Mysticism in Translation: Psychological Advances, Cautionary Tales

  • William B. Parsons
Part of the Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Mysticism book series (INTERMYST)


This study, which is intended to inform and guide at a “meta”-level, seeks to provide genealogical, historical, and methodological clarity vis-à-vis the encounter between psychology and mysticism. The first section offers a genealogy of the cousin terms mysticism and spirituality, tracing their development from a western, churched context to an unchurched, psychological one, culminating in James’ definitional strategy in his Varieties and Michel de Certeau’s nuanced portrait of the historical significance of the Freud-Rolland debate over the nature of the famous (and generic) “oceanic feeling.” The next section, relying on specific examples, will ask two related questions. First, what are the various positive contributions that psychology has afforded in its role as an interpreter of the mystical? Second, what are the various pitfalls linked to psychological analyses? The final section will argue for what will be called a constructivist, dialogical, transformational approach to the interaction between mysticism and psychology in which, ideally, multiple partners (e.g., textologists, theologians, historians, philosophers, clinicians, practitioners, comparativists, culture theorists) are seated at the table.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • William B. Parsons
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ReligionRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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