Mystical, Spiritual, and Religious Experiences

Mystical, Spiritual, and Religious Experiences

The one undisputed classic in the field of psychology of religion isThe Varieties of Religious Experience (James, 1902/1985), a text that Miller and Thorensen (1999, p. 7) say might be titledThe Varieties of Spiritual Experienceif published today. It is worth emphasizing that the subtitle of this classic is "A Study in Human Nature" and that James claimed that the "root and centre" of personal religion is in mystical states of consciousness (1902/1985, p. 301). Thus psychologists ought to be interested in mystical, spiritual, and religious experiences insofar as they are part of human nature. Since there are major current reviews of the research on both mysticism (Hood, 2002b; Spilka, Hood, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003, Chap. 10; Wulff, 2000) and spiritual and religious experience (Hood, 1995a; Spilka et al., 2003, Chap. 9), we shall be selective in our evaluation of the literature. Our focus is framed within the proposal for a newmultilevel interdisciplinary paradigm (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003, p. 395, emphasis in original) as we reconsider some of the material in the reviews noted above.


A dominant theme both conceptually and empirically within the psychology of religion is whether religion and spirituality can and ought to be differentiated. Reviews of this debate are readily available (see Zinnabauer & Pargament, Chapter 2, this volume). While investigators may vary in their personal commitment to transcendence, they share a consensus that scientific definitions of both spirituality and religion must include a sense of, a belief in, or a search for the transcendent (Hill et al., 2000). However, scholars continue to debate whether or not the transcendent is "vertical," implying a sense of the divine, essentially a code expression for a supernatural being or beings. Those who accept a "vertical" transcendence identify it with religion in the sense of a shared community of believers that identifies, labels, or even constructs its ultimate reality (Beit-Hallahmi, 2003; Hood, 2003b). As a community of affirmation, religion necessarily excludes competing claims to reality. Thus, in this sense, "religion" is a more narrow term than the term "spirituality." While most religious persons define themselves as spiritual, there is an emerging group of people in the United States who define themselves as spiritual but not religious (Hood, 2003b). Some social scientists have argued that the diversity of belief and experiences of these people make spirituality a "fuzzy" concept (Spilka, 1993). We explore this claim shortly, but for now it is worth noting that when religion is defined so broadly as to exclude the necessity for a sense of the divine the term loses its analytical power, as both psychologists (Beit-Hallahmi, 2003) and sociologists (Stark, 2001) have noted. If religion is defined to necessitate the supernatural, the psychological consequence is that those who identify themselves as both religious and spiritual will define experiences within the language forms of a particular faith tradition. An individual experiences the realities of his or her faith, labeled or constructed accordingly. Even mystical experiences are faith specific (Katz, 1977).

Experiences of Being Both Religious and Spiritual 

The majority of persons identify themselves as both religious and spiritual. While predominantly U.S. Protestant college students have been sampled, the findings are consistent for U.S. culture as a whole (Hood, 2003a; Zinnbauer et al., 1999). For these persons, being spiritual identifies a largely experiential component of their faith. Field studies have been particularly useful in identifying both the normative constraints and the social support that legitimate particular religious experiences. For instance, Apolito (1998) has used direct testimony to explore how complex social and psychological processes interacted to result in the acceptance of the apparition of the Virgin Mary that appeared to children at Oliveto Citra, Spain. Likewise, Carroll (1986) has provided an empirically based interpretation of the psychodynamics involved in Marian apparitions. Quasi experimental techniques support Carroll's thesis among Protestants males unfamiliar with the Catholic tradition (Hood, Morris, & Watson, 1991). 
Hufford (1982, p. xv) has proposed the useful term "phenomenography," paralleling the term "ethnography," while demanding that social scientists pay careful attention to the richness of experience to see precisely what aspects of experience their theories can and cannot explain. His own empirical work on the "Old Hag" phenomenon common in Scandinavian culture and Wiebe's (1997, 2000, 2004) phenomenological studies of historical and contemporary visions of Christ indicate that such experiences cannot be adequately explained by contemporary psychological theories. The new paradigm is useful in suggesting ways in which partial theoretical explanations of such experiences can be used to compliment one another to provide a more complete and adequate explanation than any one theory can provide by itself.

