Religious Experience

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  • Created on: 21-04-16 16:01


Experience of God as a personal reality

Beyond ordinary empirical explanation

May be :

-Individual and subjective

-Corporate - experienced in group

-Ineffible - state of feeling that defies explanation

Most famous biblical example - Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus

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Caroline Franks Davies

Different types of R.E:

Awareness - see work of God when looking at world

Quasi-sensory - vision or inner experience

Numinous - encountering holiness of God

Mystical - sense of ultimate reality

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Friedrich Schleiemacher

Defined religious experiences as:

Offering a sense of the ultimate

Awareness of wholeness

Feeling of absolute dependence on something greater

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Paul Tillich

Described 2 stages of R.E

An event/encounter followed by an understanding of the event which reveals its religious significance

R.E produce "feelinig of ultimate concern" - demands decisive decision from one recieving it 

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Rudolf Otto and Brian Davies

Otto -

Coined word "numinous" to describe experience of the holy

Often person would see vision then experience feeling of power of God


The fact that not everyone has had R.E was not grounds to dismiss testimonies of them

Also suggested everyone may have had experience but only a few have realised that they have

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Martin Buber

God reveals himself to people on personal level - experience him in life/world

Experience God through the interaction with people and nature

Called this "I-Thou relationship"

Argued it is in such relationship that we experience God - he is the "eternal Thou"

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William James

R.E are emotional reactions directed at God that result in:

Renewed approach to life, joy/well-being, sense of union with the divine, time being transcended

Concluded 4 common features:

Ineffability - state of feeling that defies expression

Noetic quality - provides revelations of universal / eternal truths 

Transiency - bried but important experience

Passivity - feels they're been taken over by superior authority

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William James P2

Identified "characteristics of the religious life":

Visible world is part of a more spiritual universe

Union with spitirual universe is ultimate aim

Prayer is a method of achieving this

Believed R.E were deeply personal but this made testimonies subjective

Too subjective to be convincing proof for those who haven't had a RE but for those who have it is most convincing proof of all

Recognised mystical experiences could be due to external experiences of alcohol/inxoicants

Mystics - those who actively seek R.E

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Support RE - Swinburne

Supported for reasons:

Principle of credulity - unless we have overwhelming evidence to believe contrary - believe things as they seem to be

Principle of testimony - can't constantly doubt other peoples accounts of RE

God should be loving and personal and so should want to reveal his identity to humans

Thousands have expereinced what seems to be God - should believe them - weight of testimony is sufficient to prove existence

Such a deep effect on those who experience - can't render meaningless

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Support RE - Swinburne P2

Identified 3 types of evidence that wouild indicate a persons experience is not how they report it:

Circumstances surrounding the person make account unreliable - drugs

Evidence things aren't as they were reported

Evidence experience wasn't caused by God

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Criticisms RE - Dawkins/Persinger


Claimed no such thing as religious/mystical experience - just expressions of persons psychological needs

Testimonies of mystics - illusion created by mind to help cope with fear of unknown


Constructed electronic helmet - induced R.E by putting electric signals and magnetic vibrations into temperal lobe

Sense of individuality temorarily lost 

Some people who have worn "God helmet" claim to have had R.E

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Criticisms RE - Hick/Ayer/Flew

John Hick:

Observed testimonies of R.E might also be interpreted in non-religious ways

AJ Ayer:

Dismissed claims to R.E on grounds that although the fact that "people have religious experiences is interesting from the psychology point of view, it does not in any way imply there is such a thing as religious knowledge"

Anthony Flew:

Testimony of believers was biased, irrational and questionnable 

Couldn't be rendered meaningful just because nothing that could count against it 

Believers so convinced of truth of their statements - often refuse to consider evidence from contrary

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