The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling

Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism


This study examines the history of the psychoanalytic theory of mysticism, starting with the seminal correspondence between Freud and Romain Rolland concerning the concept of "oceanic feeling." Providing a corrective to current views which frame psychoanalysis as pathologizing mysticism, Parsons reveals the existence of three models entertained by Freud and Rolland: the classical reductive, ego-adaptive, and transformational (which allows for a transcendent dimension to mysticism). Then, reconstructing Rolland's personal mysticism (the "oceanic feeling") through texts and letters unavailable to Freud, Parsons argues that Freud misinterpreted the oceanic feeling. In offering a fresh interpretation of Rolland's mysticism, Parsons constructs a new dialogical approach for psychoanalytic theory of mysticism which integrates culture studies, developmental perspectives, and the deep epistemological and transcendent claims of the mystics.
  • Oxford University Press; June 1999
  • ISBN 9780195354089
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling
  • Author: William B. Parsons
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press