The Language of Ineffability: Linguistic Analysis of Mystical Experiences

David B. Yaden, Johannes C. Eichstaedt, H. Andrew Schwartz, Margaret L. Kern, Khoa D. Le Nguyen, Nancy A. Wintering, Ralph W. Hood, Andrew B. Newberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mystical experiences are often described as "ineffable," or beyond language. However, people readily speak about their mystical experiences if asked about them. How do people describe what is supposedly indescribable? In this study, we used quantitative linguistic analyses to interpret the writings of 777 participants (45.5% female, 51.0% male) who recounted their most significant spiritual or religious experience as part of an online survey. High and low scorers on a measure of mystical experiences differed in the language they used to describe their experiences. Participants who have had mystical experiences used language that was more socially and spatially inclusive (e.g., "close," "we," "with") and used fewer overtly religious words (e.g., "prayed," "Christ," "church") than participants without such experiences. Results indicated that people can meaningfully communicate their mystical experiences, and that quantitative language analyses provide a means for understanding aspects of such experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-252
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • inclusion
  • linguistic analysis
  • mystical experiences
  • religion
  • spirituality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Religious studies
  • Applied Psychology


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