Summary: Mysticism holds that there is an unseen non-empirical reality which is just as important in people's lives as concrete, observable reality and experience. Practical mysticism implies that this unseen reality results in concrete experience and a particular kind of knowing which is just as influential on people's actions and behaviour as observable reality. The authors draw a connection between practical mysticism and the increasing interest in themes relating to religion and spirituality in social work. These themes relate mainly to issues of meaning, motivation and intention in social work. Like all service professions, social work is undergoing re-evaluation away from merely pragmatic and instrumentalist conceptions of its mission to ones concerned with broader issues of meaning and purpose. In this context, issues of religious and spiritual motivation and intention become relevant. Findings: We propose that 'practical mysticism', arguably revived in Habermasian critical theory, has particular relevance to debates relating to the role of religion and spirituality in social work education and practice. Importantly, practical mysticism has the effect of impelling a rethinking of the relationship between spirituality, religion and the applied values inherent in day-to-day social work practice. We see the consideration of practical mysticism to be a fruitful way of embracing religious and spiritual discourses relevant to social work, including their link with social work ethics and practice. Applications: When combined with Habermasian critical and communicative action theories, a practical mystical approach to social work impels a practice (or praxis ) with enhanced potential to motivate the actions of social workers themselves, including in their sensitivity to the religious and spiritual motivations and needs of their clients, and so their capacity to engage more effectively with these clients.
Journal of Social Work Vol. 8, Issue 2, p. 149-162