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The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism

Summary and Keywords

The common core thesis contends that mystical experience is an ultimate non-sensuous experience of unity of all things. It can be identified within major faith traditions, whether explicitly religious or not. Its roots are in the work of William James who explored mystical experience outside the limits imposed by what he perceived as only a provisional natural science assumption of the newly emerging discipline of empirical psychology. Following the explicit phenomenological work of Walter Stace, the phenomenology of a universal core to mystical experience has been operationalized and an explicit psychometric measure developed to allow empirical assessment of the claim to a common core to mysticism. It is the linkage of psychometric approaches to the work of James and Stace that is now known explicitly as the common core thesis. The common core thesis needs to be delineated from the perennialist thesis popularized by Aldous Huxley in which there is postulated not only a common core experience, but also values and practices claimed to be associated with this experience if not directly derived from it. Psychometric and empirical evidence for the common core thesis is substantial and continues to accumulate. The common core thesis is restricted to mystical experience and assumes that this experience seeks to express itself in various faith traditions, whether religious or not, but is not restricted to or defined adequately by the culture or language with which this experience is interpreted. Unlike the perennialist thesis, the common core thesis does not assume that any common theology, philosophy, or practice necessarily follows from mystical experience.

Keywords: Aldous Huxley, common core, interpretation, mystical experience, mysticism, perennialist, Walter Stace, William James

Foundations for the Study of Mysticism

The contemporary study of mysticism is stymied by the existence of separate and discrete literatures that continue to remain largely ignorant of each other. This simple fact has resulted in what Bernard McGinn has identified as an “unrealized conversation” among what he identifies as three literatures.1 McGinn’s threefold classification of these distinct literatures compares theological, philosophical, and comparativist/psychological literatures.2 However, McGinn’s comparativist/psychological classification does not take into account ignores quasi-experimental and experimental studies of the facilitation of mysticism.3 McGinn also ignores psychometric studies of mysticism in which mysticism is measured and its presence or absence empirically assessed.4 Thus, McGinn’s proposal for a conversation among discrete literatures does not address the possible empirical resolution of the criterion problem of how to assess the identity of mystical experiences within various faith traditions, both within and outside religions, nor does it allow the direct assessment of whether mysticism is elicited in quasi-experimental or true experimental conditions.5 Furthermore, reviews of the vast literature on mysticism often fail to include psychometric considerations in what remain either explicitly theological or philosophical discussions. Reviews of the empirical assessment of mysticism vary widely and are dependent upon whether the reviewers have been active participants in producing relevant empirical studies or instead are scholars who summarize what is often a highly selective review of what is perceived to be the most relevant literature.6 For instance, David Wulff cavalierly dismisses the two major scales used to measure mysticism that have produced a substantial body of reliable empirical findings.7 He claims that both scales lack “subtle discrimination” and remarks, “Surely no genuine mystic would feel well represented.”8 However, scales to measure the report of mystical experience are best seen as operational indicators of what otherwise can be explored as deeply moving personal experiences not thereby simply reduced to the classification, “mystical.” No measurement or scale claims to re-produce the profundity of the lived experience. No more should mystics feel their experiences adequately classified by a scale than the crab in William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience (VRE): “Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing,” it would say; “I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.”9

These introductory remarks provide a context to explore one aspect of this unrealized conversation focused on the common core thesis in the study of mysticism. The common core thesis begins most clearly with William James but soon became associated with the work of Walter Stace, especially when translated into a scale to measure elements associated with common core thesis.10 Discussions of the common core thesis continue to depend upon the explicit or implicit influence of William James who famously stated, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.”11 James’s reference to the Absolute was partly sleight of hand, for he readily admits in the written lectures that his preference is for God, since God is (a) a medium of communion and (b) a causal agent.12 Furthermore, that consciousness is not obliterated is crucial for James, for he insists, “Consciousness of illumination is for us the essential mark of ‘mystical states.’”13 The continual references to mystical states would seem to remove James from the common core school, which argues for a singular mystical state, a commonality across interpretation and cultures. However, by developing the common core thesis with continual reference to James, two essential marks of the common core thesis will become evident. First, it asserts that a distinction can be made between experience and its interpretation. The focus is upon mystical experience, not the interpretation of the experience. Second, it suggests that for at least some linguistic descriptions, an underlying uniform experience cuts across language differences. This uniform experience is the essence of the common core thesis.14

Despite the deserved reputation of James’s VRE, it is wise to read it as partly a response to issues that he alluded to in his monumentally influential Principles of Psychology (PP). James’s effort in the PP was to restrict himself to the assumptions of natural science, an appeal that continues to influence many psychologists of religion today. Yet, as other commentators have noted, James failed in his attempt. The PP quickly became philosophical, even metaphysical.15 In one of the earliest reviews of the PP, George Ladd noted the extensive engagement with metaphysical speculations in the PP. In it he insisted that a psychology without metaphysical considerations is too constrictive. He astutely took James to task for attempting to admit only one metaphysical position as explanatory for psychology—that of the correlation between thoughts and brain states.16 This debate continues in contemporary psychology and among disputants with respect to the common core thesis.17