Sectarian Experiences of Being Both Religious and Spiritual

Consistent with the new paradigm are a series of studies using both field and quasi experimental methods to understand the conditions under which sectarian forms of experiencing religion occur. Historical, narrative, ethnographic, and quasi-experimental studies supplement one another to provide an enhanced understanding of less norma Mystical, Spiritual, and Religious Experiences 349 tively accepted religious practices. A term gaining acceptance that unites all these approaches is "reflexive ethnography" (Davies, 1999). It tends to focus upon the "lived religion" of everyday experience (Hall, 1997). For instance, Poloma's (1989) participant observation study of The Assemblies of God and her more recent study of the Toronto Blessing (2003) documents the shift in Pentecostalism from an emphasis on glossolalia to other gifts of the spirit (such as holy laughter) that serve to revitalize religious feelings suppressed by institutionalization. Likewise, Hood and his colleagues have used a wide variety of methodologies to explore the contemporary serpent handlers of Appalachia (see Hood & Belzen, Chapter 4, this volume).

Experiences of Being Spiritual but Not Religious

The persistent finding that about 25-30% of individuals in U.S. culture identify themselves as spiritual but not religious has been explored by qualitative methods (Hood, 2003b). Qualitative studies by both psychologists (Day, 1994) and sociologists (Roof, 1993) indicate that this minority is likely to be vociferously antireligious. For some, spirituality is a fierce rejection of religion.
The recent rediscovery by psychologists of spirituality opposed to religion has been well established in more sociologically oriented literatures and is an integral aspect of the church-sect-mysticism theory proposed by Troeltsch (Hood, 2003b). Vernon (1968) noted over a quarter of a century ago that those who answered "none" when asked about their religious preference nevertheless had experiences that those with a religious preference would identify as experiences of religion. For instance, reviews of the empirical literature indicate that those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious have high rates of spiritual experiences, including mystical experiences (Hood, 2003a, 2003b). However, they are reluctant to describe these experiences in explicitly religious language. Thus, the social construction of experience for "spiritual but not religious" persons is not framed within the language of a specific faith tradition.
The common complaint made by psychologists of religion that spirituality is a "fuzzy" concept is misleading. The application of the term "fuzzy" to spirituality was first made by Bernard Spilka (1993) and then was given wide play by Zinnbauer et al. (1999). However, paying careful attention to the qualitative analyses of respondents' descriptions reveals that rather than being "fuzzy" spirituality is a fluid term allowing for a wide range of genuinely spiritual experiences that many conservative religious traditions reject (Hood, 2003a, 2003b).
Another issue in the "spiritual but not religious" worldview is the possibility that transcendence can be "horizontal" as opposed to "vertical." For instance, the sociologist Mathew's (2003) typology of the sacred explicitly excludes restricting the sacred to the supernatural. Likewise the psychologist Elkins (2001) has proposed a humanistic model of the sacred focusing upon its more secular (horizontal) psychological expressions. The psychologist Emmons (1999) allows for both a "vertical" and a "horizontal" axis of spiritual striving. Finally, McClenon (1994), working from an experience-centered approach that is quite akin to reflexive ethnography, reminds us that what he terms "wondrous events" can occur in cultures and traditions that have no term for the supernatural (such as Tibetan Buddhism). Thus, while wondrous events may stimulate religious explanations, they need not do so. Hufford (1982) and Spickard (1993) make the same claim for paranormal experiences. We next explore two controversial but persistently identified areas of paranormal experiences that are often identified as spiritual but not religious experiences: reports of alien abduction and experiences triggered by specific chemicals.


