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Title: Maurice Nicoll and the Kingdom of Heaven : a study of the psychological basis of 'esoteric Christianity' as described in Nicoll's writings
Author: Willmett, John Patrick
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953) was a Harley Street doctor, an analytical psychologist trained by C. G. Jung (1875-1961), and a student of the independent 'spiritual' teachers G. I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) and P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947). In his later years he became a mystical philosopher, a biblical exegete, and leader of his own groups of students. Early in his life he rejected his natal Christian religion associated with his father, Sir William Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), eminent litterateur and Free Church of Scotland minister. Vindication of this rejection came to Maurice Nicoll through a mystical experience: a 'moment of insight' which propelled him into a life-long search to discover what 'really mattered'. I will argue that although this apparently involved a journey away from his natal Christian practice, Nicoll came to understand that he was working towards a 'truer' form of it. Nicoll's oeuvre as a whole - published works as well as archival sources, including a large amount of recently discovered original material - will be analysed to show the development of his thinking on what he came to call 'esoteric Christianity'. After a biographical 'portrait' the start of Nicoll's journey will be presented as a reaction against the religious stance of his father. Maurice Nicoll's early 'moment of insight' is described and analysed in the light of the ideas of William James (1842-1910) on mystical experience. Following this Nicoll's first book, Dream Psychology (1917), an interpretation of the views of Jung which demonstrates clearly the early formative influence of Jung on Nicoll is treated. I then turn to Living Time (1931), in which Nicoll integrates Ouspenksy's ideas on time and higher dimensions into his own psychological system. Following the influence of Jung and early Ouspensky, Nicoll's next work reveals the influence of the system of ideas and practices known as 'the Work' taught by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, which Nicoll encountered at first hand in Gurdjieff's colony near Paris and subsequently at Ouspensky's classes in London. The Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky (1957) was compiled from notes used by Nicoll in teaching his groups his own version of 'the Work' from 1931. However, the completion of Nicoll's quest for an understanding of 'esoteric Christianity', it will be argued, is documented in his two mature texts, The New Man (1950) and The Mark (1954). These books analyse New Testament writings in the light of influences partly absorbed from Jung, but most centrally from Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In these books Nicoll interprets the narrative theology of the New-Testament texts in terms of a form of 'esoteric psychology', encapsulating his vision of how 'the Kingdom of Heaven' is really to be understood: not in terms of a life after death, or a millennial restoration of Christ's Kingdom, but as the psychological development and fulfilment of the individual in this life. It is argued that this 'esoteric psychology' is Nicoll's version of the psychology he saw as underlying the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky system, but given an explicitly Christian locus and interpretation. In conclusion some reflections are made on the significance of understanding Nicoll's writings as 'esoteric Christianity' and their implications for contemporary religious thought.
Supervisor: Sutcliffe, Steven ; Holtschneider, Hannah Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Maurice Nicoll ; esoteric Christianity ; Kingdom of Heaven