religious experince-willaim james


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William James' Argument from Religious Experience
Assumed religious experience was the source of religious Responses to James' Ideas
institutions such as the Church, which are secondary to peoples'
religious experiences. They are solitary events, in which Religious experiences are
individuals experience the divine or God ­ the religious tradition similar to hallucinations
is relatively unimportant. caused by drugs such as
They have great authority over the person who experiences LSD. However, while this
them and often have a marked effect on the person's life. may be true, there is no
Conversion experiences are characterised by religious beliefs evidence that everyone who
becoming central to a person's life and in turn affecting their has claimed to have a
behaviour, e.g. Paul on the road to Damascus. It is because religious experience is a LSD
religious experience can so dramatically change someone's life user.
that James suggests they are the inspiration and source of Many psychologists and
religion. sociologists claim that
Four characteristics in mystical religious experiences of God: religious experiences only
1. Ineffable; beyond human power of description happen to people who are
2. Noetic; mystics receive knowledge of God that is not already members of a
otherwise available. Direct revelation from God. religious tradition. But,
3. Transient; they are not permanent; effects are long- religious experiences DO
lasting however such as the change in behaviour. happen to this with no
4. Passive; experiences were not under control of the religious background.
mystic, it just happens to them. Therefore you cannot J. L. Mackie argues that if
explain them by saying the person willed it. mystical experiences are
Only possible sign that religious experience are from God is a explainable psychologically,
`good disposition' that is the result of the experience. then mystical experiences
Mystical experiences only have authority for the individual who can have no authority even
experiences them. It is not a source of authority for the mystic for the person who has the
over other people. Though he recognises the existence of Saints, experience. Instead, people
though they did not seek influence or authority over others. who believe mystical
Religious experiences could also be linked to our subconscious experiences are
ideas. authoritative are
`insufficiently critical'.
Religious experiences on their own do not demonstrate God's
existence, though they can suggest the existence of `something
Religious experiences are `psychological phenomena'. They can
be explained as part of a person's psychological make-up.
However, this is not an argument against the existence of god.
By saying religious experiences are psychological phenomena
you are saying they are natural to a person, just like things like
thinking and self-awareness.
James makes it clear that religious experiences are central to
religious belief, but leaves open the question of God's existence.


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