Psychologists of religion have avoided the study of paranormal experiences, tending to classify them as neither religious nor spiritual. Earlier investigators labeled paranormal experiences as anomalous, attributing them to erroneous ("magical") thinking (Zusne & Jones, 1989). However, more recent work keeps open the possibility of nonreductionist views even regarding the more extreme among anomalous experiences. A recent edited work published by the American Psychological Association defines anomalous experiencesas those that while common are nevertheless believed to deviate from ordinary experience or from the usually accepted definitions of reality (Carde￱a, Lynn, & Krippner, 2000a, p. 4). Examples include hallucinations, near-death, past-life, mystical, and paranormal experiences. The religious and spiritual relevance of these experiences is that they often gain added meaning when they are embedded in sectarian discourse, whether religious or scientific, that both explains and legitimates them in opposition to more culturally accepted knowledge systems (Carde￱a, Lynn, & Krippner, 2000b; McClenon, 1994). As Truzzi (1971) notes, anomalous experiences contradict institutionalized knowledge, both scientific and religious.
Alien abduction experiences are beginning to gain significant subcultural support, granting believers in these abductions a form of social legitimation that refutes the claim that such experiences are delusional (Appelle, Lynn, & Newman, 2000; Skal, 1998, pp. 195-229; Williams & Fallconer, 1994). It is less profitable to ask what causes these experiences than to try to understand the experience of the world from within a deviant subculture that validates and finds meaningful what others can only describe as anomalous experiences from within their own perspective. Some define paranormal events in a fashion that denies them religious importance (Spickard, 1993). However, as Kelsey (1972, p. 21) notes, "The Bible is a mine of information on ESP or psi phenomena. Nearly every book of the Bible shows the belief that human beings have contact with more than just the physical world and that there are ways of influencing the world and people besides the physical senses." Poloma (1989) created a Charismatic Experience Index (CHAREX) that rates what she defines as paranormal powers, including praying in tongues, receiving answers to prayers, prophecying, being slain in the spirit, and receiving personal confirmation of scriptural truths (p. 12). Based upon her participant observation study of the Assemblies of God tradition, Poloma's data are consistent with Kelsey's (1972) claim. For many Pentecostals the experience of the paranormal is "normal" (Poloma, 1989, p. 2).
Studies employing survey data reveal that reports of paranormal experiences have similar antecedents and structures as reports of other ecstatic experiences commonly accepted as religious (Fox, 1992; Hood, 1989b; Yamane & Polzer, 1994). Among paranormal experiences, the perception of UFOs and their more recent elaboration into "alien abduction experiences" (AAE) have begun to generate a considerable body of scientific study. Jung (1958/1964, p. 315) referred to the citing of UFOs as "visionary" experiences and cautioned that psychology alone could not exhaust their explanation. Recently, investigators such as Strassman (2001) have suggested that certain chemicals that effect receptor cites for serotonin may elicit awareness of dimensions of reality in which reports of alien abduction become possible as actual events. However, as with many religious experiences, psychologists are more likely to be comfortable with explanations that are more within the mainstream of realities psychologists accept. For instance, Skal (1998) has noted that the term "flying saucer" came into vogue only after June 1947 when newspapers reported that a Boise, Idaho, pilot named Kenneth Arnold saw nine strange objects flying near Mt. Rainer and described them as moving "like a saucer if you skipped it across the water" (p. 204). Thus, first came newspaper headlines referring to "flying saucers," and only then did individuals began to report sightings of them. Thus, cultural expectations based upon journalistic headlines that actually were in error might have played a role in shaping what have become common sightings of "UFOs." Instead of moving "like saucers" skipping across the water, they became identified as "flying saucers." This social construction became the template for perception of flying saucers within U.S. culture.
Apparently even less plausible than the existence of UF0s are claims to AAE that include being captured, taken aboard a UFO, and then being subjected to physical, mental, and spiritual examinations before being returned to earth (Bullard, 1987). Other more extreme claims may include the taking of tissue samples, body implants, and even the birth of alien-human hybrid babies (Jacobs, 1992). As fantastic as these claims appear, researchers must accept the fact that the reports of such experiences are no more frequent among the mentally ill than among normals (Berenbaum, Kerns, & Raghavan, 2000; Jacobson & Bruno, 1994; Parnell & Sprinkle, 1990). Thus, pathological processes cannot explain the experience, however curious, nor is it necessarily delusional (Williams & Fallconer, 1994).
Among the most plausible and least controversial explanations for these reports are fantasy-proneness or boundary deficits caused by using cultural available scenarios derived from film and other media sources; confusing subjective experiences with objectively real events; suggestibility and hypnosis (especially when such reports are "recovered" in therapeutic encounters using hypnosis); sleep disorders; and various possible psychoses in at least a minority of cases (Appelle et al., 2000). However, the fact that often AAEs contain theophanies (the receipt of explicit religious or spiritual messages) links AAEs to other experiences more common within mainstream faith traditions. Lest skeptics too quickly consider these experiences to be simply bizarre manifestations exhaustively explainable by the social sciences, they might be cautioned that those who have studied these experiences in depth have found that the dismissal of their veridicality, as with many claims to more mainstream religious experiences, is more difficult than one might at first think (Appelle, 1996; Skal, 1998; Strassman, 2001). The fact that psychology of religion is confronted with the power of alien abduction claims in such groups as Heaven's Gate is but a recent example. Despite the popular press descriptions of a suicide cult, the cult's own framing of their acts was made in religious terms. For instance, the cult's official website referred to the "willful leaving of the body." It noted the sacrifices of the Jews at Mazada in 73A.D.and claimed the willingness of the cult members to avoid "true suicide" by not refusing to prepare to enter the Kingdom of Heaven by means of the Hale-Bopp Comet. 1 The linking of images of inhabitants of the Kingdom of Heaven with aliens associated with UFOs aided Heaven Gate's claims to religious legitimacy. Bader (2003) has empirically documented that the demographics of members of Heaven's Gate parallels those for members attracted to new religious movements that mix the therapeutic and the spiritual. Finally, Zeller (2003) notes how the cult opposed both the supernatural claims of religion and the purely natural scientific epistemologies in favor of its own "scientific religion." It has been more than half a century since Jung said of UFOs that "if military authorities have felt compelled to set up bureaus for collecting and evaluating UFO reports, then psychology, too, has not only the right but also the duty to do what it can to shed light on this dark problem" (1958/1964, p. 416). The new paradigm is ideally suited to guide research in this area.