Considering various metaphysical options for psychology requires placing James’s writings in the context of the audiences to which they were initially delivered as lectures.18 James’s efforts to separate psychology from philosophy (metaphysics) in the PP can be seen as an effort to show the limits of a natural science perspective, not to exclude psychological consideration of what is outside those limits.19 In this sense, after writing the PP, James’s oeuvre can be seen as an effort to start over given the metaphysical limits that psychology must transcend if it is to appropriately confront the totality of experienced reality. Residual issues left unexplained by psychology as a purely natural science could be reintroduced by a psychology in the VRE that is more sensitive to metaphysical alternatives. The almost exclusive reliance upon testimonies as the basic data in the VRE led Wilhelm to deny that it was a psychological work.20 However, Josiah Royce, James’s friend and colleague at Harvard, applauded James’s refusal to ignore philosophical issues in the PP.21

Royce’s recognition of the relevance of James’s philosophical discussion in the PP can be contrasted to the avoidance of philosophical commentary in the contemporary psychology of religion. In James’s abridgement of the PP, much of the reduction was accomplished by the exclusion of philosophical material. Royce’s comments proved prophetic. James concluded the greatly abridged PP, with the warning that psychologists ought “never to forget that the natural science assumptions with which we started are provisional and reversible things.”22

The “metaphysical leaks”23 in a purely natural science approach to psychology are nowhere more obvious than in two threads, which can be traced throughout the entire corpus of James’s writings, that are essential to the common core thesis: issues of self and of mysticism.24

The Self in the Principles of Psychology and in the Varieties of Religious Experience

In the Principles of Psychology (PP), many of the metaphysical issues raised that suggest different options for interpreting psychological data were to be more fully developed by James as the doctrine of radical empiricism.25 James would articulate radical empiricism first as a postulate (that the only things debatable are those drawn from experience); second as a statement of fact (both disjunctive and conjunctive relations between things are as much matters of direct experience as the things themselves); and third as a generalized conclusion (that “the directly apprehended universe needs, in short, no extraneous trans-empirical connective support, but possesses in its own right a concatenated or continuous structure”).26 While James’s philosophy and his psychology in the Varieties of Religious Experience (VRE) is often described as functionalism, the postulational nature of radical empiricism is the basis for extolling James’s method in both the PP and VRE as, if not anticipating phenomenology, then at least being proto-phenomenological.27 In his second presidential address to the America Psychological Association, James presented the principle of pure experience as a methodological postulate, “Nothing shall be admitted as fact, it says, except what can be experienced at some definite time by some experient; and for every feature of fact ever so experienced, a definite place must be found somewhere in the final system of reality. In other words: Everything real must be experienceable somewhere and every kind of thing experienced must somewhere be real.”28

James’s theory of radical empiricism is intended to be a form of scientific positivism. However, as Ralph Perry noted: “The positivism of James was almost the precise opposite of the doctrine which now passes by that name. Contemporary positivism closes all the doors but one, while James’ positivism opened all the doors and kept them opened.”29 Similarly, Perry noted that James responded in a letter to the positivist psychologist, Theodule Ribot, that the ordinary positivist “simply has a muddled metaphysic which he refuses to criticize or discuss.”30 Barry Dainton noted that the phenomenological study of consciousness, of which James is an exemplar, refuses to allow consciousness to be explained in terms of something else and thus requires that long neglected metaphysical options must be taken seriously once again.31

James’s treatment of the self in the PP was simply an empirical claim that neither the skepticism of Hume nor the appeal of Kant to a purely formal principle (the synthetic unity of apperception) were needed to account for the lack of sense of self in consciousness.32 James applauds Hume’s phenomenological or introspective perspective in failing to find a personal sense of self within or behind consciousness. Hume’s own phenomenology asserted, “I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any ‘thing’ but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long as I am insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist.”33 While James applauded Hume for his “good piece of introspective work,” he went on to reject Hume’s inability to note conjunctive as well as disjunctive relationships in terms of the principle of radical empiricism.34 James’s critique of the associationist theories in the PP applies here to Hume’s incomplete introspection (finding disjunctive but not conjunctive relationships). Given that disjunctive and conjunctive relationships are both revealed in experience, the refusal to acknowledge conjunctive relationships is a defect of Hume’s incomplete introspection that led James to claim that “Hume is at bottom as much a metaphysician as Thomas Aquinas.”35

