AS Religious Experience Theme 4

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  • Created on: 02-05-19 10:25

Four types of religious experiences

Mystical experiences- used to describe experience of direct contact or oneness with God or ultimate reality.

Conversion experiences-used to describe an experience that leads to an adoption of a new religious belief that differs from a previously held belief.

Visions-used to describe experiences of God or another religious figure appearing with a message.

Voices- used to describe experience of hearing God or another religious figure, or having a conversation with them.

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Two ways that religious experiences can appear

Cultivated religious experience- seeking religious experience through intellectual aspects

Spontaneous religious experiences- a religious experience that comes about passively.

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Vision experiences three types with examples

Vision experiences can happen when a person is awake or in a dream. In the vison, information may be revealed to the recipient. Visions are usually divided into three types:

- Corporeal: St Bernadette of Lourdes had several visions of the virgin mary. In one of these visons, she was told to dig in the ground at the feet of mary. When she did, she discovered a mountain spring. This is a corporeal experience because Bernadette saw Mary as an image like a physical person.

- Intellectual: Teresa of Avila said she "saw christ at my sidefor neither with the eyes of the body or soul did I see anything". This is an intellectual vision as what is seen is an experience not just an observation.

- Imaginative: In the Bible (Mathew 1) Joseph, while engaged to mary, has a dream telling him not to be afraid of marrying Mary even though she is pregnant and he is not the father. This is imaginative because it refers to a vison that occurs in a dream in which a message is received from God.

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William James four characteristics of a mystical e

- Ineffable: The experience is beyond proper description. The direct experience of God goes beyond human powers of description.

- Noetic: Mystics receive knowledge of God that is not otherwise available. In this sense, religious experiences are direct revelations from God. 

- Transcient: The experience is a temporary one that cannot be sustained, although it may have long-lasting effects.

Passive: These states of consciousness are spontaneous rather than cultivated by ones own actions. The mystic feels as if he were grasped and held by a superior power. There may be no recollection whatsoever of the phenomenon and it may have no significance for the subjects usual inner life, to which as it were, it makes a mere interpretation. 

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Abraham Maslows description of a peak experience

Peak experience- "rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilirating, elevated experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter. 

Peak experiences enable scientists to examine religion ina way that makes it a part of science rather than something outside it. Therefore, Maslow concludes that "all mystical and peak experiences are the same in their essence and have always been the same. They should therefore come to agree in principle that which is common to all of them. Whatever is different about these illuminations are peripheral and not essential."

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Maslows description of a non-peaker

"Non-peaker"- a person who is afraid of peak experiences , who suppresses them, who denies them, who turns away from them or who forgets them.

A non-peaker tends to be completely rational and materialistic in how he/she views the world; such a person regards peak experiences as a kind of insanity and is frightened by them. They desperetely hang on to stability, control, reality, etc. 

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First Water (mental prayer)

The first water consists of drawing or attempting to draw water from a well by ones own effort. She calls this "the first water" or "mental prayer". In it, we withdraw our minds away from the outside world and focus our minds on seeking pentience and mediating upon Jesus sacrifice on the cross. Patience is needed in order to draw more water from the well as it builds up at a "snails pace".

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Drawing water prayer of quiet

Drawing water (prayer of quiet) 

St Teresa describes the second stage as drawing water by means of a "windlass. In this way, we are aided by God, in our drawing of understanding. This is the "prayer of quiet". Much less labour is now required ; the soul becomes "recollected", and one begins to "come into contact with the supernatural". One still strains but the burden is much less. We are starting to be won over by the divine and we have a greater and more frequent understanding of things. "On arriving at this stage, the soul begins to lose desire for earthly things". There are fewer distractions as we begin to become detatched. We are given over to a state of quietude. We begin our process of santification by being given over to christ and are transformed, through him into more perfect people. We are made aware of our transformation.

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Irrigated garden (Imperfect union)

We no longer continually strain but leave our soul open to understanding . The lord takes our work and becomes a gardener himself. We are in a state of perfect joy. The souls humility is now greater than it was before and more profound. It clearly sees that it has done nothing except consent to the lords granting its graces; and embraces it with its will. This stage is almost like a complete union except that one is conscious of this rapture.

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Perfect Union

The fourth stage is in this union. She likens it to rain falling upon the garden. We make no effort, no starin. We are completely enraptured. This rapture is a result of a perfect, though temporary union with God. She compares the union with God to a blazing fire and the state of ones soul to a slug of iron. In this fire, the iron slug will change its nature and glow. This is the soul enraptured. In this state, we can no longer consciously analyse our experience. This is different from the third stage, though it is contingent on that earlier stage. Such a stage is brief and only lasts for periods of half an hour or less. 

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William James three key principles of mystical exp

Empiricism: Religious experiences produce empirical evidence of the effects of religious experience. This evidence provides us with clues as to what the reality is beyond what we see and hear. James argues that we interpret all our experiences.

