
Brown, Judith C. (1986). Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bynum, Caroline W. (1987). Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Christian, William A. (1981). Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Clissold, Stephen (1979). St. Teresa of Avila. London: Sheldon Press.
Crapanzano, Vincent and Garrison, Vivian, eds. (1977). Case Studies in Spirit Possession. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Eaton, John (1986). Kingship and the Psalms, 2nd ed.Sheffield, England: JSOT Press.
Fales, Evan (1996). ‘Mystical Experience as Evidence.’ International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, XXXII.
Fox, Robin (1967). ‘Totem and Taboo Reconsidered’, in Leach, Edmund, ed., The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism. A.S.A. Monographs 5. London: Tavistock Publications: 161178.
SirFrazer, James G. (1922). The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Abridged edition. New York: MacMillan.
Freud, Sigmund (1939). Moses and Monotheism. Jones, Katherine, transl. New York: A. A. Knopf.
Freud, Sigmund (1960) [1946]. Totem and Taboo. New York: Random House.
Freud, Sigmund (1975) [1928]. The Future of an Illusion. New York: Norton.
Gale, Richard M. (1991). On the Nature and Existence of God. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gale, Richard M. (1994). ‘Why Alston's Mystical Doxastic Practise is Subjective’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LIV, 869875.
Ginzburg, Carlo (1983) [1966]. The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries. John, and Tedeschi, Anne, transl. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Ginzburg, Carlo (1991) [1989]. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath. Rosenthal, Raymond, transl. New York: Pantheon Books.
Goodman, Felicitas D. (1972). Speaking in Tongues: A Cross Cultural Study of Glossolalia. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Goodman, Felicitas D. (Felicitas, D.). The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Kagan, Richard (1990). Lucretia's Dreams. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Harris, Marvin (1989) [1974]. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture. New York: Vintage Books.
Lea, Henry Charles (1967) [1890]. Chapters from the Religious History of Spain. New York: Burt Franklin.
Lea, Henry Charles (1922) [1907]. A History of the Inquisition of Spain, vols. i–iv. New York: MacMillan.
Levi-Strauss, Claude (1967). ‘The Sorcerer and His Magic’, in Structural Anthropology. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 161180.
Lewis, I. M. (1989) [1971]. Ecstatic Religion, 2nd ed.London: Routledge.
Lienhardt, R. Godfrey (1961). Divinity and Experience: the Religion of the Dinka. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Malinowski, Bronislaw (1927). Sex and Repression in Savage Society. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
Maslow, Abraham H. (Abraham, H.) [1964]. Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. New York: Penguin Books.
Mowinckel, Sigmund (1962). The Psalms in Israel's Worship, vol. I. Ap-Thomas, D. R., transl. New York: Abington.
Pike, Nelson (1992). Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of Mysticism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Poulain, Anton (1978) [1901]. The Graces of Interior Prayer: A Treatise on Mystical Theology, 6th ed., Smith, Leonora Yorke, transl. Westminster, VT: Celtic Cross Books.
Shanks, Hersel, Deaver, William G., Halpern, Baruch and McCarter, P. Kyle (1992). The Rise of Ancient Israel. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society.
Sharot, Stephen (1982). Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic: A Sociological Analysis of Jewish Religious Movements. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press.
Stace, W. T. (1960). Mysticism and Philosophy. New York: J. B. Lippincott Co.
Teresa, of Avila, St. (1980). The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 1–2. Kavanaugh, Kieran and Rodriguez, Otilio, transl. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications.
Turner, Victor W. (Victor, W.). The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Turner, Victor W. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine.
Turner, Victor W. (1975). Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Wainwright, William J. (William, J.). Mysticism: A Study of its Nature, Cognitive Value and Moral Implications. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Williams, Rowan (1991). Teresa of Avila. London: Geoffrey Chapman.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed