Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 2010–2022 | Cite as

A Longitudinal Case Study: The Development of Exceptional Human Experiences of Senior Ecclesiastical Professionals in the Catholic Church

  • Claude-Hélène Mayer
  • Rian Viviers
  • Aden-Paul FlotmanEmail author
  • Detlef Schneider-Stengel
Original Paper


Exceptional human experiences (EHEs) impact on health and well-being and can contribute to enhanced intercultural and interreligious awareness and understanding. The aim of this longitudinal study was to explore the development of EHEs in a group of senior professionals in the German Catholic Church. Exceptional human experiences were measured through the EEQ in pre- and post-test questionnaires which were qualitatively analysed. The results of this study reflect an increase in the frequency of positive spiritual experiences and visionary dream encounters, as well as a more positive evaluation of these spiritual phenomena. The findings seem to suggest that it is possible to raise people’s awareness of spiritual practices and to enhance intercultural and interreligious competence through training interventions.


Spirituality Exceptional human experiences Interculture Training German Catholic Church 



We thank the Catholic Church in Germany for commissioning this research project and all the individuals who participated.


  1. Biberman, J., & Whitty, M. (1997). A postmodern spiritual future for work. Journal of organizational change management, 10(2), 130–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Black, H. K. (2007). How the “not religious” experience and witness suffering and death: Case studies. Journal of Religion, Spirituality, and Aging, 19(2), 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Braud, W. (2012). Health and well-being benefits of exceptional human experiences. In C. Murray (Ed.), Mental health and anomalous experience (pp. 107–124). New York, NY: Nova Science.Google Scholar
  4. Burrows, L. (2014). Spirituality at work: The contribution of mindfulness to personal and workforce development. In Workforce development (pp. 303–316). Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  5. Campbell, J., & Moyer, B. (2001). Joseph Campbell and the power of myth. Video. New York, NJ: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  6. Cardena, E., Lynn, S. J., & Krippner, S. (Eds.). (2000). Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  7. Cashwell, C. S., Paige Bentley, D., & Bigbee, A. (2007). Spirituality and counselor wellness. Journal of humanistic counseling, education and development, 46, 66–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Collis, J., & Hussey, R. (2003). Business research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  9. Day, J. M. (2010). Religion, spirituality, and positive psychology in adulthood: A developmental view. Journal of Adult Development, 17, 215–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. DeHoff, S. L. (1998). In search of a paradigm for psychological and spiritual growth: Implications for psychotherapy and spiritual direction. Pastoral psychology, 46(5), 333–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dilthey, W. (1976). Selected writings. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Emmons, R. A., & Paloutzian, R. F. (2003). The psychology of religion. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 377–402.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Fehring, R. J., Brennan, P. F., & Keller, M. L. (1987). Psychological and spiritual well-being in college students. Research in Nursing & Health, 10(6), 391–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fukuyama, M. A., & Servig, T. D. (1999). Interacting spirituality into multicultural counselling. Thousand Okay, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Geertz, C. (1987). La interpretación de las culturas. Barcelona: Gedisa.Google Scholar
  16. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  17. Greve, D. (2011). Encounters for Change. Interreligious cooperation in the care of individuals and communities. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Gummer, C. (2014). Losing faith. Wall Street Journal, 1. Google Scholar
  19. Haraldsson, E., & Houtkooper, J. M. (1991). Psychic experience in the multinational human values survey: Who reports them? Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 85, 145–165.Google Scholar
  20. Hardy, A. (1979). The spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  21. Heidenreich, H. (2001). Katholische Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft für Erwachsenenbildung (KBE). In Mette, N. & Rickers, F. (Hrsg.). Lexikon der Religionspädagogik (LexRP). Band 1: AK. (pp. 991ff). Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag.Google Scholar
  22. Hellmanns, B. (2014). Der Caritasverband und interkulturelle Öffnungsprozesse—auf dem geduldigen und beschwerlichen Weg des Erkennens, Formulierens und Umsetzens. In E. Vanderheiden & C.-H. Mayer (Eds.), Handbuch interkulturelle Öffnung (pp. 164–172). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  23. Hill, P. C., & Pargament, K. I. (2003). Advances in the conceptualization and measurement of religion and spirituality: Implications for physical and mental health research. American Psychologist, 58, 64–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. House, M., & Parker, M. (2015). Transformational education through intercultural service learning immersions. This article was originally published as: House, M., and Parker, M.(2015). Transformational education through intercultural service learning immersions. Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, 35, 189201. Retrieved from ISSN:2325-2855.
