By Saeed Zarrabizadeh, University of Erfurt, Germany


Since the beginning of the modern studies about mysticism in the second half of the nineteenth century, defining the term !mysticism” has remained one of the controversial issues in this field, and different authors have been using the term to refer to different subjects.

Studying some major effective sources in the field of mysticism, this article surveys the modern definitions of mysticism and evaluates them according to their comprehensiveness. It also tries to clarify the different classifications of mysticism by using the dimensional definition of the term.

No word in our language, not even ‘Socialism’, has been employed more loosely than ‘Mysticism.’

Sometimes it is used as an equivalent for  symbolism or allegorism, sometimes for theosophy or occult science; and  sometimes it merely suggests the mental state of a dreamer, or vague and  fantastic opinions about God and the world:

(William Ralph Inge, 1899)
There are almost as many definitions of the term ‘mysticism’ as there are writers on the subject.

(Gershom G. Scholem, 1941)
Mysticism continues to elude easy definition, and its nature and significance remain the subject of intense debate. The terms ‘mysticm’, ‘mystical, and ‘mysticism’ have been used in an astonishing variety of ways by different authors in different eras.

(Steven Payne, 1998)
Even if we suppose Scholem’s statement about the quantity of definitions of ‘mysticism’ as an exaggeration, we can’t disagree with the fact that mysticism continues to escape a definition unanimously accepted by at least the majority of scholars.

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  1. This is what I used in my ebook:

    Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, by John Bowker Published by Oxford University Press 1997, 2005:
    Mysticism. “The practices and often systems of thought which arise from and conduce toward mystical experience. Mystical systems are distinguished from other metaphysical systems by their intimate connection to a quest for salvation, union and/or liberation realized through forms of mental, physical and spiritual exercise in a classic definition. Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or lesser degree, such a direct experience; one whose religion and life are central not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which he regards as first-hand personal knowledge.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent, Ron. I am all for promoting the fact there is an abundance of scholarly record of the phenomenon of mystical experience. This experience is seminal to understanding the very core of the human condition, even if we don’t understand the experience’s entire relevance yet. Academia.educ for instance, claims to have over 70,000 academic and scientific papers on mysticism and ‘related’ subjects.

    (One thing clear to me though is the irrelevance to mystic Reality of much that humans hold dear … in particular the mythomanic assertion that collective organisation takes priority over the individual).

    Best wishes, Keith.


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