religious experiences

religious experiences, bit about it!

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what is a religious experience?

It can be described as..

-An experience in a religious context- for example - a person's exxperience of something ( a preasence or power) beyond themselves. 

-They tend to be something 'out of the ordinary.'

-They provide an insite into something other then the maerial world. 

-They are somethimes described as being the permission on God and anyone is able to experience them.

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Problems with religious experiences

-Hard to try and explain the experience- INEFFABILITY- the experience can not be cummunicated in normal language. 

-They tend to be unique and mostly experience on your own. 

-Difficult to varify- individual experienes, diffrent experiences are experienced.- meaning they can not be understood through empirical testing.

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Mystical experiences.

Defined as- A direct and intimate experience with God.

When the individual experiences a sence of 'unioun with the devine'.

There are sevreal fetures that corrolate with religious experiences-

-'ultimate reality' is gained.

-A sence of freedom.

-A sence of 'oneness' or unity with the devine is experienced.

Mysticism is seen as the closest thing humans can get to experiencing the devine-God.

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James Characteristics of Mystical experience.

William James’ criteria

  1. PASSIVITY – subject to it
  2. INEFFABLE – hard to define
  3. NOETIC QUALITY – knowledge of objective truth/reality
  4. TRANSIENCE – fleeting
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A vision occours when- an individual beleives that they have seen or heard something supernatural or a supernatural being. 

Ther are 3 ways in which an individual may experience vision..

1-Interlectual vision- knowlage of God.

2-Imaginary vision- Where somthing that strenghtens faith is seen in the minds eye. Such as Jacobs vision of the ladder to heaven- Genisis 28.

3-Corporel vision- Where the figure is externally preasent. For example St Bernadetts vision of the vergin mary.

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A conversion experience usally leads to some sort of change to life- refers to the way the experience bring about some sort of change from one set of beleifs to another.

Atheist to a christian 

St Paule Apostle-9-3;7

Paule known as Soul hearing the voice of God- had a vision- after this vision on the road to Damascious he CONVERTED to christianity- changed his name to Paul.

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Happold's view on religious experiences.


He saught to establish a set of criteria to identify mystical experiences as James had.

He wanted to create some sort of content in which they can be descussed and explained.

In his book 'mysticism-A study of anthology'he suggested we could devide mystical experiences into 2 groups for convenience-

1-mysticism of love and uniun.

2-mysticism of knowlage and understanding. 

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William James

James destiguished between 'exitential judgment' and 'value judgment'.

-E J- A primary question and its concerned with the nature of something.

-V-J- A 'secondary' question and it's concerned with the meaning and importance of something.

He felt that the valued judgment could also bee considered as a spiritual judgment as they envolve personal interpretation.

This distinction is very important as when considering religious experiences we are asking-

-What happened?

-What does it mean?

James was awar that many people in then20c dismised RE as 'Faulty minds'.

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Moses religious experience.

Vision on the burning bush.

EXODUS 3 ( 1-21)

the bush was on fire but not consumed with the flames.

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William James religious experiences-

He considered the experiences of many people, he believed that life centred on the following beleifs-

-The world we see around us is much bigger then, which we consider to be very important.

-unioun with a 'spiritual' something is our ultimate purpose.


-A new enthusiasm for life, often leading to profound and significant changes.

-A sense of peace and security , and great love for others.

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Richard Swinburne-

He identified 5 types of religious experiences in which people seem to percieve God-

1- Private experience - this can be described by using everyday language-dream.

2- In having a private experience that can not be describe using words or everyday language- mystical experience.

3-The conviction that they were experiencing God, even though no public of private phonomina was experienced.

4-In perciving a normal phonomina -THE NIGHT SKY!

5- In perciving a very unusal public object- the resurrection.

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Can s finite experience be infinite?

-If the classical God of theism is beyond human understanding then many philosophers have argued-'how is it possible for humans to experience God?'

-Humans are finite and therefore should only experience things through there five senses.

-The five sense can only detect objects within time and space- since God is not an object we are denied the experience.

- A believer that accsepts religious experience as as genuine would argue that for God anything is possible , and therefor the infinate God is able to cummunicate with the finite beings.

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Buddha's religious experience.

The whole religion steamed from the religious experience of it's founder-buddha.