A controversial area of empirical research is the study of entheogens, the preferred term (instead of psychedelics) for those who argue that drugs can facilitate spiritual and religious experiences (Forte, 1997). It has long been recognized that many religions employ various naturally occurring mind-altering substances in their religious rituals. However, until the discovery of psychedelic drugs psychologists of religion rather arrogantly assumed that concern with the facilitation of religious or spiritual experience by drugs was the domain of anthropology and sister disciplines concerned with less "advanced" religions? In a new and controversial discipline with the cumbersome name archaeopsychopharmacology, researchers combine study of ancient texts and artifacts with examination of contemporary groups that use naturally occurring psychedelic substances to speculate on the origins of religions (see Spilka et al., 2003, pp. 283-284). They combine speculation with experimental studies to elicit primary religious experiences. While the speculative theories of achaeopsychopharmacology cannot be easily empirically confirmed, its proponents have raised a crucial issue for the social-scientific study of religion: Can entheogens facilitate or produce religious experiences?
The literature on the psychology of entheogens is immense, easily running to several thousand studies. Much of the U.S. research has stopped or has been drastically curtailed due to legislation against these drugs. R¦tach (1990) concluded that "since the beginning of the 1970s, there has been little new research into psychedelic substances" (p. 2). However, R¦tach's claim must be qualified, given the significant current research by anthropologists and ethnobotanists with naturally occurring plant substances and the study of entheogens in European countries where laws are more flexible. There is a continually growing body of research on these drugs (Lukoff, Zanger, & Lu, 1990; Roberts & Hruby, 1995).
Curiously, very few studies have been conducted using religious variables or directly assessing the religious importance of entheogens. This is curious since it has long been noted that there is an obvious similarity between various religious experiences and some chemically facilitated experiences. Back in the late 19th century this similarity was used by Leuba (1896) as evidence to argue that religious experience in advanced traditions should be invalidated because it was similar to drug-induced states in less advanced traditions. The essentials of Leuba's argument have been more recently advanced by Zaehner (1957), who argues that if a mystical experiences is drug-induced it cannot be genuinely religious in the manner of those that occur spontaneously or by means of disciplined religious practice. These largely conceptually based debates do little to advance a scientific understanding of the possible religious importance of psychedelic drugs. Since James's (1902/1985, pp. 20-21) discussion of "medical materialism," it has been obvious that one can no more invalidate an experience because its physiology is known than one can invalidate physiology because its biochemistry has been identified. As Weil (1986) has emphasized, the similarity of psychedelic substances found within plants, animals and the human brain suggests that any simple distinction between natural and artificially induced brain states is arbitrary. Empirical studies indicate that more dogmatic persons will reject as "genuine" religious experiences triggered by drugs; despite the fact that outside of mainstream religious one of the most commonly cited triggers of mystical experience is entheogens (see Hood, 2002b).
The term "psychedelic," the most common precursor to entheogen, has a controversial history (Stevens, 1987). Debates over the common name for the class of drugs we are discussing ranges from "hallucinogenic," to "psychotomimetic," to "psychedelic," to "entheogen." Ironically, "hallucinogenic" is the most inadequate term because hallucination is one of the least common responses to psychedelic drugs (Barber, 1970). While these drugs do produce various visual and imagery effects, both with eyes open and with eyes closed, they do not produce false perceptions mistaken as real (i.e., hallucinations). "Psychotomimetic" was the term favored by early researchers who thought this class of drugs produced psychoses or psychotic-like states. Given the cultural evaluation of psychoses, the negative connotations of "psychotomimetic" are obvious. However, it is well established that the ability of psychedelics to elicit sudden psychoses in otherwise normal persons is highly exaggerated (Barr, Langs, Holt, Goldberger, & Klein, 1972). Ironically, "psychedelic" was the term most favored by those who favored the "mind-manifesting" aspect of these drugs. It is the most common term in use today, despite its association with the illicit street drug culture (Stevens, 1987). As noted above, those who prefer to focus upon the religious significance of these plant and chemical substances prefer the term "entheogen."
