Mystical Experience Academic Papers Available for Purchase Online

(IMERE receives no compensation for the purchase of any of the papers listed below):

Beauregard, Mario, & Paquette, Vincent. (2006). Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns. Neuroscience Letters, 405(3), 186-190. ($35.95).

The main goal of this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience. The brain activity of Carmelite nuns was measured while they were subjectively in a state of union with God. This state was associated with significant loci of activation in the right medial orbitofrontal cortex, right middle temporal cortex, right inferior and superior parietal lobules, right caudate, left medial prefrontal cortex, left anterior cingulate cortex, left inferior parietal lobule, left insula, left caudate, and left brainstem. Other loci of activation were seen in the extra-striate visual cortex. These results suggest that mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems.

Brook. (2021). Struggles Reported Integrating Intense Spiritual Experiences: Results From a Survey Using the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences Inventory. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality13(4), 464–481.  ($14.95).

In the aftermath of spiritually transformative experiences (STEs—such as mystical experiences, near-death experiences, religious conversions, and kundalini awakenings), experiencers (STErs) have sometimes reported prolonged challenging integration processes. To date, there have not been any empirical studies of practices and approaches to addressing these struggles. The purpose of this study was to assess the extent to which practices STErs themselves utilized and found helpful. The Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences Inventory was created based on recommendations of 84 helpful practices proposed by four experienced clinicians. The 431 respondents were recruited through online STE networks and social media. Of those, 245 met criteria for integration as assessed by the 5-item Mental Health Inventory, and transformation as assessed by the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory-Short Form. Participants rated 80 of the 84 practices as helpful. Twelve practices were rated by all participants as essential (4.0 on a Likert scale of 1–4) including (a) practicing compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, and self-awareness; (b) exploring the unconscious; (c) finding serene environments; and (d) reading spiritual literature, praying, and sharing with another person. A key finding was that across a variety of STEs, there were high levels of agreement regarding the integration practices rated as helpful, and that psychiatric care and medication were usually not reported to be helpful (p < .001). The correlation between helpfulness and frequency of use showed that STErs gravitated intuitively to what was the most useful for them (p < .0001). Findings offer guidance for STErs themselves and the health care providers who serve them.

Chen, Z., Hood, R. W., Jr., Yang, L., & Watson, P. J. (2011). Mystical experience among Tibetan Buddhists: The common core thesis revisited. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(2), 328–338. (From $10.00).

In the study of mysticism the debate has centered on whether a universal experiential core exists regardless of religious interpretation. The current investigation combines Jamesian empiricist and social constructivist perspectives to argue that stable experiential facets load variously on factors to construct local interpretations. Local interpretations reflect a family resemblance—a mystical common core experienced across cultures. Results of confirmatory factor analyses, based on data from 240 Tibetan Buddhist adults, suggest statistical model fit and superiority for the three-factor model compared to the unidimensional model. Pure experience can be distinguished explicitly from its context-specific hermeneutical construal.

Forman. (1993). Mystical Knowledge: Knowledge by Identity. Journal of the American Academy of Religion61(4), 705–738. ($19.50 with one-month subscription).

With little fanfare, and with even less justification, for the last half century or more a single model has dominated academic thought about mysticism. Put simply, the model is that mystical experience is like ordinary intentional experience: the mystic encounters some sort of mystical “object.” Inevitably, variations about the particulars of this model abound, but the underlying picture is unmistakable. William Wainwright, for example, analyzes mysticism as parallel to sensory experience. Here the purported object is like something touched or seen. Wainwright argues that, just as one must actively construct a notion of that pencil over there, so one must actively construct a notion of the mystical object when encountered. For Wayne Proudfoot the intentional object is something like an emotion. Just as one labels any “visceral arousals” with terms like “happiness,” “fear,” or “disgust,” so the mystic labels his or her visceral arousals with terms like samādhi, Tao, or Christ. W.T. Stace, and Steven Katz, when he argues against Stace, both take sensory objects as their model, notably the purported differences (or lack thereof) between sense experience and its description (Stace; Katz 1978). When Katz uses the expression “experiences the mystic reality” at one point, he intimates his underlying model (Katz 1978:27). For their paradigm, John Hick, Terence Penelehum, Rufus Jones, HP. Owens, Robert Gimello, Peter Moore, etc. all write out of this model, that the mystic experiences some sort of object. The underlying picture in all these accounts is that mysticism is rather like one’s experience of a pencil, the thought of a pencil, or feelings about a pencil. One hotly defended implication of this model is the pluralism thesis. Different cultures engender different experiences of the mystical object(s). Theirs is a plea for the recognition of differences.

