Mysticisim: Varieties of Mystical Experience

In Steven T Katz’s essay “Language, Epistemology and Mysticism”, the “pre-experimental conditions” he writes of are the circumstances surrounding a person who experiences a mystical occurrence. The argument is that mystical experience is a personal event that happens differently for any person who experiences it. If this is true, there is no “common core” to all mystical experience. This concept brings into view a problem with writing about or verbally communicating about mystical experience in academics. Since mystical experience is an extreme personal event, it occurs within the morals and learned social constructs of the person having the experience. Every human society, even if they vary little by environment, teaches its inhabitants what to value.. Mystical experience will vary greatly around the world, as well as in different parts of the same country. The “pre-experimental pattern” in Katz’s essay represents a person’s entire life, where they live and what ideals and values their society holds. According to Katz, the “pre-experimental pattern” of a person’s life is directly related to the kind of mystical experience they will have. The key tensions here are that of varying life experience (up to the point at which the mystical experience occurs) and the inability to communicate mystical experience, since it happens within the context of many different societies and languages.

In Mysticism: Holiness East and West, the point is stated that while studying mystical experience, we are forming both personal and academic views. The mystical experience itself, according to Katz is a varying personal occurrence. If we form our own

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Opinions about another’s mystical experience, this raises a question of whether or not we are actually studying the true experience of another (who has a different pre-experimental pattern than we do), or are we re-translating their experience to fit in the confines of what we ourselves understand personally and socially.

“We can learn a great deal from scholars, but textual studies have their limits. Admittedly, all studies are personal, calling for acts of imagination from their readers, humanistic studies most of all.”(Carmody 21). The student of mysticism, however, in order to understand the mystical experience of another, must re-create the exact circumstances surrounding the person to which the experience occurred. The student must go beyond the regular visual projection into a studied text, to the deep, personal place of another. This is impossible, according to Katz, since none of us have had the exact same life circumstances.

To join all mystical experience into the same category, to say everyone who has had a mystical experience has been to the same “human” place inside themselves, is really all we might be able to say about the subject. It is fascinating that so many thick books have been written on the subject of mystical experience, and that in many, unless the author takes a strict claim on his/her own opinion, the problem of variation and communication of the experience exists. Unless we learn to communicate interculturally without using words, we will never know the true contents of mystical experience.

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Mysticisim: Varieties of Mystical Experience. (2018, Sep 05). Retrieved from