James is equally condemning of Kant’s solution to Hume’s inadequate introspection. Kant postulated a purely logical principle, the transcendental synthetic unity of apperception. James rejected this as but a “‘cheap and nasty’ edition of the soul.”36 He found it to be neither logically nor empirically necessary and famously quipped, “Although Kant’s name it is so long, our consciousness of about it, is, according to him, short enough.”37 James’s own phenomenological reflection led him to assert, “The Thought is a vehicle of choice as well as of cognition; and among choices it makes are these appropriations, or repudiations of its “own.” But the Thought never is an object in its own hands, it never appropriates or disowns itself.”38 Thus, James’s purely empirical resolution in the PP is that we need not speak of a consciousness, thinking its existence along with all else it thinks thus assuring a sense of personal identity, “Instead, of the state of thought being one of con-sciousness . . . It might better be called a stream of Sciousness pure and simple, thinking objects of some of which it makes what it calls a “Me” and unaware of its “pure” self in an abstract hypothetic or conceptual ways.”39

The philosophical issues raised by thought appropriating past thoughts without the necessity of a personal I or consciousness continues to intrigue contemporary philosophers concerned with the unity and continuity in consciousness experience. It also continues to dominate discussion by those who defend a nonmaterial view of the self.40 However, the real issue of Sciousness cannot be fully evaluated outside the issues of the nature of mystical experience. Abandoning psychology as simply a natural science, the James of VRE favors a consciousness aware of itself as a self and this empirical fact is revealed in mystical experience seen as the “root and centre” of all religion.41 It is also the central claim of the common core thesis.

Mystical Experience and the Common Core Thesis in Varieties of Religious Experience

The common core thesis is the view that both within and outside of the great faith traditions there is an experience that is essentially identical, regardless of interpretation. As James stated it: “In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian Mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates language, and they do not grow old.42 This quote illustrates the position that has been most systematically developed by Stace and is the basis of the most commonly used empirical measure of mystical experience, the Mysticism scale (M scale). Numerous studies for more than a quarter of a century.43 The scale consists of thirty-two items, half positively and half negatively worded. Respondents rate the extent to which the experience described has ever been experienced by them. It is provides psychometric criteria by which the common core thesis can dialogue with the diverse literatures on mysticism in what can be a more fully realized conversation.44

Like James, Stace argues for an experience of union in which there is simply an ineffable awareness of pure consciousness and this is the basis for the common core thesis.45 One description of this experience written by the poet John Symonds quoted originally by James in the Varieties of Religious Experience (VRE) is often cited as an exemplar of introvertive mystical experience.46 Critically Symond’s concludes, “As ordinary consciousness disappeared, the sense of underlying or essential consciousness grew stronger. At last nothing remained but a pure, absolute, abstract self.”47

If we assume this pure, absolute self is correctly identified at least at the psychological level of experience, there is little room for language as descriptive of the experience, but much room for language to explore what the experience is about. In this sense, efforts to describe experience (as both Stace and James acknowledge) always have some minimal interpretation that ought not to be confused with the experience it attempts to reference. Much of the debate surrounding the common core theory has not acknowledged this distinction. For instance, G. William Barnard notes: “There has been such a stress on the linguistic nature of experience in recent philosophical thought that lay claims to immediacy or to a knowledge that is not structured linguistically are instantly suspect.”48 Likewise, Richard Rorty has noted that the linguistic turn in philosophy corresponded with contemporary philosophers not having their students read James.49 However, critical phenomenologists have begun to re-assert the relevance of James whose Principles of Psychology (PP) is characterized by Dainton as “that great source of phenomenological insights and descriptions.”50

James laid the foundation that eventually resulted in the two major contending schools in the contemporary empirical study of mysticism in the West. The schools are often associated with the broader claims of perennialists than the more restricted claim of the common core theorists. One championed by Wayne Proudfoot and scholars who have rallied around Steven Katz in a series of edited books denies the distinction between experience and interpretation.51 Basically the crucial claim is that there can be no unmediated experiences, an assumption that continues to affirm the dominance of Kant’s philosophy in contemporary psychology and among the first generation of postmodern philosophers.52 This camp is variously identified as contextualists or social constructionists.

