SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Mysticism in the Great Traditions

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Mystical beliefs and practices appear to exist in all religious traditions, but their comparative study is not without significant theoretical and methodological challenges. The course will begin by situating the academic study of mysticism within the wider religious studies field but will identify some of the issues particular to this area of academic interest. Scholars who have worked in this discipline will be identified and their writings examined. The problem of applying the "mysticism" appellation to non-Christian religious traditions will be acknowledged and efforts to address the issue will be critiqued. Major theses in the contemporary study of mysticism will be illustrated through reference to a number of the world's religious traditions including the Abrahamic faiths, Buddhism, Hinduism and African religions.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student will:

  • give a basic comparative account of mysticism in different traditions

  • identify and explain the most important themes in the study of mysticism

  • critically evaluate and apply a number of theoretical approaches to the study of mysticism

  • conduct comparative research in the study of mysticism

Scope and syllabus

The weeks divided on these subjects:

  • Introduction
  • A Brief History of the Academic Study of Mysticism
  • Terms and Methodologies in the Academic Study of Mysticism
  • Ecstasy vs. Trance in Mysticism
  • Knowing and Unknowing
  • Mysticism and Morality
  • Mysticism and Patriarchy
  • Mysticism and Politics
  • Mysticism and Interreligious Dialogue
  • Conclusion: The Future of Mysticism

Method of assessment

  • One Essay plan (20%)
  • One Essay (3,000 words) (80%)

Suggested reading

  • William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Auckland 1902.

  • Dan Joseph, Jewish Mysticism, Northvale, NJ 1998.

  • Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance, Chicago 1985

  • Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness, London 1911

  • Evan Zuesse, Ritual Cosmos: The Sanctification of Life in African Religions, Athens, OH 1979.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules