Western Mysticism – A Timeline

trees_fog_haze_secret_mysticismThis page covers people and movements in the tradition of Western mysticism, from the early Greek period to about 1700. It is arranged chronologically, and it’s purpose is to give a short overview of Western mysticism with links to other websites. As much as possible, I try to link to the etexts for the mystical writings of these authors.
The original version of this page was created a while ago by Bruce B. Janz from the University of Central Florida “for the free use of scholars and students of mysticism.” I could not find his original version on the Internet anymore, but the credit for putting this collection together belongs to him. I reworked the document in September 2015, and created or updated many links to outside sources. I did this mainly for the benefit of students in my “Mysticism” class, and I hope other people will find this to be a helpful resource as well. Please notify me if you find links that don’t work any more.
The descriptions for the people discussed here are very short; for more information see the biography sources listed at the bottom. If “influences” are mentioned, they are only to identify major precursors to a particular person’s mystical thought. You will also find a section with useful terms, important trends, and outlines of influential movements.

Pre-Christian Mystics and influences on Mysticism.

  • Pythagoras (c.580/570-c.500 B.C.E.): A Presocratic philosopher. fFounder of a major school of philosophy/religion that emphasized the mystical interconnections in numbers, nature, and the human soul. The natural and the ethical world were inseparable.
  • Parmenides (c.515-c.450 B.C.E.): On Nature, extant in fragments. Another of the Presocratics. Extends Pythagoras by insisting that all that exists is unchanging and unified. Therefore, if something is changing, it is illusory. This paves the way for the two-world view important for much mysticism. Influences: Pythagoras.
  • Plato (428-348 B.C.E.): Sophist, Republic, Parmenides, many others. Most important of ancient philosophers. His philosophical system provides the basis of most later mystical forms. Influences: Pythagoras, Parmenides.
  • Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.): Metaphysics, De Anima, Nicomachean Ethics. While Aristotle himself is not really considered to be a mystic, he is an important influence on later mystics, especially when combined with Plato by Plotinus, and also when christianized in the high Middle Ages.
  • Philo (c.20 B.C.E.-c.41 C.E.): The Contemplative Life. An Alexandrian Jew who drew from Platonist tradition, Stoicism, and Neo-Pythagoreanism to create a fusion of the active or virtuous life and the contemplative life.
  • Plotinus (c.205-270 C.E.): Enneads. The non-Christian, neo-Platonic basis for much Christian, Jewish, and Islamic mysticism. Influences: Plato, Aristotle.
  • Porphyry (c.232-304 C.E.): Isagoge. Compiled Plotinus’ Enneads, and wrote a life of Plotinus. He was strongly anti-Christian, yet he became important in the history of Christian mysticism.
  • Proclus or Proclusthe Lycian (412-485 C.E.): The Elements of Theology. Athenian Neo-platonist, who influenced Pseudo-Dionysius, and beyond him most of the mystical tradition. While respecting Plotinus, Proclus also amended his philosophical structure.

Christian Mystics and Movements

Early Church

  • Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-c.107): Christocentric mystic. For him Christ’s death and resurrection take on mystical significance.
  • St. Polycarp (c.69-c.155): Had a mystical vision which foretold his martyrdom by fire.
  • Justin Martyr (c.105-c.165): First Apology. Used Greek philosophy as the stepping-stone to Christian theology. The mystical conclusions that some Greeks arrived at, pointed to Christ. Influences: Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Aristotle, Stoicism.
  • Irenaeus (c.125-c.202): Revolution and Overthrow of False Knowledge (or Against Heresies). Irenaeus’ work was directed against Gnosticism. He emphasized John’s gospel, particularly the Logos, which became the voice of God that revealed itself to all people.
  • Tertullian (c.155-c.222): To Martyrs, Apology, Against the Valentinians, Against Marcion, On the Soul. Emphasized a faith that was a contradiction to reason. “I believe because it is absurd.” First to use trinitarian (three-in-one) formulation for God. The word “trinity” never appears in the Bible; Tertullian introduced it first.
  • Origen (c.185-254): On Principles, Against Celsus. Studied under Clement of Alexandria, and probably also Ammonius Saccus (Plotinus’ teacher). He Christianized and theologized neo-Platonism. Each soul has individually fallen (emanation), and must find its way back to God (return) through the help of the Logos, Christ. Origen looks quite Gnostic at times.
  • St. Antony (c.251-356): The Letters of St. Antony the Great. Early hermit or solitary monk, and a model for later monasticism, particularly of his eremetical type.
  • St. Athanasius (c.296-373): Against the Gentiles, Apology Against the Arians. Bishop of Alexandria (328-73), wrote a Life of Antony, and was an influence on later Eastern Orthodox mysticism.
  • Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389): Forty-five Sermons. One of the Cappadocians, early church fathers.
  • Basil the Great (c.330-379): Longer Rules, Liturgy of St. Basil. One of the Cappadocians, early church fathers. He gave a mystical orientation to the monastic movement.
  • Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.398): Dialogue with his Sister Macrina concerning the Resurrection. Believed that the universe existed as a harmonious order emanating from God. One of the Cappadocians.
  • Augustine (354-430): De Trinitate, Confessions. Important source for much medieval mysticism. Brings Platonism and Christianity together. He emphasizes the soul’s search for God, made possible by the illumination of the mind of God. Influences: Plato, Plotinus.

Medieval Catholic and Orthodox Churches

  • Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (writing c.500): The Celestial Hierarchy, the Mystical Theology, and The Divine Names. Originates the distinction between kataphatic and apophatic theology. Influences: Plotinus.
  • John Scotus Eriugena (c.810-c.877): Periphyseon. Eriugena translated Pseudo-Dionysius from Greek into Latin. He holds that humans are a microcosm of the universe. That which is shared, the essence of all things, is God. Influences: Plotinus, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius.
  • Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153): Sermons, De diligendo Deo, On the Love of God. Cistercian mystic. Promoted a mystical vision of rhapsodic love, in which the Church is described in erotic terms as the bride of Christ. His love-mysticism had the tendency to be anti-intellectual, as in his disputes with Abelard.
  • William of St.-Thierry (c.1085-1148): Golden Letter, On the Contemplation of God, On the Nature and Dignity of Love. A Cistercian contemporary of Bernard’s, William also emphasized love-mysticism, but with subtle differences from Bernard in his use of Augustine.
  • Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): Scivias, The Book of Divine Works, Letters. Early German speculative mystic, reminiscent of Isaiah or Ezekiel at times. She was greatly respected in her time, both for her writings as well as for her music and art. Influences: Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux.
  • Victorines: Hugh of St. Victor (c.1096-c.1142), Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173): On Sacraments. Hugh is the more important of the two. He argues for a close tie between reason and mysticism.
  • Francis of Assisi (John Bernardone) (1182-1226): Canticle of the Sun. Founder of the Franciscan order, which emphasized self-renunciation and poverty. Francis approaches nature mysticism at times, particularly when he sees God in all living things.
  • Albertus Magnus (1206-1280): The teacher of Thomas Aquinas. In the tradition of Pythagoras, emphasized the essential unity of science and mysticism. Influences: Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius.
  • Beatrice of Nazareth (1200-1268): The Seven modes of Sacred Love. Belgian Cistercian mystic. Associated with the Beguines. Influences: Augustine.
  • Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207-1282): The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Strongly feminine images in mysticism. Devotional mystic. Associated with the Beguines. Influences: Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard, Gregory the Great.
  • Bonaventure (John Fidanza) (1217-1274): The Mind’s Road to God, The Tree of Life, The Life of St. Francis. Franciscan monk, and the architect of the philosophical, theological, and mystical side of Francis’ thought. Mysticism in the Augustinian tradition. Influences: Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, Victorines.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275): Summa Theologica, De Anima, many others. Dominican monk and the greatest Catholic theologian and philosopher. Late in life, he had a mystical experience which caused him to question his scholastic past. Influences: Aristotle, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, Eriugena.
  • Ramon Llull (c.1235-1315): Great Art, The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. Franciscan. Legend has it that Llull wrote 200 works, was an alchemist and a magician. He also worked on the logic of science. The “Great Art” is the scientific and mystical calculation of the interrelations of all things. Influences: Bonaventure.
  • Angela of Foligno (c.1248-1309): The Book of Divine Consolations of the Blessed Angela of Foligno. Mysticism is based on the facts of Christ’s life and death. Influences: Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure.
  • Marguerite Porete (d. 1310): The Mirror of Simple Souls.
  • Meister Eckhart (1260-1327/8): Sermons, Parisian Questions and Prologues. [Some English-language selections from his writings are available.] Dominican monk. One of the most important early German speculative mystics. Eckhart is the first of the so-called “Rhineland” mystics. The Sermons were in German, the academic works in Latin. Influences: Pseudo-Dionysius.
  • Hadewijch (Adelwip) of Brabant/Antwerp (13th century): Letters, Poems in Stanzas, Visions, Poems in Couplets. Belgian Beguine. One of the greatest exponents of love mysticism. Influences: Plato, Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, Richard of St. Victor.
  • Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381): The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage (Spiritual Espousals), The Sparkling Stone, The Book of Supreme Truth. Flemish mystic, sometimes considered one of the Rhineland mystics. Outlines the stages of the mystical life. Influences: Eckhart, Hadewijch.
  • Henry Suso (1295-1366): The Little Book of Truth, The Little Book of Wisdom (Horologium Sapientiae). A Rhineland mystic. Influences: Eckhart.
  • Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Eastern Orthodox mystic. Influences: Pseudo-Dionysius, Athanasius.
  • Johannes Tauler (1300-1361): Sermons. Rhineland mystic and Dominican. Tauler emphasized the inner person rather than outer works, and because of this became popular in Protestant circles in the Reformation, and later Pietism and Romanticism. He was part of the same community that produced the Theologia Germanica. Influences: Eckhart, Mechthild of Magdeburg.
  • Anonymous (c.1350-1400): Theologia Germanica or Theologia Deutsch. Important influence in the German mystical tradition. Luther rediscovered and popularized it. Influences: Augustine, Eckhart, Tauler.
  • Richard Rolle (1300-1349): The Fire of Love. Part of the “English school” of late mediaeval mysticism. Emphasizes the “physicality” of the mystical experience (feeling heat, seeing colours, etc.).
  • Birgitta (Brigida) Suecica of Sweden (1302-1373): Ascetic mystic. Heavily involved in political activity. Influences: St. Francis of Assisi.
  • Anonymous (c.1349-c.1395): The Cloud of Unknowing. The Book of Privy Council. Part of the “English school” of late mediaeval mysticism. The emphasis on “unknowing” God is part of Pseudo-Dionysius’ apophatic theology. Influences: Pseudo-Dionysius.
  • Walter Hilton (d. 1395): The Scale (Ladder) of Perfection, Epistle to a Devout Man. An Augustinian monk, Hilton was an English mystic.
  • Julian of Norwich (1342-1413?): Showings or Revelations of Divine Love. Julian was part of the “English school” of late mediaeval mysticism. Mystical experience that came at the point of death. The experience came with healing, and she devoted her life to understanding her vision. Influences: Pseudo-Dionysius, Aquinas (?).
  • Margery Kempe (c.1413): Mainly known as the biographer of Julian of Norwich.
  • Catherine of Siena (1347-1380): Il Dialogo. Italian. Mystic; advisor to Pope Gregory XI. Influences: Augustine.
  • Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): The Imitation of Christ. Augustinian monk. Finest expression of devotio moderna, modern spirituality, which downplays the Rhineland mystics’ concern with contemplation and speculative theology, and stresses the practice of simple piety and asceticism. Influences: Eckhart.
  • Nicolaus of Cusa (Cusanus, Nikolaus Krebs) (1401-1464): The Vision of God (1453), De Docta Ignorantia. German mystic. Part of the revival of Platonism in the Renaissance. Cusanus was a speculative mystic who emphasized the incomprehensibility and paradoxicality of God. Influences: Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Eckhart.
  • St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510): Life and Doctrines, Treatise on Purgatory. Mysticism spurred in part by the abuse and neglect by her husband. Her trauma becomes mystical as she argues that purgatory is a stage on the mystical path, the final purification of the effects of self-love.
  • Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Life, by Herself; The Way of Perfection; The Interior Castle. Spanish Carmelite nun. Formed the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites, with St. John of the Cross. Is very important for describing the stages of the mystical journey. Influences: Augustine.
  • St. John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes) (1542-1591): Dark Night of the Soul and Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Spanish mystic. (Discalced Carmelite) Both John and Teresa emphasize mysticism as union with God, attainable only in the denial of the self. Influences: Teresa of Avila.
  • Giordano Bruno (1548-1600): Hermetic philosopher, one of the most important philosophers of the Renaissance. Bruno advocated a kind of nature mysticism which had a strong scientific component to it.
  • St. Francois de Sales (1567-1622): The Introduction to the Devout Life (Philothea), Treatise on the Love of God. French mystic. Devout Life is a classic of French spirituality.
  • Louis Claude de Saint Martin (1743-1803): Theosophic Correspondence. While technically Catholic, St. Martin’s mysticism follows much closer in the tradition of Boehme and other nature mystics. Influences: Boehme, Swedenborg, Weigel, Law.