Hood, Jr, Ralph W, Ghorbani, N., Watson, P. J., Ghramaleki, A. F., Bing, M. N., Davison, H. K., Morris, R. J., & Williamson, W. P.  (2001). Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the Three-Factor Structure in the United States and Iran. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion40(4), 691–705. ($10.00). 

In a mostly Christian American sample (N = 1,379), confirmatory factor analysis of Hood’s (1975) Mysticism Scale verified the existence of Stace’s (1960) introvertive and extrovertive dimensions of mystical phenomenology along with a separate interpretation factor. A second study confirmed the presence of these three factors in not only another group of Americans (N = 188), but also in a sample of Iranian Muslims (N = 185). Relationships of the introvertive and extrovertive factors with the interpretation factor were essentially identical across these two cultures, but the Americans displayed a stronger association between the two phenomenology factors. In both samples, the interpretation factor correlated positively with an intrinsic and negatively with an extrinsic religious orientation, and the introvertive factor predicted psychological dysfunction. Associations of the interpretation factor with relative mental health appeared only in the Iranians. These data offered general support for Stace’s phenomenology of mysticism, although the ineffability he linked with interpretation proved to be as much or even more a feature of the introvertive experience, as hypothesized by Hood.

Hood, R. W., Jr., & Francis, L. J. (2013). Mystical experience: Conceptualizations, measurement, and correlates. In K. I. Pargament, J. J. Exline, & J. W. Jones (Eds.), APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality (Vol. 1): Context, theory, and research (pp. 391–405). American Psychological Association. (Book chapter; $14.95).

Mysticism has been a topic of central interest to the psychology of religion from the early days of the discipline. In his foundational study, James (1902/1985) referred to mysticism as “the root and center” of religion (p. 301). Within the broader field of religious studies, Hick (1989) has maintained that mysticism is integral to all faith traditions and can be expressed in both personal and impersonal terms. The discussion of mysticism is vast. McGinn (1991) identified three distinct literatures in the field that he references as theological, philosophical, and comparative–psychological. To these should be added a fourth literature grounded in measurement-based psychology. Much of this measurement-based literature centers on two scales, the Mysticism Scale (the M Scale) developed by Hood (1975) and the Mystical Orientation Scale (MOS) developed by Francis and Louden (2000a). To provide an overview of this field, this chapter (a) discusses the definition of mysticism, (b) reviews how mysticism has been accessed in survey studies, (c) introduces Hood’s M Scale and Francis and Louden’s MOS, (d) considers the dimensionality of mysticism, (e) examines the association between mysticism and personality, and (f) explores whether mysticism is linked to psychopathology.

Jones, Richard H. (2018). Limitations on the Neuroscientific Study of Mystical Experiences. Zygon, 53(4), 992-1017. (From $14.00).

Neuroscientific scanning of meditators is taken as providing data on mystical experiences. However, problems concerning how the brain and consciousness are related cast doubts on whether any understanding of the content of meditative experiences is gained through the study of the brain. Whether neuroscience can study the subjective aspects of meditative experiences in general is also discussed. So too, whether current neuroscience can establish that there are “pure consciousness events” in mysticism is open to question. The discussion points to limitations on neuroscience’s capability to add to our understanding of the phenomenological content of mystical experiences.

