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Experience and belief: An empirical study of human response to mystical experience

Nattress, Emma (2015) Experience and belief: An empirical study of human response to mystical experience. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis presents the findings of an investigation into contemporary experience of mystical and or psychospiritual phenomena. Thirty-six interviews were conducted with adults who consented to discuss personal experiences that they perceived to be of a supernatural nature. The research methodology involved a modified form of grounded theory that was used in conjunction with the study’s strongly phenomenological approach.

Analysis of the data revealed that, subsequent to the experience and mediated by each individual’s personal circumstances and ontology, the experience acted as a catalyst or change agent. This core category, which was noted in all narratives as a sense of forward movement and energy, was termed Catalysis. Catalysis was discernable in three merging phases:

(i) engagement and reaction (often affective), involving identification or non-identification of the phenomenon;

(ii) a period of inquiry (sometimes referred to as ‘a journey’) leading to change in the individual’s religious praxis and spirituality; and

(iii) the reverberation of the experience into society in the form of changes within religious institutions, direct actions based on altruism; and social action.

Accordingly, the thesis argues that apprehension of mystical and/or psychospiritual phenomena is a catalytic, progressive and empowering experience that has capacity to enable individuals in ways that bring about tangible outcomes not only for themselves, but also for the wider community. Furthermore, that the continuity of the Catalytic Process Model (CPM) offers a possible template for authentication of human response to the mystical as a spiritual and evolutionary process.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Ault, Nancy and Main, Alex
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