Non-Catholic Christian Mystics (16th-18th century)

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546): While Luther had a well-known antipathy to mystics, it is also true that there is the foundation of mystical life in his theology of the heart, particularly in his early thought. Influences: Augustine, Theologica Germanica.
  • Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535): De Occulta Philosophia (1533). It is not clear whether to call Agrippa Catholic or not. He did not embrace the Reformation, yet many of his themes are much closer to Weigel and Boehme than to any Catholic mystic. His was a speculative mysticism, as much interested in magic and alchemy as in spiritual life.
  • Paracelsus (Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) (1493-1541): Another speculative mystic more interested in medical alchemy, astronomy, and natural philosophy.
  • Valentin Weigel (1533-1588): Know Thyself (1572). Weigel begins in the tradition of Rhineland mysticism, and moves to the speculative nature mysticism of Paracelsus. Influences: Eckhart, Tauler, Theologica Germanica, Paracelsus.
  • Jacob Boehme (1575-1624): Aurora (1612) [in German], Mysterium Pansophicum (1620), Signature Rerum (1622), Mysterium Magnum (1623). Lusatian Lutheran. A major figure in German mysticism. Influences: Eckhart, the Jewish Kabbalah, Valentin Weigel, Renaissance alchemy, Paracelsus.
  • Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636-1689): Kabbala Denudata: The Kabbalah Uncovered. A Christian Kabbalist. Influenced by the Kabbalah, Jacob Boehme.
  • Angelus Silesius (Johannes Scheffler 1624-1677): The Cherubic Wanderer (1657-on). Mysticism in epigrammatic couplets.
  • George Fox (1624-1691): Founder of the Quakers. Influences: Boehme.
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716): Monadology. Usually thought of as a rationalist philosopher rather than a mystic. However, while it may be too much to call him a mystic, it is certainly possible to see the affinities between his thought and that of Cusanus, Weigel, Boehme, and other nature mystics. His most important contribution is to blend inner life with rationality; most Pietists (and most scientists) assumed them to be mutually exclusive.
  • William Law (1686-1761): The Spirit of Love (1752-1754). English mystic. Law is most famous for his devotional works (like A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life), but later in his life he became interested in Jacob Boehme, and wrote several mystical treatises.
  • Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772): Many works, including Arcana Coelestia, Heaven and Hell, The Heavenly City, Divine Love and Wisdom, etc. Swedenborg worked out a detailed understanding of nature mysticism, applying it to everything from the animal world to the spiritual world. He is one of the few mystics to have an active following to the present.
  • Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782): Nature mystic, Pietist. Influences: Boehme, Weigel, Swedenborg.
  • Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803): Another person who is often not counted as a mystic, but who followed Leibnitz in attempting to blend science and mysticism into a kind of vitalism. Influences: Cusanus, Boehme, Leibnitz.

After the 18th century, the influence of mysticism explodes in the Romanticism of Germany, England, and America. True mystics, however, remain few.

Jewish Mystics and Mysticism

Hasidism

Islamic Mystics and Mysticism

  • Sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam. It has its sources in sacred texts, the remembrance of Allah, and respect for those who exemplify the straight path of Islam through and beyond explicit injunctions of the law.
  • Hasan of Basra (d. 728): Early advocate of ascetic piety. Hasan emphasized the Koran or Qur’an as the standard of right and wrong, which in turn emphasized the fear of God.
  • al Hallaj (d. 922): The Ta wa-sin Tried and executed for claiming that God had come to dwell in him.
  • al Farabi (ca. 873-950): Important philosopher as well as a mystic. Influences: Plotinus.
  • al Ghazali (d. 1111): First-rate Aristotelean philosopher, who extended Aristotle’s theory of perception to argue for a kind of mystical perception that goes beyond reason. Influences: Aristotle.

