The best books on spiritual experiences

Why am I passionate about this?

What a question. I’ve been asking it all my life. Publicly, I am known for writing and workshops about the spiritual search, intuition, the still, small voice of God, angels, and miraculous time-warped synchronicities that seem directed to our benefit. I have written about my own mystical illuminations in A Book of Angels, The Ecstatic Journey, The Path of Prayer, in novels, plays, stories, and poetry. My work is translated into some 25 languages (most recently Chinese). But underneath I’m an ordinary flawed, failed human being, stumbling, searching for meaning, struggling toward God, and trying to be of some small service before I go back home.


I wrote...

The Treasure of Montségur: A Novel of the Cathars

By Sophy Burnham,

Book cover of The Treasure of Montségur: A Novel of the Cathars

What is my book about?

How do you find hope in the midst of horror? From what aquifer springs blinding faith even when faced with being burnt alive? For two centuries the medieval Church worked to exterminate the vegetarian, pacifist “heretic” followers of Christ, known as Cathars or pure ones. Women were priests. Holy script was translated so everyone could read. Finally, 230 perfecti, trapped in the fortress of Montsegur in the south of France, lowered 2 perfecti and a guide on ropes down the sheer cliff face to escape and continue the Church of Love —before they were all burnt at the stake.

My novel begins when Jeanne, their guide, having lost the two, is looking for them. The Inquisition is looking for her. Everyone is looking for the immense Cathar treasure. What was the treasure of Montségur? 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Autobiography of a Yogi

Sophy Burnham Why did I love this book?

Named one of the 100 best spiritual books of the 20th century, this autobiography of a guru’s spiritual search for enlightenment reads like a page-turner thriller. Here’s one story: when he was a young boy, his atheist brother dared him (if he believed so firmly in God) to go without money to a far-off city, live well for a day, and return without having spent a cent. That story alone changed my life.

By Paramahansa Yogananda,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Autobiography of a Yogi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Autobiography of a Yogi is at once a beautifully written account of an exceptional life and a profound introduction to the ancient science of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. Profoundly inspiring, it is at the same time vastly entertaining, warmly humorous and filled with extraordinary personages.

Self-Realization Fellowship's editions, and none others, include extensive material added by the author after the first edition was published, including a final chapter on the closing years of his life.

Selected as "One of the 100 Best Spiritual Books of the Twentieth Century", Autobiography of a Yogi has been translated into more…


Book cover of The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature

Sophy Burnham Why did I love this book?

Taken from his 1901-01 lectures at the University of Edinburgh, this book offers the quintessential psychological study of mysticism and spiritual experiences, identifying commonalities and taking seriously the Reality of the Unseen. A true spiritual illumination, says James, is authoritative, temporary, optimistic, and always verifies union with something larger than the conscious self. 

By William James,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Varieties of Religious Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Standing at the crossroads of psychology and religion, this catalyzing work applied the scientific method to a field abounding in abstract theory. William James believed that individual religious experiences, rather than the precepts of organized religions, were the backbone of the world's religious life. His discussions of conversion, repentance, mysticism and saintliness, and his observations on actual, personal religious experiences - all support this thesis. In his introduction, Martin E. Marty discusses how James's pluralistic view of religion led to his remarkable tolerance of extreme forms of religious behaviour, his challenging, highly original theories, and his welcome lack of pretension…


Book cover of Rumi: Poems

Sophy Burnham Why did I love this book?

I am not suggesting any particular book of the poems of this famous Persian poet and Sufi mystic. There are dozens of translations. Read any. His ecstatic poetry, as well as reflective musings all, lead to deepening love, the center and meaning of a spiritual experience.

By Jalal Al-Din Rumi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rumi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The poetry of the medieval Persian sage Rumi combines lyrical beauty with spiritual profundity, a sense of rapture, and acute awareness of human suffering in ways that speak directly to contemporary audiences.

Trained in Sufism—a mystic tradition within Islam—Rumi founded the Sufi order known to us as the Whirling Dervishes, who use dance and music as part of their spiritual devotion. Many of Rumi’s poems speak of a yearning for ecstatic union with the divine Beloved. But his images bring the sacred and the earthy together in startling ways, describing divine love in vividly human terms.

This volume draws on…


Book cover of Mysticism

Sophy Burnham Why did I love this book?

This is sometimes heavy slogging, and irritating for the absence of her personal spiritual stories, but it remains a seminal work. Her lifelong quest was a source of private angst, provoking her to research and write novels, poems, and this psychological exploration of how the mystic fits into both worlds with joy. It includes a valuable appendix of mystics over centuries.

By Evelyn Underhill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mysticism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Underhill maps out her own view of the mystic's journey into five parts: "Awakening of Self," "Purgation of Self," "Illumination," "the Dark Night of the Soul," and "the Unitative life." Underhill is focussed on mysticism in Christianity but she also mentions Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other belief systems. This has long been considered a crucial work on the subject of Mysticism, and continues to guide seekers a century later.--J.B. Hare


Book cover of In Love with the World: A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying

Sophy Burnham Why did I love this book?

Reared from sheltered babyhood as a fully enlightened being, the abbot decided at the age of 36 to leave the monastery and wander begging like the Buddha for food. I was amazed. He openly recounts the emotions of grappling for the first time with physical needs – including his descent into dying, his recovery, and his joy of this difficult world.

By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Helen Tworkov,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked In Love with the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rare, intimate account of a world-renowned Buddhist monk’s near-death experience and the life-changing wisdom he gained from it

“One of the most inspiring books I have ever read.”—Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart

“This book has the potential to change the reader’s life forever.”—George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo

At thirty-six years old, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was a rising star within his generation of Tibetan masters and the respected abbot of three monasteries. Then one night, telling no one, he slipped out of his monastery in India with the intention of spending the next four…


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Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi artifact...it also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in religious experiences, spirituality, and Rumi?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about religious experiences, spirituality, and Rumi.

Religious Experiences Explore 9 books about religious experiences
Spirituality Explore 293 books about spirituality
Rumi Explore 16 books about Rumi