Experience and religion
Candidates should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the following in relation to
God and religious belief:
• arguments from religious experience from William James;
• the aims and main conclusions drawn by William James in The Varieties of Religious
• the following different forms of religious experience: visions, voices, ‘numinous’ experience,
conversion experience, corporate religious experience;
• the concept of revelation through sacred writings.
Candidates should be able to discuss these areas critically and their strengths and weaknesses.
Religious Experience: An experience of something (presence of power) beyond themselves.
Swinburne: 5 mutually exclusive types of experience
1. private experience describable in normal sensory language e.g dream
2. private experience not describable in every day language
3. perceiving God through a public experience e.g night sky
4. through unusual public object e.g miracle
5. experience of God not mediated through any sensory object
William James- common core to religious experience:
Numinosity- Rudolph Otto- religion must derive from an impersonal God.
Mystical- Religious experience involving a personal God.
Corporate Revelations- Entire groups experience at the same time a religious experience. Not focused on the individual. E.g Toronto
Visions and Voices e.g St Paul on road to Damascus
William Auston: “Religious Experience is similar to an ordinary experience” “ we have the image of an object which we know doesn’t
quite represent the real object but we know the object is there.
Evidence for Argument
People with limited senses are still certain of their experiences despite knowing little of the world.
Whilst we do not all have perceptions of God does not mean he does not exist. It may simply mean he has not presented
himself or are senses are not sharp enough.
Sense perceptions are common, religious experiences are not.
Ordinary experience tells us a lot, religious experience tells us little about God.
We all have the capacity for normal experience but few have the capacity for religious experience.
If I have a sensory experience of a table I can give you a solid account of it. Religious experience is often mediated by
another object and is ineffable.
Richard Swinburne - Principle of Credulity.
When something is the case we hold that belief until proven otherwise.
Conversion- The process that leads to the adoption of a religious attitude or way of life.
Types of conversion:
A conscious and voluntary experience (the volitional type)
An unconscious and involuntary experience (self surrender type)
William James - ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity’ In all experiences we surrender to God’s power
Edwin Starbuck – Disagrees we can never change through force.
2 rules in the mind of the candidate for conversion:
Present wrongness in life
Positive changes they want to make
Examples of conversions:
1. Intellectual – Changes because of a rejection of a way of thought
2. Moral- Professor Leuba – wanting a better lifestyle
3. Social – William James Sudden social feeling of being converted
e.g Paul on the road to Damascus.
The concept of miracles and criticisms made by Hume and Wiles. The implications of the concept of miracles on the
problem of evil.
Miracle: An event that goes against the laws of nature; caused by God.
David Hume: A transgression of the laws of nature by some kind of volition of the deity or by some invisible agent.
Richard Swinburne: Examples from the bible- water into wine, man dead for 24 hours risen from dead. These aren’t amazing until
hear the time scale and circumstances.
R.F.Holland - Great coincidences caused by prayer.
Swinburne: Miracles must have a greater purpose.
Ignorant and barbarous nations
People want to believe
Not enough quality testimonies)
Do natural laws exist?
Maurice Wiles - God is in everything. Miracles don’t occur.
Problem of Evil vs. Miracles – Epicurus’ inconsistent triad
Why not cure everybody? All created in image of God
‘God is love’ John 4:8 – goes against benevolent God
Not all powerful because he cannot prevent diseases
Can religious experience justify religious belief?
No, If religious experience justifies relief in God and this proves God.
How do we know God exists- through religious experience.
The existence of God is assumed in order to identify experience as religious. If a circular argument is to be avoided then it cannot be
used as proof for God’s existence.
Concept of revelation through Holy Scripture, the view that scripture is divinely inspired; different approaches to an
understanding of the nature of sacred writing.
Propositional e.g God speaks directly to individuals
Non Propositional e.g Bible written from inspiration not direct spoken word.
Francis Shaeffer - Believes God is personal
He enabled us to communicate
We are created in the image of God= we are unlimited and he is too
Big Bang Theory- Rejects God, thus supports idea of Bible is Non prepositional
Scripture as Revelation
Literalist – Disregards no part of the Bible, Direct word of God
Conservative - Messages, not individual word
Liberal - Personal interpretation, reject old fashioned views.