Movements related to Mysticism.

  • Alchemy: Alchemy often assumes a hermetic world view. Most people know alchemy as the search for the principle of transmutation of base metals into higher versions (e.g., lead into gold). Alchemy is a broad undertaking; it represents the attempt to understand the connections in the world. Paracelsus practiced a medical alchemy, in which the body was a collection of balancing principles, and illness meant that the balance was off. If you take away the spiritual assumptions behind the alchemical forces, you have something remarkably close to Newtonian physics.
  • Beghards: male counterparts to the Beguines. Fewer, and less of an issue for the church at the time.
  • Beguines: group of female contemplatives, some of whom were mystics. They were condemned as heretics because they represented a challenge to the church’s authority. Many important female mystics were associated with the Beguines, although the group was not necessarily mystical (some thought that mystical visions got in the way of practical life).
  • Gnosticism: Derived from Greek gnosis, knowledge. The Gnostic is one who claims esoteric knowledge about God and the metaphysical structure of the universe. There is a strong distinction between spirit and matter, God and the world. This position sometimes resulted in asceticism (the spirit must be liberated from the bonds of the flesh), and sometimes antinomianism (the material world is inconsequential, so there is no point in resisting carnal impulses). Some later mysticism (e.g. quietism) has the world-denying aspects of gnosticism.
  • Hermeticism: Followers of the legendary figure Hermes Trismegistus, or thrice-great Hermes, reputed to be an Egyptian writer. Much nature mysticism of the Renaissance found hermetic thought useful, because both understood the world to be intrinsically interconnected, and only understandable once those connections were clear. Hermes mixed with Pseudo-Dionysius was common fare in Renaissance Italy, until Isaac Casaubon showed that Hermes was not who he said he was.
  • Kabbalah: Jewish mysticism that has its roots earlier than Christianity, but which flourishes in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The Kabbalah struggles with the problem of how the human person can relate to a God who is totally other, and how that God relates to creation.
  • Monasticism: Although the tendency to live apart for spiritual devotion has a long history, it is closely tied to mysticism in the Middle Ages. The disciplines associated with mysticism have their most rigorous application there. The most famous orders are the Franciscans (St. Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure), the Dominicans (Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart), the Carmelites (Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross), the Benedictines (St. Benedict), and the Jesuits (St. Ignatius of Loyola). The orders exist to this day, and continue to be places that encourage mysticism and contemplation (Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, for instance).
  • Rhineland Mysticism: The Rhineland mystics were German mystics that follow the influence of Meister Eckhart. They tend to emphasize the search for the inner ground of the soul.
  • Sufism: The mystical bent in Islam is supported by passages from the Koran (or Qur’an) and is represented by the Sufis. Because there is a dominant emphasis on prophetic activism and legalism in Islam, Muslim tradition may be seen as inhospitable to mysticism. Nevertheless, the Sufi way, mainly transmitted through “lay orders” that trace their origin to some influential spiritual teacher, preserve a distinctively Islamic mysticism. Among these Sufi subtraditions are the Naqshbandi and the Nimatullahi, but there are several others. A few modern organizations (such as the International Sufi Movement led by Hidayat Inayat Khan) claim descent from traditional Sufis but do not require their followers to be Muslims. And recently the great Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi has been rediscovered as a source of inspiration. However, most practicing Sufis affirm that they are Muslims.

Selected Bibliography

The sources in mysticism are quite varied. Sometimes whole works are devoted to the subject; sometimes one can find a chapter on mysticism in a book devoted to some other subject. General reflections on mysticism can often be found as introductions or appendices to works on particular mystics, or as chapters in books on philosophy or psychologies of religion. In addition, many works on mysticism that seem to be reflections on the nature of mysticism are actually anthologies of writings of various mystics. Compounding the problem of finding good sources is the fact that the word “mysticism” has been used for all sorts of experiences, philosophical positions, personality types, writings, or New Age literature.

