"Meet the Researcher: Evgeny A. Torchinov1," in: JOURNAL OF TRANSPERSONAL PSYCHOLOGY. Volume 34(1), 2002
Evgeny Torchinov is head of the Department of Oriental Philosophy and Cultural
Studies, Faculty of Philosophy, St. Petersburg State University, Russia. With an initial degree in Chinese Philology, he specialized in historical science for postgraduate work with his doctoral thesis on: “Ge Hong’s ‘Baopu-zi’ as Historical and Ethnological Source.” Matriculating further toward habilitation, his thesis focused on: “‘Daoism’ An essay of historico-religious description.” Before entering the professorate, he worked first as a museum research fellow, followed by a position as research fellow of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. He has been a member of the faculty of philosophy at St. Petersburg State University since 1994 and, prior to his present position, headed the Department of Religious Studies for a short time. In addition to his native Russian, Torchinov is a sinologist (with proficiencies in both classical [wenyan] and contemporary Mandarin [putonghua] Chinese and, as a function of his studies in Buddhism and Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) (see Torchinov, 2000), has acquired a working knowledge of Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Hebrew. Since 1980, he has published about 120 articles on different aspects of the history of religious and philosophical doctrines in China (Buddhism, Daoism) and on the problems of religious studies and comparative religions in general. In 1997, he published his book entitled “Religions of the World: Experiences of the Transcendent (transpersonal states and psychopractices).”2
The book, which is the culmination of his years of studying “the methodological problems of religious studies,” embodies his transpersonal model of religion and is said by Torchinov to have significance in that it is “probably one of the first attempts both in Russian and international scholarship to analyze religion as a coherent psychological
phenomenon.” In particular, the book entails a critique of the sociological approach to the study of religion and “its insufficiency as the means of understanding religion as a universal psychological phenomenon,” To augment the sociological approach, Torchinov proposes that religious experience as conceptualized through transpersonal theory should be viewed as the basis for all “structures of doctrine, beliefs, institutions, etc., which form a religion.”
The book, comprised of several sections, involves an analysis of a wide variety of religious orientations, historically ranging from early times to modern day. He begins with the investigation of “the role of the profound religious experience within the so-called early forms of religion,” which includes Shamanism followed by “the mysterial cults of the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean areas (Adonis, Attis, Eleusinian mysteries, etc.).” In his words, “I critically examined the currently widespread Frazerian interpretation of these cults as the manifestation of magic of fertility, and substitute it with the interpretation of the mysteries as forms of catharsis, originating from the prenatal and archetypal experiences (explained in terms of Basic Perinatal Matrices—BPM—of Grof [e.g., see Grof 1985]). I try to demonstrate that we can understand the mysteries of Attis and Adonis as having one and the same” goal, namely to obtain “a more integrated psyche, sacralized in religion, through the mystery experience of death-and –rebirth …. Solving the conflicts of BPM III and entering the experience of BPM IV is a cathartic experience of a new spiritual birth-renewal.”
Next, the volume covers what Torchinov calls the “religions of pure experience”- The religions of China (Taoism) and India (Hinduism, Buddhism), followed by the “Bible religions in which the basic transpersonal experience of the founder takes the form of the supreme revelation (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)” (for interested readers, see also Torchinov, 1997b, and Tulpe & Torchinov, 2000). In these latter traditions, he maintains that psychopractical spiritual experience “takes the shape of mysticism,” Sufism is examined in terms of the “basic prophetic interpretation of Islam,” while “Christian mysticism is analyzed in the form of Byzantine Hesychasm,” with some reference also to “specific traits of the medieval Catholic mysticism and Russian sectarian traditions (‘Khlysty’ and ‘Castrati’ sects).” Torchinov considers a typological comparison he made between Hebrew mysticism and the mystical traditions of India and Far East regions, “of special interest to readers.” A major conclusion, in fact, for Torchinov is that “ultimate typological unity, which [he stresses] has been clearly demonstrated …, confirms the unity of the psychological experience underlying all considered traditions.”
Inspired and compelled by the findings of his far-reaching inquiry into the experiential basis of religion, Torchinov embarked upon his present research interests and endeavors. In his words, subsequent to “finishing this book, I became interested in the problem of the epistemological relevance of the …mystical transpersonal experience and the socio-cultural forms of its expression and description in language.” On this topic, he has completed a preliminary paper entitled “Philosophy of Religion as Philosophy. What is it?” which was presented at a conference held at the University of Helsinki, Finland (Faculty of Systematic Theology) in October, 2001. A revised form of this paper served as the basis for a special lecture given at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) in February, 2002.
“In [this] research,” explains Torchinov, I try to use methodological principles suggested by Walter Terence Stace (e.g., Stace, 1960) and contemporary American scholar Robert K.C. Forman (e.g,. Forman, 1994, 1998). More specifically, Torchinov describes his methodological approach as being both influenced by, and based upon, (a) the research and theoretical “attitude” of Stanislav Grof, (b) the philological and historico-cultural analysis of the religious and mystical texts of different traditions, (c) the principles of research in the fields of religious studies as they are presented in the school of phenomenology of religion (mostly in the works of Mircea Eliade), (d) his own transpersonal experience obtained through the practice of Yogic meditation, having begun raja and hatha yoga as a student and currently practicing in addition Buddhist meditation techniques, and (e) the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer and William James with regard to the philosophical aspects of interpretation of epistemological and metaphysical aspects of mystical experience.
