The Psychology of Religious Mysticism

The Psychology of Religious Mysticism

The Psychology of Religious Mysticism

The Psychology of Religious Mysticism


Experiences named "mystical" have played a conspicuous rôle at almost every level of culture; and yet, despite the vast literature devoted to them, the subject has remained until recently as dark as it is fascinating. Little could be expected of writers who, neglecting a close and dispassionate study of the facts, devoted themselves to religious edification or to the fence of the traditional theories. The hortatory, apologetic, and romantic character of most of the literature on religious mysticism accounts for its scientific insignificance.

Mysticism has suffered as much at the hands of its admirers as at the hands of its materialistic enemies. If the latter have been unable to see in mysticism anything else than aberrations and abnormalities, the former have gone to the other and equally fatal extreme; no descriptive adjective short of "sublime," "infinite," "divine" has seemed to them at all sufficient.

The best among the prominent mystics are persons of pure heart and stout will from whom it is not possible to withhold admiration. Their beliefs and practices--whatever we may have to say in condemnation of them--have been to these mystics a refuge against the conflicts and the loneliness of life, and a source of strength and courage in the pursuit of worthy purposes.

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This book is a psychological study of human nature. It includes, it is true, a philosophical chapter and also one in which are set forth the practical consequences to religion of some of its conclusions. But, whatever may be the importance of these two chapters, the book is to be judged primarily as a psychological study of aspects of human nature conspicuous in mystical religion. It represents an effort to remove that part of "inner life" from the domain of the occult, in which it has too long been permitted to remain, in order to incorporate it in that body of facts of which psychology takes cognizance. If we may not expect to have succeeded in producing a satisfactory answer to all the scientific problems raised by the mystical life, we may at least hope to have convinced the reader that there is in principle no satisfactory reason for leaving any of them outside the range of scientific research, and that, on the contrary, they are all explicable in the same sense, to the same extent, and by the same general scientific principles as any other fact of consciousness.

In this book, as in the preceding ones, we have proceeded according to the genetic method, i.e., we have begun with mystical . . .

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