The book list below is highly selective, if the reader has further suggestions I will gladly include them.

Biographies and Bibliographies

  • Bowman, Mary Ann. Western mysticism: A guide to the basic works. Chicago: American Library Association, 1978. ~~ A very good work, to 1978. It is well organized, and has a good index. It is better than Sharma & Arndt, although both are quite old.
  • Jones, C., Wainwright, G., Yarnold, E., eds. The study of spirituality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. ~~ Each entry comes with a short bibliography. This is a good place to start if you want information on a particular individual.
  • McGinn, Bernard. The foundations of mysticism. New York: Crossroad Press, 1991. Excellent book; McGinn has a great bibliography in the back.
  • Sharma, Umesh and Arndt, John. Mysticism: A select bibliography. Waterloo, Ont.: Waterloo Lutheran University, 1973. ~~ This bibliography goes well beyond Western mysticism. At over 1500 entries, it is quite good. it is hard to find, however, and it is over 20 years old. Much has been written about mysticism since 1973. While the entries are not organized under headings, there is an index at the back. A good resource.
  • Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism, 12th edition. New York: Meridian Books, 1955. Underhill lists texts, translations, and studies for many different mystics, quite a number not included on this page.
  • Encyclopedia of philosophy, Macmillan and Free Press, 1967. It will not have all the mystics listed above, but only those that are clearly philosophically significant. However, what it does have is well done.
  • Ferguson, John. An illustrated encyclopedia of mysticism and the mystery religions. New York: Seabury Press, 1977. This is a good quick reference for people, movements, and ideas.
  • Jones, C., Wainwright, G., Yarnold, E., eds. The study of spirituality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. ~~ A good resource on the history of spirituality, with dozens of entries by major writers on important people, movements, and concepts.
  • Reese, W. L., Dictionary of philosophy and religion. Humanities Press, 1980. ~~ Very brief entries on virtually all the people mentioned here.