Definition of Religious Experience
One experience a spiritual reality, this can include God speaking to someone, or feeling Gods presence. Like Pauls
Numinous: Otto’s sense of ‘awe and wonder’, when they experience God as the numinous. The realisation that God is very
different from us, often a sense of Gods greatness and power. Some people have experienced this when they go into a
cathedral. Example of Numinous is in the chapter of Isaiah in the bible.
Becoming overwhelmingly aware of the presence of an ultimate God.
William James [Features - PINT]
Passitivity; A strong sense of being taken over.
Ineffability; a state of experience unlike nothing else and the experience is too difficult to describe. [Christians believe that
God is incomprehensible].
Noetic quality; Experiences reveal insights that are beyond human reason and understanding. [Eg. Isaiah's experience in the
temple in Jerusalem]
Transiency; Experiences don’t last long and are imperfectly remembered
Introvertive – looking inwards at ones own experience
Objective – Outward circumstances: “lovely the woods, waters, meadows” – GERARD HOPKINS. Its all down to God.
describes a mystical experience in 2 stages:
1. An objective event / encounter
2. Followed by a special understanding of that event, revealing its religious significance
A divine union with God
Loss of self, feel in Gods ecstasy
Spiritual elation, as it suggests salvations can only be found by attaining a magical goal, instead of through JC on the cross.
Isolated from mortality and is totally focused on attaining the presence of the holy.
Examples of Mystics
Mother Julian of Norwich
She was a religious recluse who wished at 30 years old to be extremely ill, near to the point of drying without actually dying, so she
could have the last rights and be cleansed by the mercy of God and live on to lead a more sacred life. This happened and at the end,
when she got better, she received visions and revelations and this enables her to lead a life totally dedicated to God.
St. Teresa of Avila
A women stricken by illnesses, who over 20 years in her late life, received many mystical experiences and felt that God was in her.
Religious experience distinguished by their visual element eg. Heaven and Hell or Living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision..
Some public and others private, - often more clarity in dreams.
Eg. Maritan apparitions are where the Virgin Mary has shown herself to people.
Isiah had a vision of god in a temple.
o Joseph in Genisis could interpret peoples visions.
o Angels appear to the shepherd to tell them about JC
An event which is believed to have a divine or supernatural cause. [Hulme]
EG. Many Christians travel to Lourdes in France because a young girl had visions of the V Mary there and many people
believe they have been cured of diseases by bathing in the baths in Lourdes.
In the bible there many healing stories and miracle about turning water to wine.
Revealed truth, disclosing truth through supernatural means, such as Moses and the burning bush.
Aware of the divine through nature
Mystical experiences with a strong noetic nature, could also be a revelation, such as Mohammed on the mountain
Non theistic religions, such as a Buddhism, may see a moment of insight [eg. Meditation] as a revelation.
Maybe a realisation coming to the end of reflection
EG. Saul, Moses and the burning bush and Gabriel and Mary
A change from nothingness or from one religion to another.
May suddenly change, or go through many stages
Emergence into a new life, with new beliefs
Experiences that have nothing leading up to them.
EG. Saul on the road to Damascus, when he was going to persecute Christians and he had a revelation, *God spoke to him
and said: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”. And from them on, he became Paul; a Christian.
Religious experience as an inspiration of faith
Such as Sauls conversion to Christianity, he answered God and this inspired him to enter the Christian faith
Also a religious experience such as Mother Julian of Norwich mystical experience inspired her to live her live faithfully to
Mohammed on the mountain, he was inspired into faith by a religious experience, an acting by devoting his life to Islam, by
Nature of the Bible
Includes examples of religious experiences; Miracles, feeding of the 5000
Rules: 10 commandments
Example of a good Christian; JC
Religious experience can be trusted as inspiration of faith and practice
Has been the basis for a lot of belief
Source of spiritual insight
Can be an example of how to mount a mystical experience [Mother Julian of Norwich]
Open to fraud and error
Not properly understood.
People may make it up, or a vision could be a dream?