  25. Jones-Smith, E. (2016). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy. An integrative approach: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Kelly, E. W, Jr. (1995). Spirituality and religion in counselor education: A national survey. Counselor Education and Supervision, 33, 227–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koenig, H., McCullough, M., & Larson, D. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of religion and health. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Kohls, N. (2004). Aussergewöhnliche Erfahrungen—Blinder Fleck der Psychologie? Eine Aus- einandersetzung mit aussergewöhnlichen Erfahrungen und ihrem Zusammenhang mit geistiger Gesundheit. Münster: Lit-Verlag.Google Scholar
  29. Kohls, N., Friedl, C., & Walach, H. (2001). Häufigkeit und subjektive Bewertung von auflergewöhnlichen menschlichen Erfahrungen. Explorative Ergebnisse einer Fragebogenstudie zu differentialdiagnostischen Zwecken. In W. Belschner, J. Galuska, H. Walach, & E. Zundel (Eds.), Perspektiven transpersonaler Forschung (pp. 89–116). Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg.Google Scholar
  30. Kohls, N., Hack, A., & Walach, H. (2008). Measure the unmeasurable by ticking boxes and actually opening Pandoras Box? Mixed Methods Research as a useful tool for thinking out of the box while investigating exceptional human experiences. The Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 30, 155–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kohls, N., & Walach, H. (2006). Exceptional experiences and spiritual practice: A new measurement approach. Spirituality and Health International, 7(3), 125–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kohls, N., & Walach, H. (2007). Psychological distress, experience of ego loss and spirituality: Exploring the effects of spiritual practice. Social Behavior and Personality, 35(10), 1301–1316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kohls, N., Walach, H., & Lewith, G. (2009). The impact of positive and negative spiritual experiences on distress and the moderating role of mindfulness. The Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 31(3), 357–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Larson, D. B., & Larson, S. S. (2003). Spirituality’s potential relevance to physical and emotional health: A brief review of quantitative research. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 31, 37–51.Google Scholar
  35. Lines, D. (2002). Counseling within a new spiritual paradigm. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 42(3), 102–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lucadou, W., & Wald, F. (2014). Extraordinary experiences in its cultural and theoretical context. International Review of Psychiatry, 26(3), 324–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ludeman Smith, N. (2014). Preparing professional interculturalists for interfaith collaboration. In Brunn, S.D. (Ed.). The changing world religion map. Sacred places, identities, practices and politics (pp. 2941–2963). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  38. Lukoff, D. (1990). Transpersonal perspectives on manic psychosis: Creative, visionary, and mystical states. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 20, 111–139.Google Scholar
  39. Lukoff, D., & Lu, F. G. (1999). Cultural competence includes religious and spiritual issues in clinical practice. Psychiatric Annals, 29, 469–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lukoff, D., Lu, F., & Turner, R. (1998). Toward a more culturally sensitive DSM-IV. Psychoreligious and psychospiritual problems. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 80, 673–682.Google Scholar
  41. Macdonald, D. A. (2000). A survey of measures of transpersonal constructs. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 27(2), 171–235.Google Scholar
  42. Madden, T. (2015). Journeys of purpose: A review of literature about work and spirituality. International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, 5(4), 69–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mascaro, N., Rosen, D. H., & Morey, L. C. (2004). The development, construct validity, and clinical utility of the Spiritual Meaning Scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 845–860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mayer, C.-H., & Boness, C. M. (2013). Creating mental health across cultures. Coaching and training for managers. Lengerich: Pabst Publishers.Google Scholar
  45. Mayer, C.-H., Surtee, S., & Barnard, A. (2015). Women leaders in higher education: A psycho-spiritual perspective. South African Journal of Psychology, 45(1), 102–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mayer, C.-H., & Viviers, A. (2014a). Following the word of God: Empirical insights into managerial perceptions on spirituality, culture and health. In C.-H. Mayer, D. Geldenhuys (Eds.). Spirituality, culture and health in management. Special Issue International Review of Psychiatry, 26(3), 302–314.Google Scholar
  47. Mayer, C. -H., & Viviers, A. (2014b). I still believe: Reconstructing spirituality, culture and mental health across cultural divides. In C.-H. Mayer, & D. Geldenhuys (Eds.). Spirituality, culture and health in management. Special Issue International Review of Psychiatry, 26(3), 265–278.Google Scholar
