Critically assess, with reference to William James, the arguments from religious experience

This is my argument for what I would include in this essay, I like the layout but instead of Advantages and Disadvantages my two sides will be FOR and AGAINST, one side agreeing with the statement and the other disagreeing

Religious studies:- philosophy of religion, ocr, a2 - june 2010 paper

Critically assess, with reference to William James, the arguments from religious experience


  • This is a very wide question and be careful not to be caught out about answering what you want to answer instead of answering the question
  • There are many ways of approaching this but I would firstly explain what religious experiences are and the varieties (public and private described by Swinburne) and I would then set out James aim
  • James for mystical experience noted 4 qualities:- noetic, transient, ineffability and passive, James believed that religious institutions such as churches were the source of religious experience and that religious experiences can be seen as 'psychological phenomena' and as a result of 'over-belief'
  • Although James never expressed whether he believed in religious experience, he argued that religious experiences on their own are not enough evidence as they only have authority for a certain person but they do suggest 'something larger'
  • Swinburne would be in favour of religious experience due to his two principles (credulity and testimony)


  • Russell rejected religious experience as there is no way in confirming or denying what is going on for someone else but he said "people drink too much and see snakes whilst others fast too much and see God"
  • There are a lot of alternative sociological and psychological explanations:- Freud - childhood insecurities, Feuerbach - idea of God is protection, he is made in our image, Marx - origins in society 'opium of the people'


James did believe that religious experiences can be seen as 'psychological phenomena' which would coincide with what psychologists such as Freud and Feuerbach presented but William James never wholly said that religious experiences do not happen and he did take into account that empiraclly, there is a lot of evidence for them, pluralisticly, similar results are found with them experiencing the ultimate reality and as pragmati
st he saw that the truth depended on the time and it was not fixed.


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