William James, Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Rudolf Otto are all scholars who have written extensively about the concept of The Sacred in their respective fields of psychology. While each has a unique perspective, they all share a common interest in understanding the experience of the sacred.
William James believed that The Sacred and God are natural and universal human experience. In his book "The Varieties of Religious Experience," he argues that the sacred is a transcendent and mysterious experience that is beyond our everyday, mundane reality. He describes the sacred as a feeling of awe, wonder, and reverence that people often experience in the presence of something greater than themselves, such as nature, art, or God.
Mircea Eliade in his book "The Sacred and the Profane," distinguishes between the sacred and the profane as two distinct categories of experience. According to Eliade, the sacred refers to a realm of experience that is filled with spiritual meaning and significance, while the profane refers to the everyday, secular world of ordinary experience. He argues that the experience of the sacred is fundamental to human existence and that it provides the sense of orientation and meaning in life. Eliade also suggests that alchemy is a form of "technique of the sacred" that allows the alchemist to access the spiritual realm, and to communicate with the divine. He notes that alchemy, like shamanism, is a "way of becoming sacred" and that it can lead to a state of "cosmic awareness" and "illumination."
The psychological phenomenon of a suddenly appearing, extremely enigmatic, and at the same time fascinating state in which one feels influenced by higher powers was described as a “numinous experience” by Otto and Jung. Rudolf Otto in his book "The Idea of the Holy," describes the sacred as a numinous experience that is characterized by a sense of awe and fascination in the presence of the divine. He argues that the experience of the sacred is distinct from other forms of experience and is characterized by a sense of mystery, transcendence, and ineffability that cannot be fully captured by words or concepts.
Carl Jung states that The Sacred is what helps us to appreciate and enter into a relationship with the numinous aspects of the psyche, or soul. He argued that the experience of the sacred is a fundamental part of human psychology and that it could be accessed through dreams, myths, and symbols and not just through repetition of religious ritual for obligation's sake. Carl Jung’s encounter with The Sacred was feeling the presence of the numinous and states that this feeling forms the center of a whole and fulfilled human life and is central to the process of healing and individuation as he understood it.
Jung states that the wide-spread loss of soul is due to the lack of living numinous experiences and the loss of a spiritual belief system. To Jung and Eliade, religion is not defined through institutionalized practices, but as a personal need to invoke and invite the Sacred into our daily lives. Jung argued that the sacred was not limited to traditional religious obligations to God, but could also be found in secular experiences such as nature, music, sports, and art. He believed that the sacred was a manifestation of the collective unconscious, and that it provided individuals with a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Jung identified several archetypes that are related to the experience of the sacred, including the Self, the Divine Child, and the Wise Old Man. The Self is the central archetype that represents the integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. Jung believed that the experience of the Self was a transcendent and numinous experience that could be accessed through meditation, prayer, or other spiritual practices. The Divine Child archetype represents the potential for renewal and rebirth in the individual. It is associated with the experience of innocence, wonder, and creativity. The Wise Old Man archetype represents wisdom, insight, and guidance. It is associated with the experience of transcendence and the search for meaning and purpose in life.
Jung believed that the experience of the sacred was an essential part of the individuation process, the journey towards wholeness and integration of the psyche. He believed that individuals who were able to integrate the sacred into their lives were more likely to experience a sense of wholeness, meaning and purpose, and to live a fulfilling life.
Nowadays psychologists use different terminologies to describe the concept of the sacred, depending on their theoretical perspective and research focus. Here are some examples:
1. Transcendence - the experience of going beyond the limits of the everyday self and connecting with something greater than oneself. This can include experiences of awe, wonder, and spiritual insight.
2. Greater Good - the idea that individuals should act in ways that benefit the larger community or society, even if it requires personal sacrifice or inconvenience. The greater good is often associated with ethical and moral values, and is frequently invoked in discussions of social responsibility, justice, and altruism. The concept of the greater good can be seen as a secular expression of the sacred, as it implies a sense of collective purpose and responsibility that transcends individual interests and selfish desires. In some cases, the pursuit of the greater good can be considered a form of spiritual practice, as it involves a commitment to values that are seen as transcendent and meaningful.
3. Peak Experience - a moment of intense joy, creativity, or fulfillment that can be triggered by a variety of activities, such as sports, music, or artistic expression.
4. Numinous Experience - the feeling of awe, reverence, or sacredness that is often associated with encounters with the divine or with sacred objects or places. Numinous experiences can be triggered by a variety of stimuli, such as music, art, nature, or religious rituals.
5. Ultimate Concern - the highest value or purpose that an individual or community holds. It is often associated with religious or spiritual beliefs and can provide a sense of meaning and direction in life.
6. Flow – the state of optimal experience characterized by complete absorption and engagement in a challenging activity. Flow experiences are often associated with creativity, productivity, and enjoyment, and are said to be deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Flow experiences can be triggered by a variety of activities, such as sports, art, music, or work, and are often described as moments of "being in the zone" or "losing oneself" in the task at hand. Many scholars have argued that flow experiences can be considered sacred, as they provide a sense of transcendence and connection with something greater than oneself.
7. Mystical Experience - a type of spiritual experience characterized by a sense of unity or oneness with the divine or with all things. Mystical experiences often involve feelings of transcendence, ineffability, and intense emotional arousal.