The other school of mysticism is championed by William Parsons and those who have rallied around Robert Forman in a series of edited books.53 This camp does not accept neo-Kantian thought uncritically and is heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy. It also refuses to accept reductionist explanations of mysticism once common in classical psychoanalysis.54 They refuse in Barnard’s phrasing, to privilege Kant over Dōgen.55 They argue for the reality of ineffable experiences of union for which there is no principium individuationis.56 In F. Samuel Brainard’s phrasing such experiences are “nondiscursive intimations of direct experience.”57 Roland Benedikter’s similar phrasing refers to a “pre-conceptual life stream” or a “pre-conceptual self-awareness of consciousness.”58 Such experiences offer evidence in favor of a direct, unmediated experience of reality acceptable in many Eastern philosophical systems and in forms of Western apophatic mysticism.59 While some identify this camp as perennialist, insofar as they argue for specific consequences from mystical experience, they exceed the claims of common core theorists. For instance, James was cautious of an absolutist claim to linking mysticism and philosophical monism or any effort at defending a perennialist philosophy or psychology. In the VRE, James’s four markers of mystical experience prevent any perennialist claim. They include as secondary criteria passivity and transiency. The first secondary criterion, passivity, serves to insist that mystical experiences can be facilitated by various practices but cannot be produced assuredly by them.60 The other secondary marker, transiency, simply notes that mystical experience can be treated as a state rather than a trait.61

The two primary markers of mystical experience claim that mystical experiences are both noetic and ineffable. James’s insistence on noetic is crucial, especially when combined with the other primary marker of mysticism, ineffability. While in parts of the VRE, James does write as if his focus is on introvertive mysticism, he also places mysticism in a context of numerous experiences that clearly are not instances of introvertive mysticism, which is the basis of the common core thesis. Barnard has noted that ultimately James equates mystical experience with any submarginal or subliminal state none of which are introvertive mysticism.62 As James removes his focus from a pure undifferentiated state of unity associated with classical mysticism, interpretations emerge in which the apparent unanimity associated with what became the perennialist claims evaporates and the interpretation of mystical experience is “capable of forming matrimonial alliances with material furnished by the most diverse philosophies and theologies.”63 These remarks need not disturb the common core theorists. The role of language and culture in interpreting the state is not challenged but their role in determining the state (experience) is. With respect to introvertive mysticism, James’s sub marginal thesis argues that the self becomes aware of what he (i.e., James) simply identified as “MORE” of the same quality.”64 He also notes that “it is when we treat of the experience of ‘union’ with it that their [the mystics’] differences appear most clearly.”65 Thus, the common core thesis lends no support to a perennialist claim relative to how mystical experience is to be interpreted. Neither does it stand in opposition to contextualist or constructionist positions, which were articulated at the time of James’s VRE by Rufus Jones, “The most refined mysticism, the most exalted spiritual experience is partly a product of the social and intellectual environment in which the personal life of the mystic has formed and matured.”66 Jones’s emphasis on partly is crucial, for it allows what James allows, that portions of experience escape cultural influences. Stace notes that self-transcendence (James’s “MORE”) is part of the experience and not part of the interpretation of experience.67

Forman has coined the term “pure consciousness experience” (PCE) for Stace’s introvertive mysticism.68 He is one of the confessional scholars of mysticism, those who include their own mystical experiences as part of their scholarly treatment of mysticism.69 These scholars acknowledge the identity of introvertive states. Forman goes so far as to identify PCE “knowledge by identity,”70 which perhaps is less an explanation than a re-affirmation of James’s “MORE.” However, the value of confessional mystics who study mysticism cannot be underestimated both for the methodological value of their insights and for the value of returning psychology to the researcher as subject that characterized psychological research at its inception as a laboratory science.71

While knowledge by identity may not be an explanation, it does appear to be an adequate description of a limiting case. This limiting case can be empirically identified by calculating a ratio between James’s well-known distinction between “knowledge about” and “knowledge by acquaintance” or “knowledge of” explored throughout the PP. Here it is sufficient to note that there is a subject/object distinction in “knowledge about.” Hence, it is linguistically and culturally constructed knowledge. Therefore, it can also be deconstructed. “Knowledge of” is experience gained by participation and can be prior to language. The ratio between “knowledge of” and “knowledge about” approaches the limiting case of introvertive mysticism. That this state may only be approximated in many is not to assume that linguistic and cultural factors alone explain it or that in the limiting case these factors play a significant explanatory role.

One of the most critical treatments of introvertive mysticism is by Philip Almond. Not limited to neo-Kantian assumptions that fuel the social constructionists, he reminds us that “there is nothing logically inherent about the notion of a contentless experience.”72

Scholars of mysticism who have focused heavily upon mystical texts and reports of mystical experiences have not surprisingly documented the immense effects of language and culture on the description of introvertive mysticism. However, the confessional scholars of mysticism have noted their ability to talk to other mystics and confirm that across traditions, identical experiences occur.73 Likewise, the scholars who support the common core thesis have concluded that conceptually, “in so far as we are speaking of contentless mystical experiences, there is a unanimity and a universality which transcends the cultural content in which they occur.”74

Contemporary Empirical Studies of the Common Core Thesis

Lacking in much of the theological, comparativist/psychological, and theological discussion of mysticism are empirical studies. Strictly speaking, the common core thesis avoids the claims of both constructionists and perennialists in favor of what Charlene Seigfried has said of James’s radical reconstruction of philosophy as “the empirical validation of phenomenologically derived classifications.” The Mysticism scale (M scale) continues this tradition in contemporary psychology.