A main interest area for Torchinov, who refers to the Kantian phraseology “thing in itself, adopted by Schopenhauer,” is that of “self-cognizing … as a path to the knowledge of reality.” The epistemological relevance for Torchinov is that only through understanding ourselves at a deep level do we have a more authentic pathway to understanding the outer world. He posits: “Human beings like a part of the world are unfolding …; it is easier to find [the nature of this process] in [oneself] than in the outer world. Thus we may "ex hypothesi" conclude that the so-called mystical experience is a kind of cognizing (gnosis) penetrating in a very special manner from inside into the nature of the innermost “self” and thus recognizing the character and nature of this “self.”
He continues: “This is also a cognizing of the nature of all objective appearances as much as they are immanent to the cognizing “self” and thus attainable to the inner knowledge of the subject. We can describe such a cognizing as movement from the conceptualized world of appearances to the non-conceptualized knowledge of non-conceptualized reality as it is, or reality as such (Tathata, or Suchness of the Buddhist texts) or “yatha bhutam” [according to] Mahayan
na Buddhists’ knowledge of the reality.”
Torchinov reminds us of Kant's statement in his "Critique of Pure Reason” that “the knowledge of the “thing as it is” (Ding an sich) could be possible only if we were able to eliminate our present forms of sensual intuitions and obtain a kind of newnon-sensual intuition. It can be said that mystical experience is a similar way of cognition, which is possible due to the acts of a certain intuition of the unknown kind (posited by Kant as pure hypothesis only)."
Torchinov then asks the question, “If mystical experience contains even an element of the true knowledge, why do we have a great number of its descriptions in different independent traditions and many doctrines of its interpretations?” “Here,” he emphasizes, “we meet with a very complicated problem of the relations existing between the mystical experience and the language of its [expression], and this problem is followed by another one: The problems of socio-cultural determination of such an experience.”
He continues: “In …my current research I suggest divid[ing] the mystical experience into two levels: (a) the level of immediate or direct experiencing which will probably have a lot in common in different traditions and cultures, and (b) the level of its expression and description. The second one will differ from individual to individual and from tradition to tradition: an adept will transfer his/her experience in the categories and terms of his/her doctrine which in its turn exists in the frames of a definite culture which plays a role of a determinant of the doctrinal expression and formalizing, or shaping of the basic immediate experience.”
Despite the progress he has made in his investigations into the nature and significance, Torchinov asserts that his “research is still in process …so all my [current] ideas and conclusions are of preliminary nature only. I hope nevertheless that soon I will be ready to present some of my hypotheses to the scholarly community in one of my subsequent publications.”
Torchinovwelcomes your inquiry and dialogue. He may be reached at the following address: Evgeny Torchinov, Ph.D., D. Sc., Professor, St. Petersburg State University, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Oriental Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Mendeleyevskaya liniya, 5, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia. e-mail: , tel/fax: (7)(812)526-29-47 (in Russia). Interested readers are also referred to the following websites: and
1. Information presented in this research brief is based upon edited written discourse between Dr. Torchinov and the JTP editors. Quoted material represents verbatim statements of Dr. Torchinov.
2. While currently available only in Russian, the section of the book covering middle eastern and Mediterranean cults has been published in abbreviated form in English. See Torchinov (1998).
Forman, R. K. C. (1994). Of capsules and carts: Mysticism, language, and via negativa. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1(1), 38-49.
Forman, R. K. C. (1998). Introduction: Mystical consciousness, the innate capacity, and the perennial philosophy. In R.K.C. Forman (Ed.). The innate capacity: Mysticism, psychology, and philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Grof, S. (1985). Beyond the brain: Birth, death, and transcendence in psychotherapy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Stace, W. T. (1960). Mysticism and philosophy. Philadelphia, PA: Lippencott. Any idea why?
Torchinov, E. A. (1997a).
Torchinov, E. A. (1997b). The doctrine of the “mysterious female” in Taoism: A transpersonal view. In T. R. Soidla & S. I. Shapiro (Eds.). Everything is according to the Way: Voices of Russian transpersonalism (pp. 97-108). Brisbane, Australia: Bolda-Lok.
Torchinov, E. A. (1998). Cybele, Attis, and the mysteries of the “suffering gods”: A transpersonal interpretation. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 17, 149-159.
Torchinov, E.A. (2000). The doctrine of the origin of evil in Lurianic and Sabbatean Kabbalah and in the ‘awakening of faith’ in Mahayana Buddhism//Kabbalah. Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts, 5, 183-198.
Tulpe, I. A., & Torchinov, E. A. (2000). The Castrati (“Skoptsy”) sect in Russia: History, teaching, and religious practice. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 19, 77-87.