By Michael Stoeber, Regis College and the University of Toronto
Mysticism, like spirituality, is a vague word in contemporary culture, used in multiple ways in diverse settings. It can stand for anything esoteric, mysterious, otherworldly or occult-like, and is often used in reference to exceptionally strong aesthetic and religious feelings. This usage has been the norm in modern times. In 1911 Evelyn Underhill, an influential British scholar of mysticism, noted this ambiguity and described mysticism as “the science or art of the spiritual life,” suggesting this to be its older, traditional meaning.1 However, even this characterization is not very helpful in and of itself, insofar as it is a general one and does not draw a clear distinction between mysticism and other aspects of the spiritual life.
I will clarify Underhill’s more specific understandings of mysticism below. However, in … Read more
by Michael Stoeber
Regis College/University of Toronto
This article first appeared in the Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Vol. 26 (2013) pp. 91-106. The paper is reprinted by permission of Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies and Digital Commons @ Butler University © 2014.
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) regards mysticism as the core of religion. All religions include various dimensions: scripture/ mythology, doctrine/ philosophy, ethics/ law, social/ institutional features, ritual, material aspects, and personal and communal experience2. For Underhill, personal religious experience inspires and influences the development of these other aspects of religion—the heart of which is mysticism. Underhill asserts: “The mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world3” (4); “Mysticism is the art of union with Reality.4”
In defining mystics and mysticism generally in this way, Underhill suggests a number of interesting things that pertain … Read more
by Michael Stoeber
Regis College University of Toronto
(This important article appeared in the March 2003 issue of Worship. (1) It explores little-known aspects of Underhill’s early thought, especially the connection between magic and mysticism. In the first years of the twentieth century Underhill grappled with this connection and wrote about it in her novels and early essays. — Dana Greene, EUA President)
Underhill and Magic
Evelyn Underhill is firmly established in the mainstream of twentieth century Anglican-Catholic spirituality, probably influencing its contemporary shaping more than most writers in the field. In that regard, she was not extreme nor radical in her perspective. She was not a socio-political activist, except perhaps briefly, towards the end of her life, when she advocated pacifism at the beginning of the Second World War. She possessed no feminist agenda, and theologically she maintained … Read more