Jones, Richard H. (2019). Limitations on the Scientific Study of Drug-Enabled Mystical Experiences. Zygon, 54(3), 756-792. (From $14.00).

Scientific interest in drug-induced mystical experiences reemerged in the 1990s. This warrants reexamining the philosophical issues surrounding such studies: Do psychedelic drugs cause mystical experiences? Are drug-induced experiences the same in nature as other mystical experiences? Does the fact that mystical experiences can be induced by drugs invalidate or validate mystical cognitive claims? Those questions will be examined here. An overview of the scientific examination of drug-induced mystical experiences is included, as is a brief overview of the history of the use of psychedelic drugs in religion.

Jones, Richard H.  (2020). On Constructivism in Philosophy of Mysticism. The Journal of Religion, 100(1), 1-41. ($25.00).

A generation ago the big fight in the philosophy of mysticism was over constructivism versus perennial philosophy. And as Jess Bryon Hollenback notes, “the contextualist paradigm appears to have scored a resounding triumph over its essentialist predecessor.” Certainly, constructivism today is, as Francis X. Clooney says, the “mainstream consensus.” And as Torben Hammersholt points out, “if one were to point to a text that has attracted the most scholarly attention within the last thirty years of research on mysticism, [Steven Katz’s 1978 article on constructivism] would be a strong candidate. It is now a classic.” That constructivism undercuts the veridicality of mystical experiential claims has been recognized for decades, but its rejection of unmediated experiences as being impossible certainly fits better with the postmodern temperament of the day. Constructivism dovetails with the post-modern concern for diversity and the common postmodern claim that the historicity of mystical claims rules out all cross-cultural commonalities or essences and also any Western philosophical judgments on the truth or falsity of mystical claims from other cultures and eras. It also leads to downplaying any role of personal experience in religious studies  —  scholars can simply stick to texts and ignore examining the phenomenology of experiences and the scientific study of the capabilities of meditators and drug subjects.

Levin, & Steele, L. (2005). The transcendent experience: Conceptual, theoretical, and epidemiologic perspectives. Explore (New York, N.Y.)1(2), 89–101. ($35.95).

This paper provides a conceptual, theoretical, and empirical overview of the concept of the transcendent experience. The principal goal is to formalize a scientific field around the study of dimensions, determinants, and health outcomes of transcendence. This is accomplished through posing several fundamental questions and then answering them as concisely as possible in light of current theory and existing empirical research. These include the following: “What is the transcendent experience?” “Can the transcendent experience be studied?” “What do we (and don’t we) know about the transcendent experience?” “How is the transcendent experience triggered?” “How is the transcendent experience sustained?” “Are there physiological models of the transcendent experience?” “Are there health effects of the transcendent experience?” and, “How should we study the health effects of the transcendent experience?” Finally, an agenda is proposed for research on the role of the transcendent experience in health, emphasizing development of an epidemiology of the transcendent experience.

Miller, W.R. (2004). The phenomenon of quantum change. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60: 453-460. (From $14.00).

Quantum change—the subject of this issue of In Session—refers to sudden, dramatic, and enduring transformations that affect a broad range of personal emotion, cognition, and behavior. This phenomenon has been described since the beginnings of psychology, most notably by William James in Varieties of Religious Experience. Quantum changes occur both within and (mostly) outside the context of psychotherapy and show certain common features in both process and content. This introduction provides an overview of the phenomenon of quantum change, describing its essential features, two qualitative subtypes, antecedents, course, and the nature of the enduring changes that ensue.

Moreira-Almeida. (2013). Implications of spiritual experiences to the understanding of mind–brain relationship. Asian Journal of Psychiatry6(6), 585-589.  ($35.95).

