6. Social/Political Introduction

It is not only true that mysticism comes within a psychological context, but it also comes within a social and political context. Mysticism flourishes at certain times (for example, the late Middle Ages) -- why is that? In some cases, mystical experience seems to be a utopian experience, or an attempt to get out of existing social conditions that are difficult. We can think through the tradition of mysticism, then, in light of the conditions in which mystical experience occurs.

But there is more. Not only does a social situation influence mysticism, mysticism can influence a social or political situation. Many mystics, both ancient and modern, have bent society to their own purposes, based on a supposed higher understanding. The most recent, perhaps, is the Solar Temple Cult; there is also David Koresh, Jim Jones, and many others. For these people, mysticism has social and political implications. It may not end in the deaths of dozens or hundreds, but it might. What do we as a society do with people that claim higher understanding? What does a religion do with these people? Is there the possibility for dialogue? Why would anyone believing they have received a message from on high want to talk to those that haven't?