Items from the M scale were derived from Stace’s universal core thesis, itself a “catholicity of evidence.”75 Stace culled descriptions of mystical experiences from the Abrahamic as well as various Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist mystical traditions. He sought texts that were expressions of mystical experience and from these he created his universal core. Stace identified. Stace’s work expanded upon Rudolf Otto’s mysticism of introspection and of unifying vision.76 The former Stace identified as introvertive mysticism, and the latter as extrovertive mysticism. Given that introvertive mysticism is a unitary experience of pure consciousness, it is associated with neither space nor time. In the extrovertive mysticism, the unity includes a sense of the inner subjectivity that characterizes the unity perceived amid diversity. Clustered to the experience of unity are less central core criteria or facets of sacredness, positive affect, a noetic sense, and ineffability. These facets can vary within a context of family resemblances.77

While both Otto and Stace rely heavily upon descriptions of mysticism contained in sacred texts, they attempt to avoid the obvious issue that texts are historically embedded in cultural traditions by claiming to identify the experience that such texts reference. Priority is given to texts in which authors can be assumed to be referring to their own experience with an explicit acknowledgement that any use of language entails some confounding of experience and interpretation. However, the crucial claim for common core theorists is that a common experience can be uncovered beneath the minimal interpretative language used to express the experience across history, cultures, and traditions.

The basic structure of Stace’s common core as operationalized in the M scale can be easily summarized as follows: the common core is an experience of unity that in extrovertive mysticism includes the unifying perception that all is one and everything shares an inner subjectivity; in introvertive mysticism unity is experienced by a loss of ego in an experience of undifferentiated unity that has neither temporal nor spatial qualities. Both experiences share the shifting interpretative facets of sacredness, positive affect, ineffability, and noetic quality, and reference the unity.78

In their own review of eight traditions across both history and cultures that can be identified with totalizing world views (faith traditions), positive psychologists have noted that of seven virtues identified across eight traditions transcendence of self (mysticism) is explicitly mentioned in the Abrahamic faith traditions of the West (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and in the two explicit faith traditions of the East (Hinduism, Buddhism).79 Empirically studies have demonstrated similar factor structures for the M scale among the three Abrahamic faiths.80 Studies have also demonstrated similar factor structures among Tibetan Buddhists and among Hindu students in India.81 Thus, empirical data are congruent with the historical claims of positive psychologists with respect to the universality of mysticism.

Additional empirical evidence for the common core thesis has support from a debate within the contemporary psychology of religion centered on the conceptual and empirical distinctions between religion and spirituality.82 Studies employing the M scale indicate that mystical experience can occur among persons of differing spiritual and/or religious identifications with the difference between persons a function of the interpretation of the experience of unity, not the experience itself.83

Independently of this empirical literature, post-modern philosophers have begun the same debate. Don Cupitt notes that human beings have been led by meditation or contemplative prayer into “an experience of non-dual, undifferentiated unity.”84 He also emphasizes that the mystics were the true forerunners of deconstruction.85 In a similar vein, Benedikter has argued for a proto-spirituality largely rooted in an interest in apophatic mysticism in the first generation of deconstructionists such as Lyotard, Derrida, and Foucault. These figures all anticipate the return of a Renaissance of religion (largely religious fundamentalism) and champion an alternative spirituality rooted in mystical experience.86

A final consideration is that as contemporary psychologists study quasi-experimental and experimental considerations to facilitate mystical experience, the conceptual work of both James and Stace forces a consideration of the consequences of mystical experiences rather than the proximate conditions that may produce them. Diverse conditions such as sensory isolation, prayer, stress incongruities, and chemicals have all been documented to produce experiences that as measured by the M scale are identical.87 Thus, much of the theological and philosophical debate on authenticity of mystical experiences is altered by using criteria by which the question can be empirically resolved. Thus, the issue is not that a chemically facilitated experience cannot be identical to a prayerfully facilitated one, but rather what consequences follow for those who have such experiences. Here the distinction between state and trait mysticism allows for the longitudinal study of the consequences of transitory mystical experiences.

Trait mysticism can be interpreted as a mystical duality where one has the continual experience of what Bernadette Roberts has called the experience of no-self.88 Forman also notes his own experience of no-self.89 There are critical treatments of trait mysticism in Eastern religious and philosophical traditions.90 The descriptions of trait mysticism in various cultures leave open the question of the unity experienced and its expression in either theistic or nontheistic language.

