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Defining mystical experience : an analysis of issues in the typology of momentary and concrete religious experiences

Mair, Andrew Joseph (1988) Defining mystical experience : an analysis of issues in the typology of momentary and concrete religious experiences. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94500) (KAR id:94500)


This essay is concerned with the taxonomy of that kind of experience referred to by Trevor. Despite Stace and others, we have as yet no incontrovertible way of deciding whether and on what basis mystical experiences can be constructed as constituting a type and, without knowing this, cannot be certain what our data base encompasses or what kind of approach is indicated. My philosophical analysis of various aspects of the experience presented in mystical reports, I aim to produce a characterisation that the data supports and one which is corrigible.

My definition of a mystical type is unconventional largely because I give little role to mystical claims in the characterisation of the experience. The reasons for this are examined in chapters 1 and 2 where I argue that these claims are not meaningful and, in any event, are inaccessible to rational analysis. However, if I note the content of these claims, I do identify certain features about them, notably the concreteness and apparent reality of mystical experience, which could prove to be a basis for typology. Justifying the selection of this feature as distinguishing and defining leads, in chapter 3, to an epistemological debate in which I argue that mentalistic models cannot be explain this feature in the case of mystical perception or indeed perception more generally. Believing concreteness to have a hypothetical importance, I turn away from the sociology of mysticism and, in chapters 4 and 5, find that we can give our subject matter distinctive definition and context by relating it to cyclic and syndromic change in personality which occur in the context of traumatisation. Mystical perception here is defined by its circumstances - a curious sequence in psycho-physiological functioning - and by its sensory or quasi-sensory nature. In chapter 6 I look further into physiology, unsuccessfully, for empirical confirmation of this picture.

In conclusion, I explore and answer some of the questions a type, defined in terms of the essentially empirical world of human functioning, poses us. This is not a reductionist account but, this is because my primary aim is giving typology a corrigible basis and only the former aspects of the experience allow this.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94500
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2023 11:02 UTC
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2023 11:03 UTC
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