While there has been a large increase in scientific studies on spirituality, there has been too few of studies of the core of spirituality: spiritual experiences (SE), which often involve altered states of consciousness, reports of anomalous experiences and of consciousness beyond the body. This paper argues that SE, although usually neglected in debates regarding mind–brain relationship (MBR), may provide the much needed enlargement of the empirical basis for advancing the understanding of the MBR. This paper briefly presents and discusses recent scientific investigations on some types of SE (meditative states, end of life and near death experiences, mediumship and alleged memories of previous lives) and their implications to MBR. Neurofunctional studies of SE have shown that they are related to but not necessarily caused by complex functional patterns in several brain areas. The study of meditative states, as voluntarily induced mind states that influence brain states has been a privileged venue to investigate top-down (mind over brain) causation. End of life and near death experiences offer cases of unexpected adequate mental function under severe brain damage and/or dysfunction. Scientific investigations of several types of SE have provided evidence against materialistic reductionist views of mind. The recent trend to scientifically investigate SE has already produced interesting and thought-provoking findings that deserve careful further exploration. Because of their potential implication, these findings may also contribute to the understanding of MBR, which remains an important, yet poorly explored way to investigate human nature.

Reinert, & Stifler, K. R. (1993). Hood’s Mysticism Scale Revisited: A Factor-Analytic Replication. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion32(4), 383–388. ($19.50 with one-month subscription).

Mystical experience has become more accessible to empirical researchers due to the M-scale
developed by Hood (1975). Based on the framework of Stace (1960), the instrument taps eight categories of mysticism. Hood (1975) demonstrated the scale’s internal consistency and construct validity. Hood’s (1975) principal components analysis suggested that two factors underlie the scale. Factor 1 appeared to tap the minimal phenomenological experience of mysticism; Factor 2, the religious interpretation (Hood, 1975; Spilka, Hood, and Gorsuch 1985). Caird’s (1988) replication suggested that a three-factor model represented the data more accurately. Factor 1 was stable in Caird’s (1988) solution, but the Interpretive category subdivided into Noetic (Factor 2) and Religious (Factor 3). Both Hood (1975) and Caird (1988) used college students as subjects. Our replication used an adult convenience sample: contemplative monks and nuns; religiously preoccupied psychotic inpatients; and “normal” adults. We replicated Caird’s (1988) factor structure of the M-scale (Hood 1976) using adult subjects. We used principal axis factor analysis with orthogonal and oblique rotation.

Schwartz, Gary E, Woollacott, Marjorie, Schwartz, Stephan A, Baruss, Imants, Beauregard, Mario, Dossey, Larry, . . . Tart, Charles. (2018). The Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences: Integrating Consciousness into Mainstream Science. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 14(2), 111-113. ($35.95).

There are moments in the history of science when major shifts occur, and general assumptions and core conceptualizations are suddenly called into question. Thomas Kuhn, perhaps the best known and most influential historian and philosopher of science of the 20th century, made these changes his special study, and developed the concept of the “paradigm shift.” He defined this as a unifying vision of reality which most scientists agree. He further noted that when that vision no longer accords with the experimental data, and too many anomalies are reported, paradigms go into crisis. When that happens, he said, new worldviews emerge and become consensual. It is the conviction of the authors that an emerging vision of a postmaterialist science is now occurring exactly as Kuhn predicted. Like all such shifts this new perspective has far-reaching conceptual, experimental, and practical applications. The Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences has been established by the authors of this essay with the express purpose of providing a collegial institutional structure for a substantive expression and manifestation of this paradigm change.

Spilka, Brown, G. A., & Cassidy, S. A. (1992). The Structure of Religious Mystical Experience in Relation to Pre- and Postexperience Lifestyles. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion2(4), 241–257. ($47.00).

