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Studstill, Mystical Pluralist Theory of Mysticism, in: The Unity of Mystical Traditions, pp. 1-34.

Studstill, Mystical Pluralist Theory of Mysticism, in: The Unity of Mystical Traditions, pp. 1-34.

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Published by Keren Mice
Mystical Pluralist Theory of Mysticism.
Mystical Pluralist Theory of Mysticism.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Keren Mice on Feb 05, 2013
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In more precise terms, ‘mysticism’ designates a set of phenomena that com-prises (1) ‘mystical experiences,’ i.e., experiences whose object or content appearsto be ultimate reality (religiously conceived) or some aspect of (or approximationto) ultimate reality, and (2) those aspects of religious traditions (doctrines, practices,texts, institutions, etc.) that promote (intentionally or unintentionally) the occurrenceof such experiences. Mystical experiences are religious because of the unique natureof their “objects” (i.e., God, Brahman, etc.). The believer seems to perceive not justa thing in the world, but something both ultimately real and ‘other’ to the worldof ordinary experience. A ‘mystic’ is usually a religious practitioner who deliber-ately seeks an experience of ultimate reality (as construed by her tradition) and whorealizes a non-ordinary experience that seems to the mystic to be an experience of ultimate reality (I say “usually” because mystical experience is not always a delib-erate goal but may occur spontaneously).I would emphasize that this de
nition of mystical experience is based on identi-fying a commonality in the
epistemic value of a set of religious experiences.It presupposes nothing with regard to the veridicality of those perceptions, the onto-logical status of any given tradition’s ‘ultimate reality,’ the phenomenological simi-larity or dissimilarity of mystical experiences across traditions, or the epistemologicalplausibility of direct, unmediated experience. These are issues best addressed withinthe context of fully developed theories of mysticism. See Appendix A for an extendeddiscussion of the term, as well as additional remarks on what I mean by ‘religious.’
Here and throughout this book, the term ‘phenomenological’ refers to the per-ceived content of experience. In other words, the phenomenological content of aCHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION: A MYSTICAL PLURALISTTHEORY OF MYSTICISMIn all of the world’s major religions certain individuals experience— directly and vividly—what they believe is ultimate reality. Depending on the religion, they seem to perceive/know (in some cases, mergewith) God, Vi
 , gzhi 
, the Tao, the (Neoplatonic) One,Brahman, etc. These individuals are referred to as ‘mystics,’ andtheir apparent encounters with ultimate reality are ‘mystical experi-ences.’ The term ‘mysticism’ encompasses the experiences, traditions,practices, rituals, doctrines, etc. comprising and associated with their various religious paths.
Mystical experiences pose signi
cant philosophical problems. Arethey veridical or delusional? What criteria could be used to adjudi-cate their veridicality? If they are veridical (or partially veridical),how is this reconciled with their phenomenological
 
