Episode 14: Methodologies for the Study of Mysticism

If you thought magic was a minefield, wait until you meet mysticism. All terms in the study of religions have potential problems, and need to be defined with some real thought and nuance, but when we are talking about mystical texts, we are in an extra difficult terrain, because the texts themselves often tell us very paradoxical and bizarre things.

What is apophatic mystical writing, and how does it work? How can we interpret an account of an experience which we are told is utterly ineffable? And how do Rupert and Steve fit into all this? This episode addresses these questions.

Works Discussed in this Episode:

  • James, W., (1982). Marty, M. E. (Ed.). The Varieties of Religious Experience : A Study in Human Nature. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth/New York, NY.
  • Katz, S. T., (2000). ‘Mysticism and the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture’. In: Katz, S. T. (Ed.), Mysticism and Sacred Scripture, Oxford University Press, pp. 18-20.
  • Plotinus, Enneads, VI.8[39]8.8-15.
  • Porphyry, Plot. 23 (This is Porphyry’s biography of his master, Plotinus, usually found at the beginning of any edition of Plotinus’ works).
  • Sells, M., 1994. Mystical Languages of Unsaying. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. (Highly recommended!)

Recommended Reading:

  • Katz, S. T. (1978). ‘Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism’. In: Katz, S. (Ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Keller, C. A. (1978). ‘Mystical Literature’. In: Katz, S. (Ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Kripal, J. J. (2001). Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  • Merlan, P. (1969). Monopsychism, Mysticism, Metaconsciousness. Problems of the Soul in the Neoaristotelean and Neoplatonic Tradition. Martinus Nijhoff, den Haag.
  • Proudfoot, W. (1985). Religious Experience. University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA.
  • Sells, M. (1985). ‘Apophasis in Plotinus: A Critical Approach’, Harvard Theological Review 78 : 47-65.
  • Stace, W. T. (1961). Mysticism and Philosophy. Macmillan, London.
  • Turner, D. (1995). The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Apophatic Writing, Buddhism, Methodology, Mysticism, Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Rupert and Steve, Taṣawwuf