Religious Experience

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The Issue

For many people, the strongest demonstration of the existence of God comes from person experiences of him. The impact these have on people is immense: Muhammad becoming the Prophet of Islam. However, significantly, people who aren't famous also have religious experiences and these have a long lasting effect on them. Whether they can be used to argue for the existence of God is a question of finding out what people mean by religious experience, and what the origin or cause of it.

Direct experiences - Otto

  • Cases where people encounter God in a direct way
  • E.g. Paul on the road to damascus met the risen Jesus
  • Rudolph Otto: A key element is an 'apprehension of the wholly other' (outside our possible knowledge and experience) and the numinous (the world that is beyond the physical observable universe we live in)
  • Otto: People describe their experiences with words such as awe, wonder, beauty - it really is ineffable
  • James: It involves the divine
  • Not just about seeing God, but 'feeling' him/awareness of him

Indirect experiences - Otto 

  •  The find of an individual focuses on God
  • E.g. feeling inspired by nature so appreciating God the creator, or acts of prayer
  • God isn't directly revealed, no knowledge is revealed, the person learns something about God through what is observed
  • Some people say they aren't different from ordinary experiences, but are made different and significant by the person them-self, giving it religious significance

Richard Swinburne's Type Of Religious Experience

Public experiences

Ordinary experiences:

  • When a person interprets a natural event as having religious significance. 
  • E.g. the beauty of nature

Extraordinary experiences:

  • Experience that seems to violate the normal laws of nature. 
  • E.g. Jesus turning water into wine (John 2)

Private experiences

 Describable in ordinary language:

  • E.g. dreams

Non describable experiences:

  • Direct experiences of God in which God/the divine is revealed to people. They go beyond human description.

Non-specific experiences:

  • Includes things like looking at the world from a religious perspective.

Vision experiences:

  • In which God or the divine is 'seen' or 'observed'.
  • Information may be revealed, so dreams are described as theologians as 'noetic'
  • E.g. Teresa of Avila said she "saw Christ by my side" 


  • More than an audible voice, but the communication of knowledge.
  • Voice is usually linked to God.
  • Usually communicates a message.
  • E.g. God's voice declares Jesus is his son at the baptism - "I am your father"
  • Three noticeable features: disembodied voice, message is noetic (reveals something of God), voice is authoritative - "You are my son; with you I am well pleased" Mark 1
  • Problem: How do you know the voice is from God?

Teresa of Avila came up with two criteria in response to this problem:

  • Does the experience fit in with christian church teaching?
  • Does it leave the person feeling at peace with the world and God?

If it didn't fit in with these criteria then she believed the voice comes from the devil (she hadn't come across illnesses such…



Very informatively helpful


Thank you :D

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