Religious Experience

These revision cards should breakdown the whole topic of religious experience for unit 4 developments.

What is religious experience?

Religious experience is an a posteriori argument for it focuses on experience.

It is described to be an unusual, indescribable, subjective and personal experience of God. Therefore making it very difficult to define clearly, for these experiences aren't universal and cannot be proven through empirical evidence.

However, the types of religious experience have been categorised to be:




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Otto's argument for religious experience

Rudolph Otto described religious experience as a personal encounter with God, bringing about feelings of awe, mystery and strangeness.

God is recognised through 3 qualities according to Otto:

- Mystery; the idea that God can never be captured, fully understood or described

- Ultimate Importance

- Attractive and Dangerous; a 'numinous' feeling of being privileged yet uncontrollable

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Buber's argument for religious experience

Buber argued personalism is the primary purpose of religion, for it involves maintaining a direct, personal relationship with God.

Buber described this in terms of 'I it and I thou'

I it - connecting with God on a basic and shallow level (monologue relationship)

I thou- knowing God in a more complex and personal way (dialogue relationship)

An I thou relationship is what should be strived for with the External thou (God) according to Buber.

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Kierkegaard's argument for religious experience

Kierkegaard argued as humans we experience God in 3 ways:

Aesthetically- by finding pleasure in beauty e.g. 7 wonders..

Ethically- by performing our duty and moral obligations

Religiously- this to Kierkegaard was a 'leap of faith', an infinite and terrible experience of a higher realm to which is hard to achieve.

This therefore leading to the idea that a religious experience is subjective, personal and reliant on feeling.

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Schleiermacher's argument for religious experience

Religion is about feelings according to Schleiermacher therefore is experential!

He argues it is self-authenticating, there is no need to test the idea of religious experience.

Schleiermacher also argued that a religious experience is to experience something apart from nature and himself which is reflected in his own words;

"true religion is a sense and taste for the infinite"

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What is Mysticism?

Mysticism comes from the Greek to close ones lips or mind and is often described as a spiritual journey, in gaining a union with God.

Hans Kung - believed that mysticism is the closing of the senses resulting in a 'disolving of the self' as we seek salvation in a union with God. Also, commenting that mysticism can develop both individually and communally.

Margaret Smith - believed that mysticism came from the abolishment of external distractions which led to the illumination of the divine.

St Bonaventure - believed the experience has 3 stages;

Purgative; being prepared, purified and disciplined

Illuminative; enjoys experience emotionally and spiritually 

Unitive; mystic enjoys a sense of 'oneness' with God

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Four presuppositions of mysticism

- There is an inner capacity for direct intuition of the divine

- God is the ground of the soul (spark is to the flame)

- Only by purification of the self can union be achieved

- The ultimate guiding principle of the mystic is love, not self seeking

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Evaluating Mysticism

Michael Persinger- argued that many of those with temporal lobe epilepsy reported having a religious experience. He did a covert experiment on a sample to stimulate the lobes and try and induce religious experience. His findings revealed that 80% of those he tested felt a feeling of 'not being alone'. Some reporting it was a religious sensation.

Newberg- studied Buddhist meditation and found when radioactive tracers were injected into a buddhist's bloodstream the bloodflow patterns showed the temporal lobes were involved and the paretial lobes (time and space) shut down almost completely. This proves committment to religion.

The Dalai Lama supports Newberg's argument with his quote "I think that scientists, no matter how great, cannot prove Nirvana".

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What is Conversion?

Conversion is seen to be an adoption of a way of life to reveal a greater understanding and a regeneration through an assurance of the truth of the divine.

There is two types of conversion:

Self surrender; an involuntary and unconscious conversion "man's extremity is God's opportunity" (William James) - More likely to convert back!

Volitional; a conscious and voluntary conversion, a gradual and slow development of spiritual habits.- less 'fall off' rate!

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Process of conversion

1) Each individual has diverse aims

2) Some aims more important than others

3) One aim having permanent priority and others are excluded= transformation!

4) Priorities shift due to emotional excitement!

5) The priorities shift in focus of an aim = CONVERSION

Psychological background;

Prof. Starbuck- religious and non religious conversions are both a struggle away from sin

William James- believes someone can never be converted

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Swinburne: Principle of Credulity

Swinburne argues we should treat a religious experience like any other, so therefore we should believe them and take them at face value unless we have good reason to be suspicious.

Principle of Credulity- experience normally reliable and the balance of probability says the experience can be trusted, so Swinburne says the experience is more likely to be true than not and should be accepted on balance.

Sometimes our senses mislead us and our experiences lead us to the wrong conclusion. 

Example; seeing someone we know well on the street to realise its a stranger... it looks like Ali, sounds like Ali, wearing Ali's coat and has Ali's laugh. Therefore better accepting the person as Ali rather than keeping in a state of suspicion and thinking our perceptions are wrong!

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Swinburne: Principle of Testimony

The principle of testimony- is a principle which says we cannot work on the basis that we constantly doubt others experiences just because we haven't experienced them ourselves.

3 reasons for grounds for doubt:

- circumstances surrounding experience may impact on result perceptions making them unreliable; hallucinary drugs?

- things aren't as they were reported; person wasn't in place at time said?

- experience was not caused by God; fasting of fever?

Yet this only accounts for the minority of experiences!

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Arguments against religious experience

- Not subject to objective testing!

- Ambiguous, down to interpretation.

- Wittgenstein; we perceive things differently and our perceptions may be unreliable as we can mistake what we experience.

- Hare; Blik- an unverifiable and unfalsifiable way of looking at the world.

- Religious experiences aren't valid; God doesn't exist, therefore no experience of him is true.

- Everyday experiences= deceptive, therefore experiences of God are moreso. No agreed tests to verify experience has been of God.

- Testimony is unreliable; those who claim to have experienced God have a pre-existing belief which acts as a bias.

-Religious experiences are manifestation of psychological needs. A coping strategy for fear or alienation (Biological/Neurological factors!) 

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Examples of Religious Experience?

Toronto Blessing (1994)- church overtaken by the Holy Spirit 'entering bodies' laughing, barking, singing, dancing uncontrollably. 

Bernadette of Lourdes- Personal relationship with the Virgin Mary, speaking in tongues, vivid visions.

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