The empirical study of the common core thesis has been greatly facilitated by a measure of mysticism that while not reducing mysticism to scale scores, provides a consistent criteria by which the presence of reported mystical experiences can be judged by objective measures influenced by the conceptual and phenomenology work of both James and Stace. Faith traditions in differing cultural contexts provide paths to facilitate this state and for some it simply occurs spontaneously. These states also occur and are common outside religious traditions, especially among those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. Such states are acknowledged by philosophers, psychoanalysts, religious studies scholars, empirical psychologists, and confessional scholars who base their analyses upon their own personal experiences. Finally, as emphasized by Almond, “In so far as we are speaking of contentless mystical experiences, there is unanimity and a universality which transcends the cultural content in which they occur.”91 Insofar as the M scale captures phenomenological reports of mystical experience from a variety of traditions and from individuals who concur in their experience of no-self, we have evidence that if psychology refuses to empirically investigate the conditions that facilitate this experience, it cannot rest complacent with the hidden philosophical assumption that such experiences cannot exist or are necessarily pathological.92 If the common core thesis is correct, theological and philosophical claims must be balanced against empirical studies in which the measurement of mystical reports provides part of the conversation necessary to assess the possibility of the simple assertion of an experienced unity behind diverse appearance. The common core thesis claims no more than this and as such is an empirically testable hypothesis.

Further Reading

Almond, Philip. Mystical Experience and Religious Doctrine: An Investigation of Mysticism in World’s Religions. New York: Mouton, 1982.Find this resource:

    Barnard, G. William. Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.Find this resource:

      Ellens, J. Harold, ed. Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances: Chemical Paths to Spirituality and to God. Vol. 2, Insights, Arguments, and Controversies. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014.Find this resource:

        Forman, Robert K. C., ed. The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Philosophy, and Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

          Hood, Ralph W., Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.” In Where God and Science Meet. Vol. 3. Edited by Patrick McNamara, 119–138. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.Find this resource:

            Huxley, Aldous. The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper, 1945.Find this resource:

              James, William. The Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.Find this resource:

                James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

                  Katz, Steven T., ed. Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.Find this resource:

                    Otto, Rudolph. Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism. Translated by Bertha L. Bracey and Richard C. Payne. New York: Macmillan, 1972.Find this resource:

                      Stace, Walter. Mysticism and Philosophy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1961.Find this resource:


                        (1.) Bernard McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism, vol. 1 of The Presence of God: A History of Christian Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 343.

                        (2.) Ibid., 265–343.

                        (3.) Ralph W. Hood Jr. “The Facilitation of Religious Experience,” in Handbook of Religious Experience, ed. Ralph W. Hood Jr. (Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1995), 535–597; Ralph W. Hood Jr., “The Empirical Study of Mysticism,” in The Psychology of Religion, ed. Bernard Spilka and Danny McIntosh (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), 222–232.

                        (4.) Ralph W. Hood Jr., “The Construction and Preliminary Validation of a Measure of Reported Mystical Experience,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 14 (1975): 29–41; Ralph W. Hood Jr. and Zhuo Chen, “The Social Scientific Study of Christian Mysticism,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, ed. Julia A. Lamm (Oxford: Blackwell, 2013), 577–591; Ralph W. Hood Jr. and Leslie J. Francis, “Mystical Experience: Conceptualizations, Measurement, and Correlates,” in Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, vol. 1, Context, Theory, & Research, ed.-in-chief Kenneth I. Pargament (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2013), 391–405.

                        (5.) Hood and Francis, “Mystical Experience: Conceptualizations, Measurement, and Correlates.”

                        (6.) Edward F. Kelly and Michael Grosso, “Mystical Experience,” in Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, ed. Edward F. Kelly, Emily E. Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, and Bruce Greyson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 495–575; David Wulff, “Mystical Experience,” in Varieties of Anomalous Experience, 2d ed., ed. Etzel Cardeña, Steven J. Lynn, and Stanley S. Krippner (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2014), 369–408.

                        (7.) Hood and Francis, “Mystical Experience: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Correlates.”

                        (8.) Wulff, “Mystical Experience,” 397, emphasis added.

                        (9.) William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 17, emphasis in original.

                        (10.) Hood, “The Construction and Preliminary Validation”; Ralph W. Hood Jr., “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism,” in Where God and Science Meet, ed. Patrick McNamara (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), 3:119–138.

                        (11.) James, Varieties, 332.

                        (12.) Ibid., 402n, 32.

                        (13.) Ibid., 323–324n, 28.

                        (14.) Ralph W. Hood Jr., “Conceptual and Empirical Consequences of the Unity Thesis,” in Mysticism: A Variety of Psychological Perspectives, ed. Jacob A. Belzen and Anton Geels (New York: Rodopi, 2003), 17–54; Hood, “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.”

                        (15.) William James, The Principles of Psychology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 1981.

                        (16.) George T. Ladd, “Psychology as So-Called ‘Natural Science,’” Philosophical Review 1 (1892): 24–53.

