“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source
of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no
longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his
eyes are closed.
The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also
given rise to religion.
To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the
highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can
comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling
is at the centre of true religiousness.”
What points do you think Einstein is trying
(the parts that are unlined may help)
Peterson et al
• Religious experience: person has or believes they have had an encounter
Religions experience includes:
3. Numinous experience – Rudolph Otto Mysterium Tremendum and Mysterium
Fascinas (e.g cathedral),
4. Conversion (St Paul/ Nicky Cruz),
6. Induced (meditation, Whirling dervish)
7. Un - induced experiences (stigmata),
9. Charismatic experiences (believing Holy Spirit is present)
10. Corporate religious experience ( Toronto Blessing)
• Religious Experiences are Revelations.
• This means that knowledge is gained about God that would not otherwise be
3) Experience of God through private (one
person) sensations that can be described in
normal sensory language e.g. a person might
claim to experience God through a dream or
Richard Swinburne in The Existence
of God (1979)
1) Experience of God through a
common, public, sensory object
e.g. see God in a sunset or ocean.
These things are not God, but a
way that God can be encountered.
2) Experience of God through an unusual, public,
sensory object e.g. appearance of virgin Mary at
Lourdes or a bush that burned but was not
4) Experience of God through private sensations that cannot be
described in normal sensory language e.g. feel or experience
something, but it cannot be spoken about. It is ineffable
5) Experience of God that is not mediated by any
sensations e.g. person claims to be aware of
God through intuition such as higher
meditational states of Hinduism and Buddhism
Theresa of Avila (1512-1582)“I was at
prayer…when I saw Christ at my side- or to
put it better, I was conscious of Him, for
neither with the eyes of the body nor with
those of the soul did I see anything…but as
this was not an imaginary vision, I could not
discern in what form….”
Principle of credulity: testimonies should be taken at face
value, unless there is significant evidence to prove
Principle of Testimony: He argues that it is reasonable to
believe what someone tells you.
X Anthony Flew: collecting together a
series of weak arguments does not make a
strong argument e.g. ten leaky buckets
X J. L. Mackie – People unintentionally mislead/ exaggerate
accounts of visions/ RE
William James (1842-1910)
The Varieties of Religious Experience
• Verification: - checking/proving/finding evidence for something. James believe
verification of RE was not crucial.
• The experience of the individual was real and this is important – ‘Self-
authenticating’ for the person who has the experience (clear that God exists)
• RE - ‘solitary’ in which individuals experienced the Divine or God.
• Admitted not a logical proof that God exists, but evidence in support of God
• RE are ‘psychological phenomena’
• Experiences explained as part of a person’s psychological makeup
• Means that RE are natural to a person like thinking or self awareness.
• RE is central to religious belief.
• James leaves open the possibility of God’s existence
Purpose of religion is
not God but “more
life, a larger, richer,
more satisfying life.”
Religion leads to
• He noted effects on peoples’ lives.
Why is this significant?
• This means that his method is: systematic,
methodical, regulated and scientific
William James was a
1. He collected many
testimonies of people
who claimed to have
2. Analysed them
3. Categorised into types
4. Then noted common
(collect, analyse, categorise,
Used a ‘pragmatic’
Means he was concerned
with the actual, practical
effects on people, not
‘Effects’ James could not
see their actual RE but he
could see/study their
I am not trying to
prove RE happen
or that God exists.
• Commonly, these experiences
have a PROFOUND EFFECT on
• Life transforming
• Positive effects: happier outlook on life,
sense of purpose and meaning, benefits
to sense of morality, better relationships
with others etc.
Distinguished between the ‘healthy minded
soul’ and the ‘sick soul’
Sick soul: cynical and sceptical
Healthy minded: open to ideas and
possibilities, optimistic and hopeful
Religious experience tends to make people
1. Effects are real = real cause. If God is believed to be the cause, then God exists to those
2. Real and true = positive effects, whereas things that are false have negative effects.
3. Religious experience has positive effects, so source is more likely to be real and true
Therefore God is likely to be real and true
• Scripture is often seen as the central source
of Churches but James emphasizes the
importance of revelation, prayer etc.