For well-established physiological reasons, entheogens can be expected to produce reliable alterations in visual and imagery phenomena, which to informed and stable participants are interesting objects of conscious exploration (Shanon, 2002; Strassman, 2001). Meaningful images that occur under the influence of these substances when a person's eyes are closed are not typically attributed to the object expected to exist in the world in the sense that if one opened one's eyes the object would be in physical reality. Likewise, when a person's eyes are open, he or she notes alterations in his or her perception of objects asperceptualalterations of real existing objects, not as changes in the actual physical objects themselves or as the perception of objects that are in fact not real. However, the ability to interpret perceptions in terms of a meaningful frame can transform a person's perception of the world. With an appropriate religious set and setting, psychedelic drugs can facilitate religious experiences insofar as someone under the influence of these drugs may for the first time see the world in terms appropriate to a particular system of meaning. In this sense the "otherworldly" property of entheogens is well established and suggests that they elicit wondrous or anomalous experiences. In a classic study Masters and Houston (1966) found that religious imagery was quite common, even when many participants did not identify themselves as having a "religious" drug experience. For instance, religious architecture was one of the most common imageries reported, but Masters and Houston (1966, pp. 265-266) claim that this occurred more out of a sense of aesthetic appreciation, not as a manifestation of a genuine religious interest.
The frequent report of religious imagery is likely to be a function of set and setting, long known to be major determinants of the content of imagery elicited by entheogens (Barber, 1970; Barr et al., 1972). It would be naive to claim that religious experiences are drug-specific effects. Rather, the power of entheogens to facilitate religious experience is the extent to which states of consciousness, altered by chemical substances, are seen as relevant in religious terms. Within U.S. culture the ironic fact is that mainstream religions send mixed signals relative to religious experiences-often encouraging and validating ex-periences when they are interpreted as originating in God, but discouraging and invalidating experiences known to be chemically facilitated, as has been empirically demonstrated (see Spilka et al., 2003, Chap. 10). The fact that many participants in studies using entheogens experience religious imagery and use religious language to describe otherwise secular imagery (e.g., cosmological events) is difficult to assess. Masters and Houston (1966, p. 260) noted that the use of sacramental or religious metaphors was a common practice for participants even though "genuine" religious experiences may havebeen rare. Grof (1980) has argued that the therapeutic use of entheogens often provides a set and setting that encourages the report of religious and spiritual experiences, many of which he interpreted in terms of Jungian theory. Jungian theory is particularly favorable to describing religious imagery, but it has been ignored by measurement-oriented psychologists. Leary (1964) demonstrated that religious imagery in LSD psychotherapy sessions is common and increases if the set and setting are made even more explicitly religious-for instance, by having religious symbols in the therapeutic room. Furthermore, Leary, Metzner, and Alpert (1964) utilized a religious classic (The Tibetian Book of the Dead)as a cartography for psychedelic-induced mental states. More recently the Dali Lama has favored Thurman's (1994) translation of this classic text, also known asThe Book of Liberation through Understanding in the Between(Dali Lama, 1994, p. xxi). The phrase "in the between" focuses upon states of consciousness and not death. Once it is recognized that reincarnation is taken for granted in Tibetan culture, the ontological relevance of states of consciousness, drug-facilitated or not, meshes nicely with the new proposed paradigm for the psychology of religion.
Stevens (1987) has documented the history of the original "psychedelic movement" and its failed effort to have "psychedelic" drugs accepted for sacramental use within a religious frame. However, two exceptions are the Native American Church in the United States (Bergman, 1971; LaBarre, 1969) and the Church of Santo Daime in Brazil (Shanon, 2002). Both these churches have a history of the sacramental use of entheogens that demonstrate that drugs can be incorporated into religious frameworks and used to facilitate experiences whose meaning is accepted as religious (Bergman, 1971; LaBarre, 1969).
The cultural bias against entheogens has not only affected serious study of these chemicals, but it has also made it difficult to arrive at a balanced view of the range of their effects (Forte, 1997). Furthermore, several reviewers have argued that typical double-blind studies are particularly inappropriate ways to investigate entheogens, especially since those who are in the control conditions are likely to be immediately aware of this fact (Bakalar & Greenspoon, 1989; Yensen, 1990). Many researchers have supported the view that ingestion of psychedelic substances on the part of researchers is a valid and (some claim) necessary method of study. The provocative studies of ayahuasca (a psychoactive brew consumed throughout the upper Amazon region) by the cognitive psychologist Benny Shanon (2001) carefully compare his own numerous experiences with this brew with those reported by others to develop a nonreductive assessment of the phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience. Interestingly, it has both been incorporated into a religious tradition (the Church of Santo Daime, a mixture of indigenous traditions with Catholicism) and cultivated by those who refuse to interpret the experience in specific religious language.
The examples cited above suggest that within the new paradigm, truly multilevel interdisciplinary approaches extend the range of material that psychologists must consider as they explore the conditions under which individuals experience their religion or spiri-tuality. However, to explore another option within this paradigm we shall look at the possibility of mystical, religious, or spiritual experiences that do not simply get absorbed into a social constructionist paradigm.


