Religious experience

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  • Created on: 02-05-13 22:42


Religious experience

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Religious experience

It’s a spontaneous or induced mental event over which he recipient has relatively little control. It is often accompanied with the gaining certain knowledge. The experience is always unique.

There are three types of religious experiences:

  • Vision- e.g. St Bernadette experienced visions of Virgin Mary.
  • Conversion- e.g. St Paul was converted to Christianity to the road to Damascus.
  • Mystical experience- e.g. the experiences of the mystical Julian of Norwich.
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William James

The argument for God’s existence based on religious experience suggests that some peoples ‘experience’ of God is the best evidence that we have that He exists. One of the most important commentators on this subject is William James.

James believed that questions related to religious experience were spiritual judgments which, in turn were in the family of value judgements- questions concerns with importance, significance and meaning.

James conclusions are:

  • It would appear that the physical world is part of something much bigger.
  • Union with a ‘spiritual superior’ is our ultimate purpose.
  • Communication/prayer with this being produces real effects.
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Alternative theories regarding religious experienc

Sigmund Freud dismissed the notion of a metaphysical side to our existence, suggesting that we were completely material beings. He believed that religious experiences were illusions. In particular, they were the projections of people’s most basic and profound ideas. Freud therefore dismissed the truth of religious claims.

Professor V. S. Ramachandran argues that the causes of religious experience may be temporal lobe epilepsy. However he does not dismiss that this may not be the means by which God communicates with the world.

Dr Michael Persinger argues that religious experiences are no more than the brain responding to external stimuli, and by stimulating the temporal lobes he can artificially induce feeling similar to those of a religious experience.

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Alternative theories regarding religious experienc

Richard Swinburne says that a religious experience is an ‘experience of God or some other supernatural thing’. Swinburne’s ‘Principle of Credulity’ suggests that something should be believed, unless there is evidence to the contrary. His ‘Principle of Testimony’ suggests that ‘we usually believe to occur what other people tell is that they perceive occurring’. Swinburne argues that these two principles together can support an argument based on religious experiences, particularly when considered cumulatively with other arguments for God’s existence.

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Criticism of Swinburne’s arguments

Caroline Franks Davis suggests that criticism of Swinburne’s argument can be placed into three broad categories:

  • Description- related challenges- if the description of the experience given is suspicious, we should reject the experience altogether.
  • Subject- related challenges- is the person making the claim is suspicious, we should reject their testimony.
  • Objective- related challenges- it is obviously impossible to verify or falsify the claims made about being experienced in the context of these experiences. This makes it very difficult to accept testimonies of them.
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