Essay, Research Paper: Mysticism


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In Steven T Katz’s essay “Language, Epistemology and Mysticism”, the
“pre-experimental conditions” he writes of are the circumstances surrounding
a person who experiences a mystical occurrence. The argument is that mystical
experience is a personal event that happens differently for any person who
experiences it. If this is true, there is no “common core” to all mystical
experience. This concept brings into view a problem with writing about or
verbally communicating about mystical experience in academics. Since mystical
experience is an extreme personal event, it occurs within the morals and learned
social constructs of the person having the experience. Every human society, even
if they vary little by environment, teaches its inhabitants what to value..
Mystical experience will vary greatly around the world, as well as in different
parts of the same country. The “pre-experimental pattern” in Katz’s essay
represents a person’s entire life, where they live and what ideals and values
their society holds. According to Katz, the “pre-experimental pattern” of a
person’s life is directly related to the kind of mystical experience they will
have. The key tensions here are that of varying life experience (up to the point
at which the mystical experience occurs) and the inability to communicate
mystical experience, since it happens within the context of many different
societies and languages. In Mysticism: Holiness East and West, the point is
stated that while studying mystical experience, we are forming both personal and
academic views. The mystical experience itself, according to Katz is a varying
personal occurrence. If we form our own Opinions about another’s mystical
experience, this raises a question of whether or not we are actually studying
the true experience of another (who has a different pre-experimental pattern
than we do), or are we re-translating their experience to fit in the confines of
what we ourselves understand personally and socially. “We can learn a great
deal from scholars, but textual studies have their limits. Admittedly, all
studies are personal, calling for acts of imagination from their readers,
humanistic studies most of all.”(Carmody 21). The student of mysticism,
however, in order to understand the mystical experience of another, must
re-create the exact circumstances surrounding the person to which the experience
occurred. The student must go beyond the regular visual projection into a
studied text, to the deep, personal place of another. This is impossible,
according to Katz, since none of us have had the exact same life circumstances.
To join all mystical experience into the same category, to say everyone who has
had a mystical experience has been to the same “human” place inside
themselves, is really all we might be able to say about the subject. It is
fascinating that so many thick books have been written on the subject of
mystical experience, and that in many, unless the author takes a strict claim on
his/her own opinion, the problem of variation and communication of the
experience exists. Unless we learn to communicate interculturally without using
words, we will never know the true contents of mystical experience.
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