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Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness Paperback – August 1, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Evelyn Underhill, a novelist and poet, published her first book in 1902 but her growing interest in mysticism led in 1911 to her greatest work, Mysticism. This classic text immediately established Underhill as the leading writer in the field, and she continued her work by writing many more significant and acclaimed books and essays. In 1921 she became Upton Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion at Manchester College, and was the firt woman to give a series of lectures on theology at Oxford.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1851681965
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851681969
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Carl McColman on January 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read Underhill's magisterial "Mysticism" the summer after I graduated from high school, and I've been a student/devotee of the western contemplative tradition ever since. Underhill's accessible if British-formal prose provides a wonderful, elegant stage on which the majesty and depth of the interior life can be celebrated. The book neatly divides into two halves: the first examines mysticism from theological, psychological, and philosophical perspectives; the second takes the reader on a tour of the process of mystical growth over the lifespan, looking at such key life passages and transitions as conversion, self-purification, illumination, the "dark night," and union. What emerges is a developmental map for adult spiritual growth, which is a tremendous corrective to many of the silly notions floating around in our society, such as the idea that one single "born again" experience is all that is necessary to achieve total spiritual attainment. What I especially love about Underhill is her evident enthusiasm and passion for her subject matter. Without ever saying it in so many words, she reveals in her writing that mysticism is more than a dry subject for disinterested study; it is a living, breathing tradition, that demands engagement and participation from those who would explore it. Ultimately, mysticism is not found in a book, but in the lived process of relating to the Divine. It's ironic that this message needs to be passed down in books, and yet, Underhill's wonderful study of the subject does just that. This was written in 1911, and shows some marks of age; for example, the chapter on "Vitalism" refers to a philosophical fad of her day that seems almost totally irrelevant a century later.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Evelyn Underhill's "Mysticism..." is a true classic and is unique in its blend of intellectual rigor combined with the mystic/poet's love of Reality. Although written in 1911, and the first of many books and essays on the subject, Underhill writes in a style closer to 19th century romanticism, than to the 20th century's more technical and minimalist works. Her knowledge of Mystical (or Spiritual as she would later use) History and Christian Theology is encyclopedic and definitely up to the scope her title suggests. In terms of scholarly achievement, she is a giant.

And yet her skill as an academic is not even close to my favorite thing about this book. What is? Her prose! Her writing is simply the most beautifully brilliant I've ever read on the subject. She writes in a way that is not only poetic, but is also clear and illuminating. Here's an example from page 252: "It must never be forgotten that all apparently one-sided descriptions of Illumination-more, all experiences of it-are governed by temperament. 'That Light whose smile kindles the Universe' is ever the same; but the self through whom it passes, and by whom we must receive its reports, has already submitted to the molding influences of environment and heredity, Church and State. The very language of which that self avails itself in its struggle for expression, links it with half a hundred philosophies and creeds."

A treasure for anyone looking for inspiring text, but who's tired of the overly sentimental and non-discerning "new age" drivel of our day, and a must for any serious student of the subject.
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By A Customer on April 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness by Evelyn Underhill, is a must read for any serious student of Christian mysticism. This is also a wonderful work for understanding the spiritual experiences of the great mystic saints. This classic text explores the common features that tie together the religious lives of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Francis of Sales, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John of Ruysbroeck, and others. She explores the core nature of the mystical experience both theologically and psychologically. Underhill is brilliant in her discourse on the mystic way. Her theology is impeccable. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
For the best study of mysticsm, this is the true text book. Word of warning - I picked it up as my first book on the subject and felt I was reading a foreign language. After reading three books about individual mystics, I again picked up Mysticism and found that the book was incredible and probably the best reference book ever written, or to be written, on this topic. I am sure I will refer to it again and again for further detail on certain ways of the mystics. It is apparent that this was Ms. Underhill's mission in life - to interpret and explain mysticism for all of us.
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Format: Paperback
Evelyn Underhill is that most wonderful of combinations: a remarkably thorough student of mysticism, an intensely religious woman who had mystical tendencies herself, and a beautiful writer who can evoke the wonder of the mystical vision by the similes and metaphors she uses. An earlier reviewer thinkes her prose is "impenetrable." A strange evaluation, in my judgment, of a writer who is both poetic and pellucid. Here's a typical (and splendid!) example of her wordcraft: "By false desires and false thoughts man has built up for himself a false universe: as a mollusc, by the deliberate and persistent absorption of lime and rejection of all else, can build up for itself a hard shell which shuts it from the external world, and only represents in a distorted and unrecognisable form the ocean from which it was obtained. This hard and wholly unnutritious shell, this one-sided secretion of the surface-consciousness, makes as it were a little cave of illusion for each separate soul." (pp. 198-99)
It must be admitted that some parts of Underhill's classic haven't aged as well as others. Her chapters on mysticism and vitalism and mysticism and psychology, for example, are dated (especially the former). But her analysis in the second part of the book of the soul's journey to God, beginning with purgation and continuing through to mystical unification, still remains one of the best single treatments going. Underhill has a masterful grasp of western (Christian and, to a lesser extent, Jewish and Moslem) mysticism, and reading her just for the quotes from the great spiritual masters would be a delight in itself.
Don't sell her short. Doing so deprives you of the great pleasure of her company.
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