Spickard has identified different approaches to the study of religious experiences, which he notes sociologists (and we add psychologists) have not comprehended well (1993, p. 115). For this review we simply note that we can collapse Spickard's constructionist and labeling models as similar. Both these approaches emphasize the role of language and social process in identifying experiences of religion, spirituality, or mysticism within the confines of language, tradition, and culture in what we have termed experiences of religion, spirituality, or mysticism. Spickard also identifies a Jamesean "overbelief" model (1993, p. 111) in which the distinction between experience and interpretation is maintained but the focus is upon experience and not the language in which it is expressed ("overbelief"). Thus we prefer to talk of social expression, rather than of construction, and leave it an open conceptual and empirical possibility that there are fundamental experiences that are inherently mystical, religious, or spiritual and that become only partially expressed through language. More than one scholar of religion has claimed that such experiences are always a response to a reality not reducible to simple sensory terms (Hick, 1989, pp. 252-261; Jones, 1986, p. 225). As we focus upon mystical, religious, or spiritual experiences, it behooves us to define such experiences as including recognition of and response to what might be inherently sacred realities. Two candidates are the numinous and the mystical.

Numinous and Mystical Experiences
Many scholars have contrasted numinous experience with mystical experience. A numinous experience is an awareness of a holy other beyond nature and a sense that one is in communion with this holy other. Typically, this experience is identified with the classic work of Otto (1917/1958) whose phenomenological analysis illuminates the human response to the transcendent. Elkins's (2001, p. 208) humanistic model includes a response to the numinous, meaning that there is a divine component to his model. Thus, introducing the numinous back into empirical psychology is congruent with the nonreductive nature of the new multilevel paradigm. Otto's phenomenology of religious experience includes the essential fact that for him religious experience includes a nonrational component that is characterized psychologically by a numinous consciousness. Otto's translator noted that the emphasis on a response to the divine that characterizes numinous consciousness is the sensing of a "beyond" that gradually is realized "within," whether obscurely or clearly (Harvey, 1958, p. xv). This goes far to correct Schleiermacher's emphasis on a primary feeling of dependence that Proudfoot (1985) criticized as demanding a cognitive framework to experience. As social scientists, we can study the response to the numinous by noting that from the believer's perspective it is a response to a transcendent object experienced as real. Numinous experiences allow the realization of a personal transcendent object, often referred to as God, Allah, or Yahweh. Obviously, religious traditions assert the reality of this object, refusing to accept reductive interpretations of the numinous.
The numinous consciousness is both compelled to seek out and explore this transcendent object (mysterium fascinans) and to be repelled in the face of the majesty and awfulness of this object in whose presence one's creatureness is accentuated (mysterium tremendum). Efforts to rationally confront the feelings of tremendum are articulated in personal conceptualizations of a holy other such as God or Allah or Yahweh. The fascinansis explicated in rational concepts such as grace, in which the inadequacy of personal analogies to conceptualize the holy other are revealed. The fascinans thus has a mystical element insofar as the personal analog revealed in thetremendumis found to be inadequate and an impersonal language is sought to describe it. Not surprisingly, Stace's (1960) categories of introvertive and extrovertive mysticism are derived from Otto's (1932) mysticism of introspection and unifying vision, respectively. Thus, while it is possible to separate the numinous and the mystical as two poles of religious experience, they are ultimately united. Mystical experiences of unity (variously expressed) can be numinous as well, eliciting themysterium fascinanswhen the object is experienced in impersonal terms and the mysterium tremendumwhen the object is experienced in personal terms. Hick (1989, pp. 252-296) has articulated this duality as the personae and impersonae of the Real. Hood (1995b, 2002a) has emphasized that William James accepted both impersonal (the Absolute) and personal (God) interpretations as compatible with the facts of mystical experience. Empirical studies use measurements that tend to emphasize either experiences of a sense of presence favoring numinous experiences or a sense of unity favoring mystical experiences.