Plurilism: James research into experiences led him to conclude that they were similar. This led him to believe that those people having experiences may be experiencing the same ultimate reality, but interpreting it as their religious belief structure. e.g. a christian might interpret an experience as the holy spirit , whereas a sikh may interpret it differently. 

Pragmatism: Truth was not fixed and what is true is whatever has great value to us. Religious experiences has great value to those it effects, therefore there is truth to be found in religion.

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Rudolf Otto's concept of the "numinous"

Rudolf Otto wanted to look at the aspects of religious experience that were beyond the scope of rational and empirical reasoning. 

He observed the "feelings" of the recipient which was one of the first time that there was such an approach. 

 The word "numinous" comes from the latin word "numen" which refers to a supernatural divine power. The individual who experiences the numinous is one who feels the presence of a supernatural divine power as part of their religious or mysical experience.

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The human predisposition for religious experience

For Otto, the idea that human beings can be in receipt of the numinous is part of the natural inclination of humanity towards the spiritual realm. When human experience is often described in terms of the rational- particularly when dealing with the mundane aspects of human existence, Otto believed that there was also a significant dimension of human existence that yearned for that which he termed as the "non rational"-i.e. taht which could not easily be explained by standard empirical means. 

In this Otto is not stating thatt experiences of the numinous were irrational but rather the non rational being that which was entirely stable as an experience just not definable in rational terms.

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Mysterium tremendum

- Otto describes the numinous experience as being "the deepest and most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion. He describes it as having a particularly profound effect on the individual in the receipt of the numinous experience and states that the only way to sum up the intensity of the experience is by using the latin expression "mysterium tremendum" (Latin phrase meaning "terrible mystery"). 

- As Otto states "the feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide , pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away, and the soul resumes its "profane", non religious mood of everyday experience". 

- As he continues to describe the intensity of the mysterium tremendum, Otto is trying to describe the profound intensity that is associated with a deeply felt religious experience. In doing so he further illuminates our understanding of his concept of the numinous as an expression of religious awe and wonder in the presence of the supernatural divine power. 

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Caroline Frank Davis three challenges to the valid

Description related challenges

- When any event is described that claims to be an experience of "God" or the "divine" then a claim is being made for which there is no proof. The description is therefore, not valid. 

- Furthermore, the claim is inconsistent or contradictory with normal everyday experience and for this reason, it should be rejected. The individual could be misinterpreting the experience. 


- In this challenge, the recipient (subject) of the religious experience is put under suspicion. It may be claimed that they are unreliable as a source, they may be considered to be suffering from a mental illness or to have been suffering delusions brought about by some sort of substance misuse.


The alleged object of the experience is put under doubt. The challenge is that the likelihood of having experienced something such as the recipient claims is so unlikely as to be entirely untrue. The suggestion of God (the object) having been experienced is no more likely than a claim of having seen an 8 ft green alien or a flying antelope. As we are unlikely to believe anyone that has claimed experience of the latter two examples, why then should we believe the claim of someone who was said to have experienced God?

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Other challenges of religious experiences

Religious experiences are subjective because they are impossible to verify due each individuals account of religious experiences. Religious experiences are not objective (factual and verifiable), therefore they should be dismissed. Scientific empricism tends to reject subjective experiences out of hand and this poses a serious challenge to the "truth" of any mystical experience. However, equally, the experience remains valid for the individual or group of individuals.

Religious experiences are meaningless

the work of the vienna circle and the logical positivists did much to help clarify our understanding of how language is used to help convey knowledge and ideas, as well as the conditions where taht language could be considered either meaningful or meaningless. 

- Any claim made by a religious believer about a mystical experience may seem to be an ordinary claim about their perception of the state of reality (whichever state of reality they are referring to) but as their claim lacks any emprical evidence to support it, and as such experiences are neither analytic nor synthetic they are considered by logical positivists to be meaningless.

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flews falsification principle and alternative expl

Anthony Flew's falsification principle states that propositions could be made meaningful if there was some evidence that could count against them. However as religious believers allow nothing to count against their beliefs, than these religious statements were ultimately meaningless. 

Sigmund Freud held the view that religious experiences were nothing more than the repression of sexual urges. He reinterprets Teresas vison of the angel piercing her soul. 

David Hume argues that a direct experience of God is impossible if he is wholly other. We could not possibly have knowledge or experience of it. 

Sudies by the anthropoligist Ian lewis shows taht there is a link in pre-industrial societies between the incidence of religious ectatsy and the need for individuals to legitimise claims made upon the larger society. In the spirit of such observations, it has been suggested that there is no coincidence that Teresa of avila claimed the experiences that she did at the time of the catholic church undergoing an upheaval due to the effects of the protestant reformation. 

Others have commented that the characteristics of religious experiences bear remarkable resemblances to the effects by those who use alcohol and drugs such as LSD, which can stimulate the brain into hallucinating and experiencing so-called alternative realities. 

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