Religious experience



  • 1. An experience with religious significance e.g. the act of worship in a religious setting
  • 2. A person’s experience of something or a presence beyond themselves
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Types of R/E

  • Conversion - permanent + life-changing Saul  into St Paul - road to Damascus  
  • Corporate experiences - group - Tornoto Blessing
  • Vision/voicesSt bernadette of Lourdes, vision of Virgin Mary
  • Revelation
  • Numinousindicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity.
  • Induced - drugs 
  • Public/private
  • Mystical - union with the divine - St Teresaof Avila - spritiual marriage with G-d during illness
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  • Argued that R/E can range from experiences that have little religious significance to = completely life changing. He reasoned that most R/E happen when a person is in a conscious state rather than in a dream state.
  • James defined Mysticism as 'feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude of whatever they consider to be the divine'
  • PassiveExperiences that cannot be actively sought or created. Often people describe their bodies being 'taken over' by a superior being
  • IneffableThose experiences that are so extraordinary they cannot be described in a way that would make them intelligible to anyone who has not had such an experience
  • NoeticThese experiences provide some kind of insight or carry a message of revelation of truth
  • Transdent -  Brief experiences that do not last more than half an hour
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  • Put forward the conflicting claims argument to oppose the argument from religious experience. He simply argued that two opposing religious experiences cancel one another out and discredit them. 
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  • Proposed the vicious circle argument in opposition to the argument from religious experience. He argued that everything which we are is based on something else; x leads to y, which in itself enforces x. A religious belief, Flew said, enforces a religious experience, and vice versa.
  • However, this doesn't account for a) people of one religion having religious experiences relating to different religions or b) people converting to religion without having a religious experience
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Buber - supporter

  • Buber spoke of "I-thou" experiences, calling all experiences personal one-to-one conversations with God
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  • Secular explanation – R/E = reaction to hostile world – feel helpless + want father figure. Leads us to project image of G-d = able to provide security
  • BUT if people need father figure – doesn’t mean G-d doesn’t exist. Might be inbuilt mechanism programmed by God - bring us closer to him
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  • Defined religion as the “opiate of the masses,” - form of social control that dulls the pain of oppression for the proletariat whilst preventing them from seeing what needs to be done to stop their explotation:
  •  “People can’t really be happy until the abolition of the illusion of religion” Marx thus concluded mystical experiences = outward manifestations of this drug induced state
  • Argued society could be divided into 2 groups – the working class or proletariat and the ruling class or bourgeoisie. Bourgeoisie owns means of production + exploits the proletariat in what Marx described as dehumanising acts. Marx reasoned - could be resolved in a revolution, when the thesis of capitalism = challenged by anti-thesis of anti-capitalism to produce synthesis – socialism
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  • Swinburne classified five types of religious experience: Public  - 1. A normal event interpreted in a religious way e.g. seeing the face of the Virgin Mary on the moon  2. Witnessing a very unusual event with others e.g. the resurrection of Jesus and Private - 3. A private experience which may be explained using normal language e.g. the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary 4. A private experience which may not be explained using normal language e.g. mysticism5. An ongoing impression of a presence based upon no specific experience – just a sense that God is guiding one’s life
  • 1 principles to make an argument that R/E = not internal imaginings but genuine experiences of a superior being beyond us:
  • The principle of Creduilty - if someone believes they have experienced something, then they probably have
  • The principle of testimony - unless someone = liar/disturbed, their description of a r/e = probably true
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*         Protestant Theologian he tried to identify what about religious experiences that meant the religious rather than just an experience.

It is fundamental to religious that individuals should have a sense of personal encounter. The encounters with bring a sense of awe and mystery of feeling strangeness. ‘Mysterium tremendum et fascinans’ (fearful and fascinating mystery.

A religious experience would have three main qualities.

1.        Mysterious quality, and realisation that got incomprehensible and that you cannot fully understand his work.

2.        A realisation that God has ultimate importance.

3.        Feeling of God cannot be controlled, but at the same time privileged when having a religious experience

Otto made use of the term numinous. He felt this described the feeling of holiness. He felt that human language could not be used to describe religious language because it is not a normal sense-experience.

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