Mystical experience, spiritual knowledge, and a contemporary ecstatic religion

Peter Buckley, Marc Galanter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


A contemporary ‘enthusiastic’ religion, the Divine Light Mission (DLM), was studied by the authors in an attempt to elucidate some of the psychological factors underlying the burgeoning appeal of this charismatic religious sect for American youth. The DLM is constituted of followers of the Guru Maharaji, an Indian who first came to the United States in 1972 at the age of 14. Method. The study was conducted both by means of individual interviews of DLM members and through the administration of a questionnaire to 119 randomly selected converts. Results. The modal respondent was a single white between 21 and 25 years of age, who had some college experience, had been a member for one to two years, and was living in communal residence with other members. Mystical experiences, analogous to an acute circumscribed hallucinatory episode, were found to be a central factor in the conversion of some of the adherents to the DLM. These mystical experiences along with regularly practiced meditation appeared to be of considerable importance in reinforcing the belief system (especially the acquisition of ‘knowledge’ a state of communion with the ‘divine presence’) for members of the DLM. Discussion. The psychology of mystical conversion experiences is reviewed and an explanation for the central importance of the ‘knowledge’ in the DLM is developed through the concept of affect functioning as cognition. The relationship and similarity of the DLM to other ‘enthusiastic’ religions such as Pentecostalism and 17th century Quakerism is examined illustrating the persistent historical appeal of such inspirational sects. The combination of a powerful group solidarity, the presence of a charismatic leader, and the occurrence of dramatic mystical conversion experiences are seen to be potent factors in providing this sect with its appeal for contemporary youth. 1979 The British Psychological Society

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-289
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Medical Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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