Saying and unsaying mysticism: The problem of defining mysticism in the social sciences
Fitzpatrick, Sean Joseph
Master of Arts
The use of "mysticism" and "mystic" as analytical terms in the social sciences is found to be problematic. Through an overview of current attempts to define the terms and a discussion of the use of the terms by representative theorists (Max Weber in sociology; Jacques Lacan in psychology) in examinations of representative "mystics" (Teresa of Avila and Meister Eckhart), the difficulties inherent in speaking psychologically and sociologically about mysticism are made clear. The identification of individuals as mystics is always tied to a political, economic, religious, and linguistic context. Any attempt to isolate elements common to an uses of the label "mystical" must take into account the motivations and cultural contexts of those who apply the labels as well as the differences in social contexts between mystical texts. Abandonment of use of the term would be premature; a better descriptive understanding may appear through an apophatic process of describing what mysticism is not.
Religion; Philosophy of Religion; Sociology