A theological analysis of R.C. Zaehner's theory of mysticism

John Paul Reardon, Fordham University


R.C. Zaehner theorized that there are three distinct experiences that have been called mystical and that have occurred across and beyond the religious systems of the world. The first, pan-en-henism, involves leaving behind the individual ego and experiencing a powerful intuition of the oneness of everything that exists. The second, the mysticism of isolation, consists of resting in one's individual spirit after a period of ascetic preparation. The third, theistic mysticism, is a loving union between the individual and God. Zaehner argues that the third experience surpasses the other two and is the only one that is a function of divine grace. The dissertation argues that Zaehner's theory offers a persuasive case that there are three distinct families of experiences that have been labeled "mystical," but that Zaehner's theological claims are less well grounded. The dissertation proposes the reframing of Zaehner's theory in light of Karl Rahner's theologies of grace and revelation. It argues that the Zaehner-Rahner dialogue will make Zaehner's theory helpful to the work of contemporary theological projects.

Subject Area

Theology|Comparative religion|Spirituality

Recommended Citation

Reardon, John Paul, "A theological analysis of R.C. Zaehner's theory of mysticism" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3512381.