Secondary Sources

  • Almond, Philip. Mystical experience and religious doctrine: An investigation of the study of mysticism in world religions. Berlin and New York: Mouton, 1982. ~~ Almond focuses on the interpretation of mystical experience, and does a good critique of different thinkers.
  • Bynum, Caroline Walker. Jesus as mother. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. ~~ A classic on mysticism and women in the High Middle Ages.
  • Carmody, Denise L. & John T. Carmody. Mysticism: Holiness east and west. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. ~~ An overview of mysticism around the world. As with most works of this sort, the further the term mysticism is extended, the harder it is to maintain the commonalities. Still, not a bad introduction.
  • Certeau, Michel de. The mystic fable. Volume 1: The 16th and 17th Centuries. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992. ~~ de Certeau is chiefly known for his work in post-modern and post-colonial circles, mainly on embodiment. This is one of his final works, and is an excellent rethinking of early modern mysticism as the “attempt to represent the unrepresentable.”
  • Ellwood, Robert. Mysticism and religion. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1980. ~~ Long used as a basic introduction to mysticism in religion departments. Also available in a slightly revised second edition ~ New York: Seven Bridges Press, 1998.
  • Evans, Donald. Spirituality and human nature. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1992. ~~ A philosopher/mystic teaching at the University of Toronto gives a defense of the rationality and respectability of mystical experience.
  • Forman, Robert K. C., ed. The problem of pure consciousness: Mysticism and philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. ~~ A good compilation of essays on the debate between perennialists and constructivists, as Forman calls them, or those who regard mystical experience as pure, and those that argue that it is mediated through language, tradition, culture, religion, and other factors.
  • Happold, F. C. Mysticism: A study and an anthology. London, England: Penguin, 1963. ~~ One of the first attempts to place mysticism in the modern world.
  • Horne, James. Beyond mysticism (1978). The moral mystic (1983). Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ~~ Both these books deserve more attention than they receive. Horne identifies and tackles several issues in philosophy and mysticism.
  • Huegel, F. von. The mystical element of religion. 2 vols., London: Dent, 1908; New York: Dutton, 1923. ~~ The grand-daddy of modern scholarship on mysticism. Working from the writings of Catherine of Genoa, Huegel concludes that the mystical or experiential element is an essential component of true religion.
  • Idel, Moshe. Kabbalah: New perspectives. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. ~~ The best recent discussion of the Kabbalah.
  • Idel, Moshe & Bernard McGinn, eds. Mystical union and monotheistic faith: An ecumenical dialogue. New York: MacMillan, 1989. ~~ An investigation of the unio mystica in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. ~ Reprinted as Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: An Ecumenical Dialogue. New York: Continuum, 1996.
  • James, William. The varieties of religious experience. New York: Mentor Books, 1958. ~~ One of the first Gifford Lectures ever given (1901-1902), James’ book has a long section in which he gives examples of mystical experience and outlines a rudimentary phenomenology of mysticism. This is the starting point for many later writers. His (1897) essay “The will to believe” raises questions that complement rather than contribute directly to the study of mysticism.
  • Jones, Richard. Mysticism examined. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1993. ~~ A collection of Jones’ essays from the previous 15 years, he takes an analytic philosophical approach to the questions of mysticism.
  • Katz, Steven, ed. Mysticism and philosophical analysis (1978). London and New York: Oxford University Press.
    ___________, ed. Mysticism and religious traditions (1983). London and New York: Oxford University Press.
    ___________, ed. Mysticism and language (1992). London and New York: Oxford University Press.
    All these volumes have important essays in them. One of them is Katz’ own “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism” in the first book. That essay set the stage for a debate over the nature of mystical experience that continues today.
  • Louth, Andrew. The origins of the Christian mystical tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. Just about anything Louth writes is worth reading (he also did a very good introduction to Pseudo-Dionysius, called Denis the Areopagite, and several essays on patristic-age mystics); this was the best on this topic before McGinn’s work.
  • McGinn, Bernard. The foundations of mysticism. New York: Crossroad Press, 1991. ~~ The first of a promised 4-volume series on the history and theory of mysticism, this is a good beginning. It is wide-ranging, sympathetic to mysticism without being blind to its problems, well researched, and easy to read. It also gives intelligent critiques of many other recent writers on mysticism. Volume II, The growth of mysticism, continues the strong tradition of scholarship. It covers the period from Gregory the Great to the 12th century.
  • Otto, Rudolf. The idea of the holy. London: Oxford University Press, 1958. ~~ As the subtitle says, “an inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational.” Technically not mysticism, but Otto (1869-1937) has major implications for mysticism. His later book, Mysticism east and west, which may from the title seem more relevant to a discussion of mysticism, is a flawed attempt to compare Meister Eckhart and Acharya Sankara.
  • Scholem, Gershom. Major trends in Jewish mysticism. New York: Schocken Books, 1961. (First published in 1941.) ~~ Scholem is the most famous modern interpreter of Jewish mysticism. This provides a good overview.
  • Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: Dorset Books, 1974. ~~ An important work on Jewish mysticism. Idel’s book (see above) is more scholarly.
  • Staal, Frits. Exploring mysticism. London, England: Penguin, 1975. ~~ Staal argues that mystical experience can be studied in the same way that we would study any other object of scientific investigation, as long as there is some way of inducing actual mystical states in the researcher.
  • Stace, W. T. Mysticism and philosophy. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott, 1960. ~~ Stace makes some classic distinctions here that have become part of the language of theory of mysticism.
  • Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism, 12th edition. New York: Meridian Books, 1955. ~~ First published in 1910, Underhill tries to consider mysticism from both the outside and the inside. This is an old classic, and worth consulting, even though later works fulfill this project better.
  • Underhill, Evelyn. Practical mysticism. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1915. ~~ Despite the odd title, this is a good introduction to the life and practice of mysticism. Underhill intends this as a kind of primer to the mystical life.
  • Weeks, Andrew. German mysticism. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1993. ~~ After work on Jacob Boehme, Weeks provides solid treatment of mysticism through about 800 years of German history. Weeks is an historian, and as such contextualizes mysticism in the political, social, and intellectual worlds very well.
  • Woods, Richard, ed. Understanding mysticism. New York: Image Books, 1980. ~~ A very good collection of essays on mysticism, from a variety of points of view and disciplinary commitments.
  • Zaehner, R. C. Mysticism: Sacred and profane. London: Oxford, 1961. ~~ Zaehner argues for a difference between theistic and monistic (nature) mysticism, the latter of which is induced by (among other things) drugs.