Numinous Experiences as a Sense of Presence

The empirical study of numinous experiences has largely focused upon responses to surveys and questionnaires. Pafford (1973) had university and grammar-school students read selections from an autobiography that described a numinous experience and then asked them to write about an experience of their own similar to the one they had just read. He found that the most common word used to describe such experiences was "awesome." He suggested that children have an innate capacity to experience the numinous that gradually dissipates as they become more involved in the secular world. A study done in Sweden in the mid-1940s but not published until 1959 collected reports from 630 children who responded to the phrase "Once when I thought about God. . . ." Of the 630 compositions, 566 contained reports of religious experiences, including a felt sense of an invisible presence (Klingberg, 1959, p. 213). Tamiminen (1991) utilized a question first proposed by Glock and Stark (1965) to assess the experiential dimension of their model of religion. They had found that in a survey sample of almost 3,000, 72% of respondents answered "yes" to the question "Have you ever as an adult had the feeling that you were somehow in the presence of God?" (Glock & Stark, 1965, p. 157). Using this question with children (dropping "as an adult"), Tamiminen showed a gradual decline of affirmative responses across grade level in a longitudinal study of Scandinavian youth. Thus, in more secular cultures one could argue that an innate ability to experience the numinous is possible but is likely to decline without cultural support. Hoffman's (1992) collection of spiritual and inspirational experiences in childhood also supports his claim (also see Boyatzis, Chapter 7, this volume).
Also in support of this claim is numerous survey studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom asking respondents if they have ever had an experience that is a numinous one. Reviews of these studies show consistently high rates of response despite variations in the wording of questions (see Spilka et al., 2003, pp. 307-312). Hence, the empirical point is simply that both children and adults report numinous experiences whether they identify themselves as religious and spiritual or simply as spiritual but not religious. The former data is inferred from obtained religious identifications and the latter from the fact noted above that even people whose religious self-identification is "none" report such experiences. The fact that such experiences are so readily reported means that psychologists who take the new paradigm seriously should construct measures compatible with the already considerable phenomenological and survey work illuminating the nature of such experiences. Keitner and Haidt (2003) have created a measure of awe that may reference, but need not reference, a vertical dimension. The cautionary note here is that measures that do not include explicit indices of the transcendent miss connecting to the large literatures in phenomenology and religious studies (Sundararajan, 2002). They also are less likely to empirically identify additional unique or uniquely interactive variance explained by measures that are explicitly linked to a sense of the divine. In this sense the measure of awe proposed by Williamson and Froese (2001) is promising as it is directly based upon Otto's work and thus links the empirical study of awe to classic works in the phenomenology of awe.

