Mysticism- & Religion-Aligned Discourses


Trusting more in what has been revealed than what has been discerned and interpreted

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … ideal or factual truths that are “out there,” resident in the universe
  • Knowing is … one’s mastery/awareness of knowledge
  • Learner is … a receptacle; incomplete being
  • Learning is … acquiring; attaining
  • Teaching is … relaying, shaping shepherding, illuminating




Western Mysticism- & Religion-Aligned Discourses, while diverse and varied, tend to embrace and perpetuate some rather specific beliefs about learning and teaching. In particular, there is a pervasive assumption that all truth is pre-existent and present out in the universe – resident in an ideal realm, or in a creator’s mind, inscribed in material forms, and so on. On this site, the following meanings are ascribed to key discourses and constructs in this cluster:
  • Metaphysics (Metaphysical) – a term with conflicted meanings. The word is derived from the Greek ta meta ta physika “the works after physics,” and it was coined c. 70 BCE to refer to the ordering of books. Its meaning was misconstrued by Latin writers as “the science of what is beyond the physical,” and that mistranslation set up a cascade of diverse and sometimes-contradictory meanings over the centuries. Depending on context, Metaphysics is currently used to refer to topics as diverse as (1) philosophy in general, (2) contemplations on the nature of the universe, (3) the study of the human mind, (4) considerations related to spirituality, and (5) as a near synonym for Mysticism. While clearly very different in focus, a common element across these topics is an assumption that truth and knowledge are incorporeal forms. Related notions include:
    • Supernatural – literally, “above the natural” – that is, phenomena that are perceived as not subject to natural laws (Contrast: Naturalism, under Materialisms.)
  • Mysticism – an umbrella term that refers to worldviews structured around the belief that reality exceeds human capacity to explain. “Knowledge” is understood to inhere in the cosmos and to be accessed through means of divination by humans (as opposed to revelation from divine beings; contrast: Religion). Associated discourses include:
    • Alchemy – a variety of western Mysticism that emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things. Alchemy is best known for the efforts of some alchemists to transform baser metals into higher ones, but it is more properly understood as a tradition concerned with the transformation of base humans into higher spiritual beings.
    • Hermeticism – a strand of Mysticism that embraces a variety of influences and traditions. Hermeticism holds that the great work of humans and humankind is to return to a state of unity with the divine through creative and transformative engagement.
    • Neoplatonism (~200 CE) – a modern term to refer to a reputed shift in how Plato's (~424–348 BCE) philosophy was interpreted, usually attributed to Plotinus (~205–270 CE) and his successors. Most commonly, Neoplatonism is described as  three key tenets: (a) a dichotomization of spirit and flesh, (b) a suspicion of sensory perception, and (c) the embrace of an ascetic lifestyle as a means to transcend one’s base existence. Neoplatonism is regarded as one of the major influences of both mystical and religious belief systems in the modern Western world.
  • Religion – any institutionalized system of belief, typically developed around the assumption that divine knowledge is revealed by an all-powerful God or a pantheon of gods. Humans are obligated to organize their lives according to the strictures with those revelations. Religious myths and narratives are usually framed in terms of dichotomies that require some sort of resolution. These include creation stories (e.g., the separation of darkness from light, the divine from the mortal, the human from the natural, etc.), which are typically accompanied by stories of redemption. (Contrast: Mysticism.) Types of Religion include:
    • Atheism – meaning literally “not theism,” the conviction that existence can be explained without appealing to the metaphysical or the supernatural (i.e., a rejection of all the other entries included here under Religion)
    • Deism – the belief that a supernatural entity – usually identified as a god (or the God) – created or was the principal cause of the universe, but no longer has any hand in its affairs. The suggestion is that the cosmos has a supernatural origin, but since the moment of creation it has unfolded according to natural or physical laws instituted at the moment of creation. (Contrasts: Panentheism, Pantheism, and Theism)
    • Panentheism – from a Greek word meaning “all in god,” the perspective that the world is “in god” – and, conversely, that the divine is in all things (Contrasts: Deism, Pantheism, and Pantheism)
    • Pantheism – the identification of the supernatural with the natural. Rather than seeing nature as created and/or controlled by god(s), the divine is understood to infuse the natural world. (Contrasts: Deism. Panentheism. and Theism)
    • Theism – the belief in God as a supernatural being who actively intervenes in the affairs of the world (Contrasts: Deism, Panentheism, and Pantheism)


That assumption about knowledge calls forward the most prominent and resistant metaphors on learning in English, including the Attainment Metaphor, the Illumination Metaphor, and the Acquisition Metaphor, which it sets the stage for a grab back of Folk Theories and many, somewhat-more-formal theories that are, in the main, in attentive to their uncritical embrace of metaphors tethered to Mysticism- & Religion-Aligned Discourses.


  • Alchemy
  • Atheism
  • Deism
  • Hermeticism
  • Metaphysics (Metaphysical)
  • Mysticism
  • Neoplatonism
  • Panentheism
  • Pantheism
  • Religion
  • Supernatural
  • Theism

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Mysticism- & Religion-Aligned Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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