Understanding religious experience constitutes one of the perennial problems of the psychology of religion. Though formal work on this topic began almost a century ago (Coe, 1990; Cutten, 1908; Hall, 1904; James, 1902; Starbuck, 1899), the questions phrased by early scholars have still to be definitively answered. Following the landmark research of E. T. Clark in 1929 on “religious awakening,” research on religious experience essentially disappeared from mainstream psychology until about 1960 (W. H. Clark, 1971; W. H. Clark, Malony, Daane, & Tippett, 1973; Godin, 1985; Stark, 1965). Ralph Hood rapidly became the key research scholar in this area (Hood, 1985, 1986; Spilka, Hood, & Gorsuch, 1985). Despite his very significant efforts, including the construction of a mysticism scale (Hood, 1975), there is still a need for theoretically and operationally understanding the complex nature of intense religious experience. Specifically, this domain merits examination in terms of (a) possible pre-experience correlates of the experience, (b) the nature of the experience, and (c) the character of one’s life following the experience (E. T. Clark, 1929; Leuba, 1925; Underhill, 1930).

Wahbeh, Sagher, A., Back, W., Pundhir, P., & Travis, F. (2018). A Systematic Review of Transcendent States Across Meditation and Contemplative Traditions. Explore (New York, N.Y.)14(1), 19–35. ($35.95).

Across cultures and throughout history, transcendent states achieved through meditative practices have been reported. The practices to attain transcendent states vary from transcendental meditation to yoga to contemplative prayer, to other various forms of sitting meditation. While these transcendent states are ascribed many different terms, those who experience them describe a similar unitive, ineffable state of consciousness. Despite the common description, few studies have systematically examined transcendent states during meditation. The objectives of this systematic review were to: 1) characterize studies evaluating transcendent states associated with meditation in any tradition; 2) qualitatively describe physiological and phenomenological outcomes collected during transcendent states and; 3) evaluate the quality of these studies using the Quality Assessment Tool. Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, AltHealthWatch, AMED, and the Institute of Noetic Science Meditation Library were searched for relevant papers in any language. Included studies required adult participants and the collection of outcomes before, during, or after a reported transcendent state associated with meditation. Twenty-five studies with a total of 672 combined participants were included in the final review. Participants were mostly male (61%; average age 39 ± 11 years) with 12.7 ± 6.6 (median 12.6; range 2–40) average years of meditation practice. A variety of meditation traditions were represented: (Buddhist; Christian; Mixed (practitioners from multiple traditions); Vedic: Transcendental Meditation and Yoga). The mean quality score was 67 ± 13 (100 highest score possible). Subjective phenomenology and the objective outcomes of electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiography, electromyography, electrooculogram, event-related potentials, functional magnetic resonance imaging, magnetoencephalography, respiration, and skin conductance and response were measured. Transcendent states were most consistently associated with slowed breathing, respiratory suspension, reduced muscle activity and EEG alpha blocking with external stimuli, and increased EEG alpha power, EEG coherence, and functional neural connectivity. The transcendent state is described as being in a state of relaxed wakefulness in a phenomenologically different space-time. Heterogeneity between studies precluded any formal meta-analysis and thus, conclusions about outcomes are qualitative and preliminary. Future research is warranted into transcendent states during meditation using more refined phenomenological tools and consistent methods and outcome evaluation.

Woollacott M.H., Kason Y, Park RD. (2020). Investigation of the phenomenology, physiology and impact of spiritually transformative experiences – kundalini awakening. Explore (NY). 2020 Jul 25:S1550-8307(20)30223-8. ($35.95).

There is a paucity of research examining the phenomenology and energetic effects of spiritually transformative experiences with an energetic component, often referred to as kundalini awakenings (KAs). This limits our ability to understand and support individuals who have these often unexpected and powerful experiences. This study aimed to explore not only the nature of these experiences but also their subsequent behavioral and physiological transformative effects. Methods: An interview questionnaire was used to collect detailed descriptions of both the physical and metaphysical experiences of persons having a spiritually transformative experience (STE) (e.g., spontaneous energetic awakenings, awakenings occurring through near-death experiences, and through spiritual practices). Results: Subjects reported that the entire energetic awakening experience was mystical, involving feelings of expansion (including conscious awareness leaving the body), and a sense of being enveloped in light or love. Of 18 descriptors of experiences of energy, 85% of participants reported unusual flows of energy through or around the body. Principle triggers for these experiences included concentrating on spiritual matters, the presence of a spiritually developed person, and intense meditation or prayer. Transformational changes in participants included, e.g., increased sensory sensitivity, creativity, and changes in beliefs, including a desire to serve others, a sense of unity with all, and the immortality of the spirit. Most participants reported a lack of understanding of the STE phenomenon by healthcare professionals, resulting in their inability to address the needs of experiencers when they came to clinicians for help.