Mystical Experiences
Mystical experience has long been a central topic both in the psychology of religion and in the field of religious studies. Two current empirical approaches can be contrasted, that of Hood and his colleagues and that of Thalbourne and his colleagues. 
Hood based his measure of mysticism on the phenomenological work of Stace (1960). Reviews of this work are readily available (see Hood, 2002b; Spilka et al., 2003, Chap. 10). Here we focus only upon the claim that mystical experience has a common core that is universal despite variations in the language in which this experience is expressed. This position is identified as the "unity thesis." Stace's work has been central in the philosophical and religious studies literatures, inspiring an entire volume of critical responses to his common core or unity thesis (Katz, 1977). Thus Hood's research links the empirical study of mysticism to these largely conceptual literatures in the spirit of the new paradigm (Hood, 2002b).
Stace's (1960) phenomenology of mysticism identifies introvertive (an undifferentiated unity), extrovertive (unity amid multiplicity), and interpretative factors. Hood argues that the common unity factors are possibly inherent in the nature of the experience (and perhaps reality), while the interpretation factor (whether noetic, religious, etc.) can vary. In a series of factor-analytic studies Hood has essentially replicated Stace's phenomenology. Most recently, in a cross-cultural study comparing U.S. and Iranian subjects, confirmatory factor analysis supported Hood's three-factor model over various alternatives (Hood et al., 2001).
Hood's work has included the facilitation of mystical experiences in a series of quasiexperimental studies (Hood, 1995a). This links to earlier research on entheogens in which set and setting were manipulated to enhance mystical experiences assessed by means of Stace's criteria for mysticism. The well-known Good Friday experiment in which subjects who had taken psilocybin produced higher mysticism scores than those who took a placebo has been found to be significant for its participants even in a 25-year follow-up study (see Spilka et al., 2003, pp. 321-322). Further, as noted above, the fact that Leary and his colleagues (1964) found The Tibetan Book of the Deadrelevant to psychedelic experiences returns us to the study of achaeopsychopharmacology but now with the focus on the elicitation of mystical experiences in individuals who in Jamesean fashion have original experiences and not simply a "second-hand religious life" (James, 1902/1985, p. 15).
Thalbourne has developed a measure of mysticism based partly upon his own experiences that heavily correlates with Hood's measure (Thalbourne & Delin, 1999, p. 53). In a series of studies, he and his colleagues have suggested that mysticism is best identified by a single factor associated with other phenomena such as creativity, belief in the paranormal, and psychopathology (especially bipolar disorder). He and his colleagues have long championed the concept of transliminalityas a concept to describe the ability, likely genetically based, to attend to inner psychological states and processes (Thalbourne, 1998; Thalbourne, Bartemucci, Delin, Fox, & Nofi, 1997; Thalbourne & Delin, 1994). 
Much of Thalbourne's work has been published in journals of parapsychology that are often ignored by mainstream psychologists. However, it is significant for two reasons. First, it counters Hood's view that suggests that the phenomenology of mysticism developed by Stace is in fact an experience central to both religion (when interpreted within a specific faith tradition) and spirituality (when interpreted outside the claims of any dogma). Hood's claim that mysticism is a universal experience with ontological ramifications is countered by the research agenda of Thalbourne and his colleagues which suggest that mysticism is part of a purely natural psychology rooted in the tendency to be sensitive to internally generated states of consciousness, including a tendency to pathology. Thalbourne has noted that it remains to be seen if transliminality is "nothing more than schizotpy" (Thalbourne et al., 1997, p. 327). Still, Thalbourne is willing to consider that not only does the eruption into consciousness produced by high transliminality appear to some to be miraculous or to derive from the Godhead, but that in fact it may be so (Thalbourne & Delin, 1999, p. 59).
Second, both Hood and Thalbourne reintroduce the fact that mystical experiences are associated with reports of paranormal phenomena. The frequency of the report of paranormal phenomena in survey studies parallels that of the report of mystical and numinous experiences, and the same predictors of the report of this experience are associated with the predictors of the reports of paranormal phenomena (Fox, 1992; Yamane, 2000). For instance, using survey data from Canadians, Orenstein (2002) has shown that when controlled for unconventional religious beliefs, church attendance is strongly associated with lower paranormal belief. Using the same data set, McKinnon (2002) has suggested belief in the paranormal and church attendance is correlated only for those who do not attend church regularly. Thus, mainstream religion tends to counter belief in the paranormal while those outside mainstream religions, including those who practice sectarian forms of religion that remain "spiritual but not religious," likely account for the substantial proportion of believers. A recent review of the issue by Targ, Schlitz, and Irwin (2000) concluded that paranormal experiences are reported by over half the population in all countries where samples have been taken.
This review of experiences often ignored in mainstream psychology documents that the field of the psychology of religion has a tumultuous history. This history can serve to remind us of the state of the field when it began. As Coon (1992) notes, North American psychologists fought hard to differentiate methodologically sound, sci entific psychology from "pop psychology" which supported and validated dubious spiritual (as in "spiritualism") and psychic phenomena. Perhaps the study of mystical, spiritual, and religious experiences within the spirit of the proposed new paradigm will serve to shed what light science can and leave others to ponder what ultimate meanings may remain.

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