He had an experience of enlightenment, which is an experience all humans are able to have.

The goal or point of buddim is to get the the path of enlightment. 

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He was a neurologist best known for his work in the fields of behaviour- he did resurch into temple lobe epilepsy.

He concluded that there is a corralilation between religious experience and TLE.

he conducted experierments for people with and without TLE, and mesured the sweat people produced when looking at diffirant images- he discovered that when people with TLE looked at religious images there body produced more sweat.

From his results he concluded that famous religious beleivers such a St Paul could have also had TLE


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Michael Persinger.


-Cognitive neuroscientist.

-He argued that the temple lobes had a signifcant role to play in religious experiences.

they can be induced by stimulating the temple lobes-which is what his God helmet did.

there was a clear corrilation between the both- which are caused by electromagnetic fields.

he concluded that when experiencing something religious diffrent part of the brain are stimulated- this could be achived through deep prayer or meditation.

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Problems with varifying religious experiences.

-We only have personal testomoney- St Bernedett said she was talking to Mary, where as an onlooker said she was talking to her self.

-Personal responce meaning EMPIRICAL TESTING IS USELESS.

-People who have experienced these religious experiences potray God in many diffrent lights.

-Drugs and alchole can be proved to potray similar simptoms.- WILLIAM JAMES SAID HE USED THEM IN HIS TESTINGS-NITROUS OXCIDE.

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People have been given great status from having or claiming to have had a religious experience.


great significance and following due to his STIGMARTA.


10th of Jan 1994.

while individual testomoneys of the event may differ, the discriptions of the people effected are similar.

people were shaking.

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The feeling of Holy and includes awe, fascination, religious awarness and the smallness of self.

Many religious testomoneys are about being in the preasence of something greater then yourself, and an awsome power- yet feeling distinctily seperate from it.


many regard numinous as a feture of religious experiences., however others classify it as a seperate group.

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Rudolph Otto- numinus experiences.

German theologian-

he used the term numinous as being in the preasence of an awsome power.

He concluded that religion must derive from a power compleatily seperate from the world.-Otto claimed many experiences in the bible were numinous such as Moses and Jacobs stairway to heaven.

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  1. VISIONS – portray religious knowledge or ultimate truth

       Can be spiritual/inward/introvertive


VISIONS = Mind’s eye Jacob’s  Ladder

CORPOREAL = External presence St. Bernadette

INTELLECTUAL= Realise ultimate truth /reality Julian of Norwich

  1. CONVERSIONS – St. Paul – change RB, morals



  1. MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES = numinous “union” St. Theresa of Avila
  2.  Dreams, NDEs, OBEs, Nature Mysticism



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arguments for Gods exsistance.

  1. WJ: When we judge an RE we do so by VALUE JUDGMENT, as they are NON EMP

 feeling more important than reason

“absolutely certain of its reality” – this alone = proof of authenticity

2. Lasting, real, beneficial fx – conversions/visions, where people become more loving, change of morals

                        real fx suggest a real cause     

3. RE’s occur across all religions = similar fx and characteristics, regardless of different beliefs: CORROBORATES that obj. Real, not illusory

Some say testimony is unreliable   

4. Swinburne, Principle of C+T: we  should believe claims unless extenuating circumstances (mental illness, drugs), people generally tell the truth – principles of law court

5. Majority of people are psychologically healthy – range of backgrounds, even Atheism


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philisophical criticisms of RE.

  1. Problems VERIFYING





2. . As private/individual exp = based on subjective interpretation of an experience = unreliable EVIDENCE.

Others could interpret as non-religious

 Can’t be tested scientifically, proved to be genuine empirically


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PH criticisms of RE.

4.. KANT = Concept is problematic 

3. 3. REs occur in different religions – St. Paul, Mohammed = contradict each other, as different beliefs suggest RBs create their own beliefs

         How can finite (human) experience the infinite (God)

        Humans = physical, material, limited by 5 senses to events in T+S

        How can we perceive/recognise something that is imperceptible beyond senses?



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science and RE.

Reasonable to conclude science doesn’t discredit the possibility of genuine RE All it’s done is speculate natural causes = guilty of reductionism HW individual/subjective = right to be sceptical, so scientific crits should not be ignored

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