  48. Miller, E. D. (2004). The development and validation of a new measure of spirituality. North America Journal of Psychology, 6(3), 423–430.Google Scholar
  49. Mörchen, A., & Tolksdorf, M. (2009). Lernort Gemeinde. Ein neues Format der Erwachsenenbildung. Bielefeld: W. Bertelsmann.Google Scholar
  50. O’Reilly, K. (2012). Ethnographic returning, qualitative longitudinal research and the reflexive analysis of social practice. Sociological Review, 60, 518–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Palmer, G., & Braud, W. (2002). Exceptional human experiences, disclosure, and a more inclusive view of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 34(1), 29–59.Google Scholar
  52. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Paul, M., Dutta, A., & Saha, P. (2015). Workplace spirituality and work-life balance: A Study among women executives of IT Sector Companies. International Journal of Management and Behavioural Sciences, 6, 267–277.Google Scholar
  54. Puchalski, C. M., Blatt, B., & Kogan, M. (2014). Spirituality and health: The development of a field. Academic Medicine, 89(1), 689–714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rankin, M. (2008). An introduction to religious and spiritual experiences. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  56. Roof, W. C. (2000). Spiritual marketplace: Baby boomers and the remaking of American religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Sandage, S. J., & Harden, M. G. (2011). Relational spirituality, differentiation of self, and virtue as predictors of intercultural development. Mental Health, Religion and Culture, 14(8), 819–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sandage, S. J., Li, J., Jankowski, P. J., Beilby, M., & Frank, C. (2015). Spiritual predictors of change in intercultural competence in a multicultural counseling course. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 34(2), 171–174. Google Scholar
  59. Schmied-Knittel, I., & Schetsche, M. (2003). PSI-Report Deutschland. In E. Bauer & M. Schetsche (Eds.), Altagliche Wunder: Erfahrungen mit dem Ubersinnlichen—wissenschaftliche Befunde. Ergon: Wurzburh.Google Scholar
  60. Schneider-Stengel, D. (2014). Interkulturelle Öffnung der katholischen Kirche. In E. Vanderheiden & C.-H. Mayer (Eds.), Handbuch interkulturelle Öffnung (pp. 151–163). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  61. Sorrells, N. (2007). Luther’s spiritual heirs face uncertain future. Christian Century, 16, 73–76.Google Scholar
  62. SPSS. (2012). SPSS for windows. Chicago, IL: SPSS Incorporated.Google Scholar
  63. Starke, M. T. (1995): Erwachsenenbildung (kath. Trägerschaft). In: E. Schmitz & H. Tietgens (Hrsg.): Erwachsenenbildung. (Neuausgabe). Dresden: Klett-Verlag für Wissen und Bildung (S. 385–388) (Enzyklopädie Erziehungswissenschaft 11).Google Scholar
  64. Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (2003). Handbook on mixed methods in the behavioral and social sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  65. Taylor, D. L., Van Zandt, C., & Menjares, P. C. (2013). Developing culturally competent faculty: A cognitive, affective and spiritual model. Christian Higher Education, 12(1–2), 110–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Teasdale, W., & Lama, Dalai. (1999). The mystic heart: Discovering a universal spirituality in the world’s religions. Pavato, CA: New World Library.Google Scholar
  67. Van der Riet, M., & Durrheim, K. (2008). Putting design into practice: Writing and evaluating research proposals. In M. Terre Blanche, K. Durrheim, & D. Painter (Eds.). Research in practice: Applied methods for the social sciences (pp. 80–112). Cape Town: University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  68. Wang, X. (2012). The construction of researcher-researched relationships in school ethnography: Doing research, participating in the field and reflecting on ethical dilemmas. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26, 763–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wardell, D. W., & Engebretson, J. C. (2006). Taxonomy of spiritual experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 45(2), 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. White, R. A. (1993). How to write an EHE autobiography. Exceptional Human Experience, Background Papers, 1(11), 132–134.Google Scholar
  71. White, R. A. (1997). Dissociation, narrative, and exceptional human experience. Broken images, broken selves: Dissociative narratives in clinical practice, pp. 88–121.Google Scholar
  72. Wright, L. M. (2005). Spirituality, suffering, and illness: Ideas for healing. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.Google Scholar
  73. Ying, Y. W. (2009). Religiosity, spirituality, mindfulness, and mental health in social work students. Critical Social Work, 10(1), 97–99.Google Scholar
  74. Zapp, A. (2012). Managers and leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review, 70(2), 1–11.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claude-Hélène Mayer
    • 1
  • Rian Viviers
    • 1
  • Aden-Paul Flotman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Detlef Schneider-Stengel
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Industrial and Organisational PsychologyUniversity of South Africa (UNISA)Pretoria, GautengSouth Africa
  2. 2.Personal Referee for Interreligious DialogueBistum EssenEssenGermany

Personalised recommendations