Rational mysticism

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Rational mysticism, which encompasses both rationalism and mysticism, is a term used by scholars, researchers, and other intellectuals, some of whom engage in studies of how altered states of consciousness or transcendence such as trance, visions, and prayer occur. Lines of investigation include historical and philosophical inquiry as well as scientific inquiry within such fields as neurophysiology and psychology.


The term "rational mysticism" was in use at least as early as 1911 when it was the subject of an article by Henry W. Clark in the Harvard Theological Review.[1] In a 1924 book, Rational Mysticism, theosophist William Kingsland correlated rational mysticism with scientific idealism.[2][3] South African philosopher J. N. Findlay frequently used the term, developing the theme in Ascent to the Absolute and other works in the 1960s and 1970s.[4]

Columbia University pragmatist John Herman Randall, Jr. characterized both Plotinus and Baruch Spinoza as “rationalists with overtones of rational mysticism” in his 1970 book Hellenistic Ways of Deliverance and the Making of Christian Synthesis.[5] Rice University professor of religious studies Jeffrey J. Kripal, in his 2001 book Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom, defined rational mysticism as “not a contradiction in terms” but “a mysticism whose limits are set by reason.”[6]

In response to criticism of his book The End of Faith, author Sam Harris used the term rational mysticism for the title of his rebuttal.[7][8][9][10] University of Pennsylvania neurotheologist Andrew Newberg has been using nuclear medicine brain imaging in similar research since the early 1990s.[11][12]

Executive editor of Discover magazine Corey S. Powell, in his 2002 book, God in the Equation, attributed the term to Albert Einstein: “In creating his radical cosmology, Einstein stitched together a rational mysticism, drawing on—but distinct from—the views that came before.”[13]

Science writer John Horgan interviewed and profiled James Austin, Terence McKenna, Michael Persinger, Christian Rätsch, Huston Smith, Ken Wilber, Alexander Shulgin and others for Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality,[14] his 2003 study of “the scientific quest to explain the transcendent.”[15]

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  1. ^ Clark, Henry W. (1911). "Rational Mysticism and New Testament Christianity". The Harvard Theological Review. 4 (3): 311–329. doi:10.1017/S0017816000007227. JSTOR 1507131.
  2. ^ William Kingsland. Rational Mysticism: A Development of Scientific Idealism. London: Allen & Unwin, 1924; description at Weiser Antiquarian Books. Scientific Idealism, or, Matter and Force and Their Relation to Life and Consciousness. London: Rebman, 1909, OCLC 9226308.
  3. ^ The Theosophical Movement, 1857–1950, a History and a Survey. Compiled by Theosophy journal editors as a continuance of a 1925 work published by E. P. Dutton. Los Angeles: The Cunningham Press, 1951 (pp. 158, 220, 303, 309).
  4. ^ Donald Jay Rothberg; Sean M. Kelly (1998). Ken Wilber in Dialogue: Conversations with Leading Transpersonal Thinkers. Quest Books. pp. Chapter 1, p. 2. ISBN 0835607666. ‘…what is arguably the core philosophical and religious lineage of Western culture—what we might call a “rational mysticism” (Findlay 1970) [Ascent to the Absolute]’ (Quoted here; full text on Google Book Search.)
  5. ^ Randall, John Herman (1969). "The Intelligible Universe of Plotinos". Journal of the History of Ideas. 30 (1): 3–16. doi:10.2307/2708241. JSTOR 2708241. In one sense indeed, Plotinos is the most consistent "naturalist" in Greek thought; though of course he is not an empirical and functional naturalist, like Aristotle, but rather a rationalistic and structural naturalist, like Spinoza. Spinoza, in fact, is the one philosopher among moderns with whom Plotinos can be most validly compared. Both Plotinos and Spinoza are rationalists with overtones of rational mysticism. (Journal article adapted from a chapter in Hellenistic Ways of Deliverance and the Making of the Christian Synthesis, Columbia University Press, 1970, ISBN 0231033273.)
  6. ^ Jeffrey J. Kripal. Introduction (p. 3) Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism. University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0226453781. “The Sanskritist and Indologist Frits Staal long ago made an eloquent plea for the “rational mystic”… A rational mysticism is not a contradiction in terms; it is a mysticism whose limits are set by reason.”
  7. ^ Sam Harris (March 2007). "Rational Mysticism". Free Inquiry.
  8. ^ Meera Nanda (2003). "The Mystifications of Sam Harris: Spirituality at Faith's Funeral". Butterflies and Wheels. Archived from the original on 2007-11-15.
  9. ^ New York Public Library (25 September 2006). "About Sam Harris". LIVE from the NYPL.
  10. ^ Australian Broadcasting Corporation (23 October 2007). "Contributors: Sam Harris". Unleashed.
  11. ^ A. Chris Gajilan (April 5, 2007). "Are humans hard-wired for faith?". CNN. The frontal lobe, the area right behind our foreheads, helps us focus our attention in prayer and meditation. The parietal lobe, located near the backs of our skulls, is the seat of our sensory information. Newberg says it's involved in that feeling of becoming part of something greater than oneself. The limbic system, nestled deep in the center, regulates our emotions and is responsible for feelings of awe and joy.
  12. ^ Andrew Newberg, researcher in neurophysiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Noreen Herzfeld, professor of theology and computer science at St. John's University (May 6, 2001). "God in Our Minds?". Forum at Grace Cathedral (includes links to RealAudio files). Archived from the original on January 29, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Corey S. Powell. 2002 first edition: God in the Equation: How Einstein Became the Prophet of the New Religious Era (ISBN 0684863480). 2003 paperback edition: God in the Equation: How Einstein Transformed Religion (ISBN 0684863499.) Both editions New York: Free Press. Chapter 3, p. 43. (God in the Equation on Google Book Search. Science News book review.)
  14. ^ Dick Teresi (March 23, 2003). "Book review: Dude, Where's My Karma?". The New York Times.
  15. ^ McCauley, Charles C. (2005). Zen And the Art of Wholeness: Developing a Personal Spiritual Psychology (Google Book Search). iUniverse. pp. Ch. 3, p. 54. ISBN 0595339204. Retrieved 2007-11-12.

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