                        (17.) Jacob Belzen and Ralph W. Hood Jr., “Methodological Issues in the Psychology of Religion: Another Paradigm?” Journal of Psychology 140 (2006): 5–28; Amedeo Giorgi, “The Implications of James’s Plea for Psychology as a Natural Science,” in Reflection on the Principles of Psychology, ed. Michael G. Johnson and Tracy B. Henley (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1990), 63–75; David Wulff, “A Field in Crisis, Is It Time to Start Over?” in One Hundred Years of the Psychology of Religion, ed. Peter H. M. Poelofsma, Josef M. Corveleyn, and Joke W. van Sane (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2003), 11–32.

                        (18.) Charlene H. Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).

                        (19.) G. William Barnard, Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997); Ralph W. Hood Jr., “Self and Self Loss in Mystical Experience,” in Changing the Self, ed. Thomas M. Brinthaupt and Richard P. Lika (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 279–305; Ralph W. Hood Jr., “The Soulful Self of William James,” in The Struggle for Life: A Companion to William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, ed. Donald Capps and Janet L. Jacobs (Newton, KS: Mennonite Press, 1995), 209–219.

                        (20.) Jacob Belzen, “The Varieties of Functions of Religious Experience: James Varieties Reconsidered,” Archives de Psychologie 72 (2006): 49–66.

                        (21.) Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy, 402.

                        (22.) William James, Psychology the Briefer Course (New York: Henry Holt, 2001).

                        (23.) Ibid., 467.

                        (24.) Barry Dainton, Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience (London: Routledge, 2000); Eugene Fontinell, Self, God, and Immortality: A Jamesean Investigation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); Henry S. Levinson, The Religious Investigations of William James (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981); Gerald E. Myers, William James: His Life and Thought (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986); Robert D. Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

                        (25.) Myers, William James.

                        (26.) James McDermott, ed., The Writings of William James (New York: Random House, 1968).

                        (27.) James M. Edie, William James and Phenomenology (Bloomington, IN, 1987); Ralph W. Hood Jr., “The Mystical Self: Lost and Found,” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 12 (2002): 1–20; John Wild, The Radical Empiricism of William James (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1970); Bruce Wilshire, William James and Phenomenology: A Study of the Principles of Psychology (Bloomington, IN, 1968).

                        (28.) William James, Essay in Radical Empiricism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 81.

                        (29.) Ralph B. Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, 2 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1935), 79.

                        (30.) Ibid., 58.

                        (31.) Dainton, Stream of Consciousness, iv.

                        (32.) Hood, “The Soulful Self”; Hood, “The Mystical Self.”

                        (33.) David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, vol. 1 (Scienta Verlag Aalen; reprint of new edition, London, 1886).

                        (34.) William James, Principles, 1991, 33.

                        (35.) Ibid., 33.

                        (36.) Ibid., 345.

                        (37.) Ibid., 442.

                        (38.) Ibid., 323.

                        (39.) Ibid., 290–291, emphasis in original.

                        (40.) John Foster, The Immaterial Self: A Defense of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind (London: Routledge, 1996).

                        (41.) William James, Varieties, 301.

                        (42.) Ibid., 373, emphasis added.

                        (43.) Ralph W. Hood, Jr., “Conceptual and Empirical,” 2003; Ralph W. Hood Jr., The Common Core Thesis, 2006.

                        (44.) Bernard McGinn, The Foundations, 1991, 265–343.

                        (45.) Walter Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1961).

                        (46.) David Wulff, “Mystical Experience,” 397.

                        (47.) Christopher Burris, “Religious Experience Episodes Measure (REEM),” in Measures of Religiosity, eds. Peter C. Hill & Ralph W. Hood, Jr. (Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1999), 220–224; 224.

                        (48.) G. William Barnard, Exploring Unseen Worlds, 120.

                        (49.) Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope (London: Penguin, 1999), 24.

                        (50.) Barry Dainton, Streams of Consciousness, 2000, xv.

                        (51.) Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Steven T. Katz, ed., Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Steven T. Katz, ed., Mysticism and Religious Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Steven T. Katz, ed., Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

                        (52.) Roland Benedikter, Postmodern Spirituality: A Dialogue in Five Parts, 2007; Daniel Robinson, An Intellectual History of Psychology, 3d ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976).

                        (53.) William B. Parsons, The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Robert K. C. Forman, ed., The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Psychology, and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Robert K. C. Forman, ed., The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Robert K. C. Forman, Mysticism and Consciousness (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).

                        (54.) Janette G. Simonds, “The Oceanic Feeling in a Sea of Change: Historical Challenges to Reductionistic Attitudes and Spirit from within Psychoanalysis,” Psychoanalytic Psychology 23 (2006): 128–142.

                        (55.) Barnard, Exploring Unseen Worlds, 116.

                        (56.) Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 203.

