The Mystic Experience

A Descriptive and Comparative Analysis

By Jordan Paper

Subjects: World History, Theology, Religion, Mysticism
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9780791462508, 184 pages, October 2004
Hardcover : 9780791462492, 184 pages, October 2004

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Table of contents



1. Introduction


An Event
General Characteristics of the "Event"
A Name for the Experience
The Mystic Experience in Cultural Context
A Caution to Readers


2. Phenomenology (Descriptive Analysis) of the Mystic Experience


Naive Reports
Reports by "Professional" Mystics


3. The Varieties of Ecstatic Experience


Human Nature and Ecstatic Experiences
Functional Ecstasies


Visions, Lucid Dreams, and Problem-Solving


Nonfunctional Ecstasies


Unitive Experiences
Pure Consciousness
The Mystic Experience


4. Previous Studies


Philosophical Analyses
Psychological Analyses
Sociological Analyses
Anthropological Analyses
Combined Approaches: Anthropology and Psychology
Biological Analyses
Near-Death Experience Studies
Comparative Religion Studies


5. Ethnohermeneutics I: Non-West


Shamanistic and Mediumistic Traditions
South Asia


The Upanishads


Chinese Religion


6. Ethnohermeneutics II: West






Modern "Secular" Mysticism


Cosmic Consciousness
Absolute Consciousness


7. Conclusions: The Mystic Experience and Human Nature


A Phenomenological Assessment
Comparative Ethnohermeneutics


Works Consulted


Explores the human experience of mysticism and looks at it within the spiritual traditions around the world.


The mystic, zero, or void experience—the ecstatic disappearance of self along with everything else—is considered by those who have had it to be the most beautiful, blissful, positive, profound, and significant experience of their lives. Offering both a descriptive and a comparative perspective, this book explores the mystic experience across cultures as both a human and cultural event. The book begins and ends with descriptions of the author's own mystical experiences, and looks at self-reported experiences by individuals who do not link their experiences to a religious tradition, to determine characteristics of this universal human experience.

These characteristics are compared to statements of acknowledged mystics in diverse religious traditions. The mystic experience is also situated within other ecstatic religious experiences to distinguish it from similar, but distinct, experiences such as lucid dreams, shamanism, and mediumism. Jordan Paper goes on to look at how the mystic experience has been considered in various fields, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, biology, and comparative religious studies.

Jordan Paper is Professor Emeritus of Humanities at York University and Associate Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. He has written several books, including Offering Smoke: The Sacred Pipe and Native American Religion and The Chinese Way in Religion, Second Edition (coedited with Laurence G. Thompson).