Wulff, D. M. (2014). Mystical experiences. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence (pp. 369–408). American Psychological Association. (Book chapter; $14.95).

While commentators continue to disagree on the definition and nature of mysticism, there is more or less a consensus that any experience appropriately qualified as mystical diverges in fundamental ways from ordinary conscious awareness and leaves a strong impression of having encountered a reality radically different from the sensory-based world of everyday experience. Rare and fleeting though they usually are, such experiences often stand out as joyous, defining moments in the lives of those who have them. This chapter discusses characteristics and types of mystical experience, the aftereffects, parapsychological correlates, its prevalence and predisposing factors, its relation to psychopathology, and issues related to therapy.

Yaden, David Bryce, Haidt, Jonathan, Hood, Ralph W, Vago, David R, & Newberg, Andrew B. (2017). The Varieties of Self-Transcendent Experience. Review of General Psychology, 21(2), 143-160. ($37.50).

Various forms of self-loss have been described as aspects of mental illness (e.g., depersonalization disorder), but might self-loss also be related to mental health? In this integrative review and proposed organizational framework, we focus on self-transcendent experiences (STEs)—transient mental states marked by decreased self-salience and increased feelings of connectedness. We first identify common psychological constructs that contain a self-transcendent aspect, including mindfulness, flow, peak experiences, mystical-type experiences, and certain positive emotions (e.g., love, awe). We then propose psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that may mediate the effects of STEs based on a review of the extant literature from social psychology, clinical psychology, and affective neuroscience. We conclude with future directions for further empirical research on these experiences.

Yaden, Eichstaedt, J. C., Schwartz, H. A., Kern, M. L., Le Nguyen, K. D., Wintering, N. A., Hood, R. W., & Newberg, A. B. (2016). The Language of Ineffability: Linguistic Analysis of Mystical Experiences. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 8(3), 244-252. ($14.95).

Mystical experiences are often described as “ineffable,” or beyond language. However, people readily speak about their mystical experiences if asked about them. How do people describe what is supposedly indescribable? In this study, we used quantitative linguistic analyses to interpret the writings of 777 participants (45.5% female, 51.0% male) who recounted their most significant spiritual or religious experience as part of an online survey. High and low scorers on a measure of mystical experiences differed in the language they used to describe their experiences. Participants who have had mystical experiences used language that was more socially and spatially inclusive (e.g., “close,” “we,” “with”) and used fewer overtly religious words (e.g., “prayed,” “Christ,” “church”) than participants without such experiences. Results indicated that people can meaningfully communicate their mystical experiences, and that quantitative language analyses provide a means for understanding aspects of such experiences.

Yaden DB, Griffiths RR. (2020). The Subjective Effects of Psychedelics Are Necessary for Their Enduring Therapeutic Effects. ACS Pharmacol Transl Sci. 2020 Dec 10;4(2):568-572. ($40.00).

Classic psychedelics produce altered states of consciousness that individuals often interpret as meaningful experiences. Across a number of human studies, when the participant-rated intensity of the overall drug effects are statistically controlled for, certain subjective effects predict therapeutic and other desirable outcomes. Underlying neurobiological mechanisms are likely necessary but not sufficient to confer full and enduring beneficial effects. We propose that the subjective effects of psychedelics are necessary for their enduring beneficial effects and that these subjective effects account for the majority of their benefit.

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