Philosophical Questions Concerning Mysticism

Some of these could serve as good essay topics, while some are less suitable for that. In all cases, the questions require more focus before they can serve as the basis of an essay. DO NOT JUST USE THE QUESTION AS IS.

1. What is the path of mysticism? Are there commonalities between the various accounts? What significance does the differences have?


2. Can we distinguish between speculative (being) and devotional (love) mysticism? Do they depend on each other? Does the distinction correspond to male and female mysticism? Spirit vs. body mysticism? Introvertive vs. extrovertive mysticism?

3. Is it possible to distinguish between types of mystical experience (besides those types mentioned in question 2, that is)?

4. How does mysticism relate to other types of religious experience?

5. What is the place of reason in mysticism? Is mysticism rational, antirational, irrational, or super-rational?

6. Does mysticism contribute to the ethical life, or detract from it? Or is it irrelevant?

7. Can a mystic be tolerant of other points of view? How could a mystic live in a pluralistic world?

8. Is the mystical experience primitive or foundational (that is, it cannot be analyzed using other simpler experiences)? Or is it, on the other hand, mediated or structured by previously held doctrine, tradition, culture, or other expectation?

9. Is mystical experience supportive of traditional religion? Does it undermine religion? Is it true religion?

10a. Is an academic study of mysticism even possible? Does academic study substitute something other than the mystical experience as the object of study? (This question concerns the object of study)

10b. Is it possible to study mysticism without having had a mystical experience, or at least a life transformation that makes one sympathetic to mysticism? If the answer is "no", does this rule mysticism out of the realm of real research, and put it in the same arena as research on ESP or some forms of New-age healing? (This question concern the status of the researcher)

Other Questions to Address

11. Can we make a distinction between Catholic and Protestant mysticism? Are there features unique to or common to each?

12. Is Protestant religion essentially mystical?

13. What is the relationship between literature and mysticism? Is literature just a particular means of expressing the mystical experience, or is it part of the experience? To expand on this, how does any expression of mysticism relate to the experience itself?

14. Historically, what is the influence of the mystical tradition(s), or any mystic in particular, on non-mystical affairs such as politics, science, social theory, or whatever. Is mysticism an appropriate influence on public affairs?

15. Further on the question of influence, is there evidence of the influence of mysticism on the contemporary philosophical world?

16. Practically, if we decide that mysticism is worth pursuing, how can we do this?

17. What is mystical about the mystical art of people like William Blake, Hildegard of Bingen, John of the Cross, and others?

18. What is the relationship between mysticism and psychology (eg. John of the Cross and Carl Jung)?

19. Are drug induced hallucinations a form of mystical experience? If not, how do drugs relate to religious or mystical experience?

20. Is what we call spirituality a form of mysticism? If not, how do they differ?

21. Are there levels of mysticism? This is not the same as question 3, which asked about types of mysticism. Rather, are there better and worse sorts of mysticism, or complete and incomplete mysticisms?

22. What part does mysticism play in the thought of a major thinker or movement? Possibilities: Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Dante, Renaissance science, Luther, Anabaptism, Kant, Romanticism, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Schelling, Baader, Kierkegaard, Marx, Transcendentalism, Nietzsche, William James, or anyone else you can think of.

23. What are the various theoretical approaches to analyzing mysticism in the 20th century?

24. What is the relationship between women and mysticism?