How does the content and/or object(s) of mystical experiences—if they have an object(s)—compare across mystical traditions? Whatepistemological constraints apply to these experiences? Is unmedi-ated experience possible? To what degree are mystical experiencesconditioned by the concepts and expectations of the mystic? Howdo these experiences occur? What is their psychological and/or spir-itual signi
cance? How is one to interpret mystical language givenpersistent claims (by the mystics) that their experiences are ine
able?These questions have inspired a sustained and vigorous philo-sophical discourse. Two competing theoretical orientations dominatethis discourse: essentialism
and constructivism.
Essentialism is asso-ciated with a variety of approaches and claims. A strong essential-ist thesis asserts that all mystical traditions, doctrines, and/or experiences
 vision of Jesus is the perceived form of Jesus. I use the term in this sense becauseit has become the convention among scholars of mysticism. This usage, however,is inconsistent with Husserl’s philosophical phenomenology and with at least someapproaches to the phenomenology of religion (such as Eliade’s). Both
elds are con-cerned with identifying background or implicit structures of consciousness. OccasionallyI will also use the term ‘phenomenal’ to emphasize the “
of an experience. David J. Chalmers,
The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 4, 11.
Other terms that are identi
ed or closely associated with essentialism in thephilosophical literature on mysticism are ecumenism (or ecumenicalism), the ecu-menical thesis, the perennial philosophy, perennial psychology, non-constructivism,postconstructivism, deconstructivism, and decontextualism.In defense of essentialism, Steven Pinker has this to say: “in modern academiclife ‘essentialist’ is just about the worst thing you can call someone. In the sciences,essentialism is tantamount to creationism. In the humanities, the label implies thatthe person subscribes to insane beliefs such as that the sexes are not constructed,there are universal human emotions, a real world exists, and so on. And in thesocial sciences, ‘essentialism’ has joined ‘reductionism,’ ‘determinism,’ and ‘rei
cation’as a term of abuse hurled at anyone who tries to explain human thought andbehavior rather than redescribe it. I think it is unfortunate that ‘essentialism’ hasbecome an epithet, because at heart it is just the ordinary human curiosity to
ndout what makes natural things work.” Steven Pinker,
How the Mind Works 
(NewYork: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997), 325–6.
Steven T. Katz—the foremost exponent of constructivism—prefers ‘contextual-ism.’ (Steven T. Katz, “Mystical Speech and Mystical Meaning,” in
 Mysticism and Language 
, ed. Steven T. Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 34.) I useconstructivism here because it is more common in the literature and better re
ectsthe epistemological presuppositions of the approach. Denise and John Carmodydescribe this approach as “empiricist.” This implies (quite erroneously, I wouldargue) that constructivists (compared to essentialists) place more emphasis on thedata and less on interpretation. (Denise Lardner Carmody and John Tully Carmody,
 Mysticism: Holiness East and West 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 8.) SeeChapter Two, pp. 36–9, for an extended discussion of the
a priori 
-databased) nature of constructivist epistemology.
3share a common substantive characteristic or characteristics. Mostessentialists make much weaker claims, e.g., that only the mostadvanced expressions of mysticism (usually, the most advanced expe-riences) are identical across traditions. Neither the strong or weak essentialist denies the fact that mystical phenomena and experiences vary widely across mystical traditions, or that the form and mean-ing of mystical phenomena is to some degree a function of histori-cal, cultural, and religious contexts. But they do insist that within orbeyond this variation is a universal or non-contextual dimension— a common element uniting mystical paths. The hermeneutical impli-cation of this claim is that the meaning of any given mysticalphenomenon cannot be wholly or even primarily reduced to its his-torical, cultural, and/or religious context.
How essentialists construe this common mystical essence dependson the type of essentialist analysis: phenomenological, doctrinal, epis-temological, cognitive, or therapeutic/soteriological. Brie
 y, phe-nomenological essentialism contends that there is some degree of phenomenological identity among mystical experiences across tra-ditions. Usually this identity is limited to one type of mystical expe-rience; few phenomenological essentialists claim that all mystical
This is a relatively general description of essentialism, in comparison to othersfound in the scholarly literature. For example, Michael Stoeber and Denise and John Carmody associate essentialism with the claim that all mystical experiencesare phenomenologically identical regardless of variations in mystical reports. (MichaelStoeber,
Theo-Monistic Mysticism: A Hindu-Christian Comparison
(New York, NY: St.Martin’s Press, 1994), 21; Carmody and Carmody,
 Mysticism: Holiness East and West 
,6.) Though this may accurately portray the views of an earlier generation of essen-tialist scholars, to my knowledge no current essentialist holds this position. Essentialistsare more likely to acknowledge that most mystical experiences are indeed phe-nomenologically heterogeneous, yet also claim that there is a particular type of mys-tical experience that is identical across traditions.Essentialist approaches to mysticism are closely related to the typological approachesof such scholars as R.C. Zaehner and Richard Jones. Like essentialists, typologistsidentify cross-cultural similarities in mystical experiences, but rather than focusing on one, universal mystical experience, they argue that there are distinct types of cross-culturally identical mystical experiences. This view requires typologists to holdepistemological presuppositions similar to those of essentialists. Though typologiesof mysticism admit a degree of phenomenological variety in mystical experience,the claim that particular types of mystical experience may occur in di
erent tradi-tions necessarily implies the rejection of a purely contextual approach to mysticalphenomena and the acceptance of some trans-contextual factor uniting the experi-ences. The distinction between essentialist and typological approaches is furtherblurred given that most essentialists limit their claims to a particular type of mys-tical experience. See Appendix B, pp. 259–70, for additional remarks on typolo-gies of mystical experience.

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