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PRISM - Planning a program in the study of mysticism

Tampere University
Duration of project12.12.2022–11.3.2024
Area of focusSociety
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Building on a popular upsurge of interest, renewed academic engagement, and the continuing legacy of mystics in all religious traditions, this project prepares a plan for a Program in the Study of Mysticism for Templeton Religion Trust. We seek to forge an intellectual foundation as well as generate academic momentum and institutional readiness for TRT to pursue a targeted grant-making strategy in the post-critique, academic study of mysticism.


In the backdrop of sweeping secularization of the academy over the past 70 years, the study of religion has largely emphasized beliefs, doctrines and performative rituals.  Additionally, a wave of critical theory destabilized and historicized the categories that theologians and scholars of religious studies long worked with, including mysticism. Experiential dimensions of faith, religious feeling, and mystical union or immediacy were often brushed aside in the process , although these have long transformed both individuals and entire societies. Yet, just in the past decade or so, we are witnessing an inflection point as people turn once again to appreciate experiences of mystery, altered states of consciousness, and individually centered spiritual practices. Indeed, throughout history countless people have experienced a not-fully describable union with ultimate reality that is at once the heart of religion and the least understood aspect of it. Over the last decade the academy has also rediscovered mysticism in a post-critique wave which recognizes that mystics do not live only in dusty books or on lonely mountain tops. Rather, they were simply hidden from view by theoretical biases. Mystics have always written beautiful poetry, expounded lasting philosophies, healed nature, cured illnesses, and even negotiated world peace. They have existed in all religious traditions and across them. And they continued to do so today in ways we need to explore further. In fact, researchers now have access to new methods and theories that can significantly enhance our understanding of mystical practices, the realities that mystical accounts point to, and the significance they have in contemporary lives around the world.


This planning grant seeks to capitalize on the post-critique moment of rediscovery by galvanizing scholarly expertise, forging an intellectual foundation, and preparing institutional readiness for the academic study of mysticism. The principal goal has been to develop a strategy for the Templeton Religion Trust to rejuvenate and reconfigure a self-generating sub-field of academic study of mysticism. The strategy builds from the intent of the founder of TRT Sir John Templeton, the “Tennessee mystic,” who sought to encourage and enable humankind to acquire “one hundredfold more spiritual information.” In developing the strategy, the planning process at Tampere University, Filnand in 2023 encompassed:

The project also launched an unanticipated special issue on approaches to the study of mysticism in an open access, scientific journal as well as produced a review of research on mysticism and psychedelics.


PRISM envisions an investment in research, institutional momentum, and stimulation of popular interest in the rigorous and scientific study of mysticism. Seeking to establish a self-sustaining network of expertise, the proposed Program in the Study of Mysticism (PRISM) will engage leading scholars and institutions around the world and across religious traditions on mysticism, while also processing insights from new research and communicating them effectively to the public. The current strategy will outline concrete steps over five years, followed by a mid-term course correction that may alter the trajectory.



Consultation partner institutions

The Donner Institute for Research into Religion and Culture, Åbo Akademi University Foundation (Finland), gathers researchers, students and cultural agents and provide a meeting point for research on religion and culture in Finland and in the Nordic countries. 

Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California (USA), conducts empirical research on religious, cultural and social change in the US and globally; and makes this knowledge applicable and available through media, reports, public events, and training and mentoring programs.

The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (USA), the Institute increases awareness of the emotional and health benefits of love through innovative scientific investigations and in lively dialogue with the many spiritual and moral traditions.

Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration (Peru), a non-profit research, healing and collaborative center in the Peruvian Amazon, works to integrate politics and spirituality.

Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria (Canada), is a leading centre for scholarly interdisciplinary research on topics at the intersection of religion and public life. 

CAS-E, Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Alternative Rationalities and Esoteric Practices from a Global Perspective, Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangnen, (Germany) undertakes the investigation of the apparent persistence of practices aimed at predicting, controlling, managing, and manipulating contingent life events, despite an increasingly dominant scientific and technical discourse that delegitimises them.

The Center for Religious Studies, Fondazione Bruno Kessler (Italy), conducts research of the highest quality and promotes frontier studies on religion and ethics, on the sole basis of scientific excellence, with the aim of contributing to the persistence of religion as an inspiring matrix of values to promote peace, provide freedom, achieve sustainable development, combat social exclusion and discrimination, and respect cultural diversity.

Haas Research Group in Poetics of Knowledge, The Center for Aesthetics, Religion and Contemporary Culture, Universitet Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona (Spain), proposes new goals in dialog with the modern and contemporary philosophical thought, psychoanalisis, the Arts, Literature, as well as the new models of transmission of knowledge through the most recent theories about thought and the media. 

RelBib: Bibliography of the Study of Religion, published by Tübingen University Library (Germany), is a comprehensive online bibliography for the study of religion. Its content is supervised by the Subject Information Service for Study of Religion (FID Religionswissenschaft).

The School of Historical and Contemporary Studies, Södertörn University, Stockholm (Sweden), conducts research and education in Archaeology, Archive Studies, Ethnology, History, History of Ideas and the Study of Religions.

Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, California (USA), offers masters and doctoral degree programs in the traditions of depth psychology.