• This notable change in behaviour is why
James suggested that RE was the inspiration
and source of religious institutions.
•Compared parallels and similarities between RE and other types of experience e.g.
dreams and hallucinations.
•Suggested that RE could be linked to our subconscious ideas.
•Concluded that RE on own do not demonstrate God’s existence although they can
suggest the existence of ‘something larger.’
• A mystical experience = religious experience where
God is revealed directly and the person receiving is
• He looked at wide ranging examples from
conversion to visions to feelings of God’s presence.
• He identified four characteristics that are typical of
mystical and other religious experiences.
• James is recognised for
his achievement in
identifying key features
that unify RE.
Four ways to define Mystical Religious
Experience: all present in a RE
1) Ineffability: most
of RE – beyond words
4) Passive: undergoing RE
no control, taken over,
3) Transiency: experience
does not last long but
lasting effect on person –
2) Noetic Quality:
FC Happold (1893- 1971)
Two types of mysticism:
1. Mysticism of Love and
Union- need to be part of
something bigger than
2. Mysticism of Knowledge
and Understanding- need
to find out answers to the
‘secrets’ of the universe/
to know the ‘whole story’
Three aspects of mystical
1. Soul mysticism- finding
the soul, complete self-
2. Nature mysticism- belief
that God is everywhere
3. God-mysticism- souls
desire to return to their
immortal and infinite
ground, which is God.
Experience without the Religion
• Lord Fenner Brockway (a
• “I stood looking over the
green ocean towards the
red sunset. A great calm
came over me. I became
lost in the beauty of the
scene. My spirit reached
out and became one with
the spirit of the sea and
How do Sacred Writings reveal
Propositional versus Non
• Revelation: knowledge is gained about God that would not otherwise be known.
• They are called ‘propositions’ to indicate that the revelations are statements of facts.
• What does ‘fact’ mean?
• Reveals knowledge from God which is without error or need of interpretation.
• God directly revealing truths about his nature.
• ‘Belief that….’
• Not debatable, they are not open to questions, they are facts laid down by God, must
fit with the teachings of the church
• Aquinas in Summa Theologica suggested that ‘faith’ concerns knowledge about God
who is transcendent.
• Faith is not as certain as science.
• Propositional revelations are truths revealed by God but they are not verified using
Literalist Interpretations - Fundamentalists
• Unless a passage specifically
states it is symbolic,
scriptural passages are read
as factual, historical
• E.g. The Creation stories in
• Literalists cannot disregard
any passage of the Bible
•Everyone from within a
takes this approach is
expected to take literal
follow it in their lives
•Scripture is the direct
word of God
• God does not reveal truths to people, instead religious believers
recognise God acting in human history and human experience.
• ‘Belief in…’
• E.g. A religious believer may come to experience God in a
beautiful natural scene, the scene reveals God to the person
• This same natural scene can be observed by anyone however it
is faith that makes it a revelation of God.
• This revelation of God is indirect and a matter of interpretation.
• This is why called non propositional because the revelation is a
human being’s recognition of God’s acts in and through the
world i.e. Artwork
• In other words: not teachings but self revelation of God – God
reveals and humanity responds in faith.
