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Mysticism and social action: the mystic's calling, development and social activity

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In accounts of the western Christian religious tradition over the last century, the existence of a positive connection between mysticism and social action has generally been denied or largely dismissed by scholars as an epiphenomenon resulting from the heightened compassion flowing out of the culminating experience of union with God. Relying on the philosophical analysis of western religious mysticism by William Ernest Hocking and more recent writers, I propose that the connection between mystical experience and social action is not only a necessary one but manifests a reciprocal individual and social process by which communities recover, refine, and renew their primary ethical and religious goals and the appropriate means of achieving them. Although motivated by love, the mystic's calling, development, and subsequent activity constitute structurally integral phases of a social process involving a withdrawal from the world, a systematic re-evaluation of the beliefs, goals, and values of the originating society, and the mystic's return to the world intent on and equipped to contribute significantly to social reform. This dialectical process can be interpreted in traditional and indeed equivalent ‘Catholic’ categories of contemplation and action and more ‘Protestant’ concepts of mysticism and prophecy.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago, Illinois 60626, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 1996

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