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Mysticism, history of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K050-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Contemporary authors generally associate mysticism with a form of consciousness involving an apparent encounter or union with an ultimate order of reality, however this is understood. Mysticism in this sense, it is argued, can be found in virtually all cultures and religious traditions, and is perhaps as old as humanity itself. None the less, there is no agreement on the identifying characteristics of mystical states; the term ‘mysticism’ and its cognates have undergone long evolution and been used in a bewildering variety of ways.

Such ongoing disputes about the nature and significance of mysticism only underscore both the challenge and the importance of studying its history. On the one hand, without consensus on a definition, scholars disagree on which texts and figures merit inclusion in a historical survey of mysticism. On the other hand, arguments about whether mystical experiences are ‘everywhere the same’ can hardly be settled apart from attention to the historical evidence.

Citing this article:
Payne, Steven. Mysticism, history of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K050-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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