• Most Protestant
Christians are not so
• Believe God inspired
• Has the authority as
the message is
directly from God
•There may be errors in
scripture because writers
were human & influenced
by society in which they
•This allows for changes
•It allows for individual
rather than community
interpretation of passages
approach as it is the
messages, not the actual
words that are focused on
• The scripture records the experiences of
people seriously seeking to find God
• Words are those of writers and
influenced by their lives and society in
which they lived
• Not directly inspired by God
• Bible therefore doesn’t have same
position of authority
•Free to reject passages
that no longer seem
relevant for today
•Duty of individual
Christians to decide
which sections are
appropriate to their lives
•Inconsistencies not a problem
•Steers away from the propositional/ non-propositional debate
•Because not how scripture came that matters, but how it is used in
1. Is a liberal view more successful?
Problems with understanding the revelations
1. Some of the Bible’s teachings may appear harsh to modern
2. Go against modern laws.
3. Can the Bible be disobeyed? If the Bible were a verbally inspired
revelation from God, then disobeying any instruction in the Bible
would be a rejection of God’s revealed commands.
4. How does one explain the contradictions within the text? If it is
divinely inspired by God then this leaves no room for human error.
5. Many Christians have difficulty accepting some of the laws about
moral behaviour from both New and Old Testament. E.g. Jesus
clearly states divorce is wrong but many Christians Churches allow
6. Some of the passages found within the Bible conflict with many
Christians’ views today. E.g. St. Paul’s statements about women.
Supporters of Religious Experience
faith = miracle. Faith
involves a leap, cannot be
explained logically. RE can
help this leap of faith
• Alston: our sense experience is generally reliable why
should we not believe what our senses tell us, even if what
it is telling us is a religious experience?
• There is no reason to reject an explanation of something
just because the explanation is unusual.
• Do not show that RE are experiences of God just that it is
not fair to simply reject religious experiences as illogical
Myers “prayer is a vital
component of the
psychological wellbeing of
Consistent – perhaps most powerful of all arguments for
existence of God
Individual knows and understands the meaning of what they
see or feel
relatively common - can all reports be wrong?
People that have them, hold with great conviction – ‘self
Often experienced by people who are not mentally ill, on drugs,
who are rational and intelligent.
RE is God taking an involvement in human affairs so he is a
personal being. But can’t do it too frequently as it would
seriously jeopardise our free will.
• William of Ockham 14th
“entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”
• In other words, the simplest solution that covers all the
facts, is usually the best
Anti-razors: Leibniz- Principle of Plenitude
• anything that can happen will; every possibility within this
world must be considered.
• The world in which we live is but one among the infinitely
many possible worlds that might have existed.
Kant- we shouldn’t rashly diminish explanations
should this lead to in
And does God exist?
Critics - Feuerbach:
• Religion is an illusion.
• Religion is a fiction people
mistake for reality.
• Humans can feel alienated in
own lives and project their
wishes onto God
• If people were able to reach
potential no need for religion
• Society will evolve and religion
• God is an invention of the human
X Delirium tremens (e.g.
alcohol withdrawal) is
caused by vitamin B
deficiency. Some scholars
argue that an ascetics’ diet
lacks vit B so could
paranoia, visions, voices
• Need to break free of chains of religion to reach
their potential = utopia.
• Religion is a form of control
• Religion is “the opiate of the masses.”
• Social repression
• Explains away religion as purely a psychological
phenomenon – cushion us from harsh realities.
• Religion is an ‘obsessional neurosis’ (neuroses
describes problems experienced in life e.g.
traumas that are repressed in the mind and
develop into obsessive neurosis in adulthood
e.g. repetitive behaviour)
• Thus, belief in God = obsessional neurosis that
Could be the influence of drugs – can produce hallucinations/
similar effects and alcohol
In most occasions individuals undergo experiences not groups
Religious Experience based on emotion – it is personal response
= empirical testing useless.
Each one portrays this ‘being’ differently – what is reliable?
Spontaneous so can never be verified (proven)
Non physical/private/individual so not easy to verify. How can we
verify something we cannot fully understand/communicate or
Stories you need
• St Bernadette
• St Teresa of Avila
• Guru Nanak
• Whirling Dervish
• Toronto Blessing
• Nicky Cruz
• St Paul
• At least four interesting
facts for each story
• Specific example/
• Quote from their books
• Which stories link to
charismatic, WJ 4 stages
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