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Religious Experience

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Submitted By JaneTyndall
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A2 Philosophy of Religion

What is Religious Experience?

• A religious experience is a non-empirical occurrence and may even be perceived as supernatural
• It can be described as a “mental” event which is undergone by an individual and of which that person is aware.
• Such an experience can be spontaneous or it may be brought about as a result of training and self-discipline.
• Recipients of religious experiences usually say what has happened to them has drawn them into a deeper knowledge or awareness of God.
• It is very important to remember that the experience itself is not a substitute for the Divine, bit a vehicle that is used to bring people closer to the Divine.
• The experience that each individual has is absolutely unique and cannot be shared with anyone.
• Finally, genuine religious experiences seem to be encouraging, they do not condemn the individual, but help them to live a better life or, for example, to help others.

Arguments from Religious Experience from William James.

The most famous commentator on Religious Experience is William James (1842 – 1910)
He recognised that the term mystical is used in a wide variety of contexts but suggested that using it to refer to “any person who believes in thought transference and spirit return” is far too ambiguous.
His famous work “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, published in 1902 includes his categorisation of the four characteristics which, he claims, will enable us to identify mystical experiences, namely
Noetic quality
These characteristics require detailed consideration.


William James suggests that while undergoing an experience, the person “loses control” to a more powerful being, namely God and is overwhelmed. The effects of this loss of control include:
• Individuals assuming entirely different...

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