                        (57.) F. Samuel Brainard, Reality and Mystical Experience (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 269.

                        (58.) Benedikter, Postmodern Spirituality, part 2, 12; part 1, 1.

                        (59.) Harold Coward, Derrida and Indian Philosophy (New York: State University of New York Pres, 1990); Don Cupitt, Mysticism after Modernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

                        (60.) Hood, “The Facilitation of Religious Experience.”

                        (61.) Robert K. C. Forman, The Innate Capacity, 1999.

                        (62.) G. William Barnard, Exploring Unseen Worlds, 1999, 109–127.

                        (63.) William James, Varieties, 1985[1902], 337.

                        (64.) William James, Varieties, 1985[1902]), 401, emphasis in original.

                        (65.) William James, Varieties, 1985[1902], 336.

                        (66.) Rufus Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (New York: Russell & Russell, 1909), xxxiv.

                        (67.) Walter Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 1961, 253–254.

                        (68.) Forman, R. K. C. The Problem of Pure Consciousness, 1999.

                        (69.) For instance, G. William Barnard, Exploring Unseen Worlds, 1997; Robert K. C. Forman, The Innate Capacity, 1999); Bernadette Roberts, The Experience of No-Self: A Contemplative Journey (Boston: Shambala, 1984).

                        (70.) Robert K. C. Forman, “Mystical Knowledge: Knowledge by Identity,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 61.4 (1993): 705–738.

                        (71.) Frits Staal, Exploring Mysticism: A Methodological Essay (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); Kurt Danziger, Constructing the Subject: Historical Origins of Psychological Research (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

                        (72.) Philip C. Almond, Mystical Experience and Religious Doctrine: An Investigation of the Study of Mysticism in World Religions (Berlin: Mouton, 1982).

                        (73.) Ibid., 174.

                        (74.) Robert K. C. Forman, The Innate Capacity, 1999, 21–27.

                        (75.) Charlene Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy, 1990, 12.

                        (76.) Walter Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 1961, 38.

                        (77.) Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism, trans. L. Bracey and Richard C. Payne (New York: Macmillan, 1932, German 1926).

                        (78.) Walter Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 1961, 46–47.

                        (79.) Ralph W. Hood, Jr. The Common Core, 2006.

                        (80.) Katherine Dahlsgaard, Christopher Petersen, and Sitten P. Seligman, “Shared Virtue: The Convergence of Valued Human Strengths across Culture and History,” Review of General Psychology 9 (2005): 203–213.

                        (81.) Aryeh Lazar and Shlomo Kravetz, “Response to the Mystical Scale by Religious Jewish Persons: A Comparison of Structural Models of Religious Experience,” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 15 (2005): 51–61; Ralph W. Hood Jr., Nima Ghorbani, Paul J. Watson, Ahad F. Ghramaleki, Mark B. Bing, H. Kristl Davison, Ronald J. Morris, and W. Paul Williamson, “Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the Three Factor Structure in the United States and Iran,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40 (2001): 691–705; Ralph W. Hood Jr. and W. Paul Williamson, “An Empirical Test of the Unity Thesis: The Structure of Mystical Descriptors in Various Faith Samples,” Journal of Christianity and Psychology, 10 (2000): 222–224.

                        (82.) Zhuo Chen, Lijiun Yang, Ralph W. Hood Jr., and Paul J. Watson, “Mystical Experience in Tibetan Buddhists: The Common Core Thesis Revisited,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50 (2011): 328–338; Francis-Vincent Anthony, Chris A. Hermans, and Carl Sterkens, “A Comparative Study of Mystical Experience among Christian, Hindu, and Muslim Students in Tamil Nadu, India,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 49 (2010): 264–277.

                        (83.) Heinz Streib and Ralph W. Hood Jr., The Psychology and Semantics of Spirituality: A Cross Cultural Analysis (Switzerland: Springer International, 2016).

                        (84.) Walter Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 1961, 109–110.

                        (85.) Don Cuppit, Mysticism after Modernity (1988), 41.

                        (86.) Ibid., 93–122.

                        (87.) Roland Benedikter, Postmodern Spirituality, 2007.

                        (88.) Ralph W. Hood Jr., “Chemically Facilitated Mysticism and the Question of Veridicality,” in Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances: Chemical Paths to Spirituality and to God, vol. 2, Insights, Arguments, and Controversies, ed. J. Harold Ellens (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014).

                        (89.) Bernadette Roberts, The Experience of No-Self, 1984.

                        (90.) Robert K. C. Forman, The Innate Capacity, 1999, 140–146.

                        (91.) Stephen Collins, Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism (Newcastle, U.K.: Athenauem Press, 1992); Keiji Nishitania, Religion and Nothingness, trans. W. L. King (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).

                        (92.) Philip C. Almond, Mystical Experience, 1982, 176.