A2 Edexcel Religious Experience

What is a religious experience?

  • Non-empirical event - brings awareness of beyond
  • Most convincing proof of existence for believers
  • St Teresa: "impossible for me to doubt'
  • DIRECT (experient feels they are IN CONTACT with God) or INDIRECT (inner experience of God's action in creation)
  • Davis - 7 types of religious experience;
    • Seeing God's work - awareness experience
    • Vision/inner experience of God - quasi-sensory experience
    • Encountering holiness of God - numinous experience
    • Conversion - regenerative experience
    • Answered prayers - interpretive experience
    • Sense of ultimate reality - mystical experience
    • Gainging enlightenment and knowledge - revelatory experience
  • Variety of experience - some are in private - some are in large groups, 'corporate' experiences (Toronto Blessing)
  • Many have common themes - 1975 Greeley's survery shows most common themes in USA
    • Deep inner peace
    • Certainty everything will turn out good
    • Feeling of needing to help others
    • Love is the centre of everything
    • Sense of joy
    • Emotional intensity
  • Some definitions:
    • Smart: 'perception of the invisible world'
    • Schleiermacher: sense of the ultimate
    • Buber: people experience God through other people and nature - on a PERSONAL level - in an "I-Thou" relationship - Eternal Thou
    • Tillich: Experiences are encounter that are then REFLECTED on to understand the religious significance
    • James: draw on emotions, but directed at the divine - gives the experient a renewed approch to life
    • Dawkins: no such thing as a religious experience - but a persons psychological needs

Types of religious experience

1) The dramatic or conversion event

  • A direct experience
  • Otto: the numinous
  • Evidence of the "wholly other" nature of God
  • Vision - then feeling of awe
  • Linked to search for faith - sense of sin or guilt - looking for reassurance and certainty from God
  • Wesley: "I felt my heart strangely warmed"
  • Experient is both attracted and repelled by the sense of awe

2) Responses to life and the world

  • Gentler, indirect experiences
  • Enhance persons understanding of their life and the world around them
  • Result of prayer or communication with God
  • Lewis: 'conviction or insight'

3) Revelatory experiences

  • Divine self-disclosure
  • God is directly known
  • Vision or dream
  • Experient acquires new knowledge
    • Propositional revelation - God communicates divine message to human - Moses and Ten Commandments
    • Non-propositiona revelation - Person comes to moment of realisation - Buddha gained enlightenment

4) Near-death experiences

  • 'dies' and is then resuscitated and then recalls what they saw
  • Moody; studied the claims - common themes were peace; dark tunnel; meeting the light; barrier crossing decision
  • Is it a religious experience? Have common ground - peace and light - scriptures have similar testimonies
  • Those who had the experience think it is sufficient proof

5) Mystical experiences

  • Experience of the ultimate reality - sense of unity with the divine
  • Difficult to describe - St John of the Cross
  • Intensley personal - other-wordly and transcendent
  • Two types of mysticism:
    • Theistic - an awareness of God
    • Monistic - offers awareness of soul, self and conscience
  • James lists the four types of mystic experiences:


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