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Discuss the varieties of religious experience

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Introduction

´╗┐Discuss the varieties of Religious Experience (35) William James in ?The Varieties of Religious Experience? defines religion as ?the feelings, acts, and experiences of men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine? Ninian Smart defines religious experience as ?a mystery which is awe-inspiring and fascinating and points towards the Transcendent? * Here James suggests that religious experiences were solitary events in which the person experiences the divine. * Subjective Can be criticised as cannot be empirically analysed. Can?t be falsified scientifically. * James argues that religious experience stands at the heart of religion. Superior to the teachings and practices which he regards are secondary. * It is the actual experiences themselves that can be regarded as true religion. In Religious Experience Today David Hay published research from the Religious Experience Research Unit which included figures that show that about a third of British people and approximately a third of the American population have felt close to a powerful spiritual force, or have had what they consider a religious experience. Descriptions of these experiences include: short time frame, unlike anything ever experienced, and they?re thought to have given awareness that there is a greater reality from what we experience in our physical world. * Though there may be individual differences between these experiences there does seem to be recurring themes and accounts, and considering how prevalent religious experiences seem to be (according to surveys). ...read more.

Middle

His findings are rooted in three beliefs, firstly as an empiricist; empiricism (believes that empirical evidence is needed to deem something valid). However James is criticised on this point, and argue that he interpreted the effects of the experience, and thus there is no empirical evidence. James Responds ? we all interpret knowledge in order to gain empirical evidence. And furthermore argues the effects of these experiences are empirical evidence that the person did come into contact with the divine. Another belief is pluralism ? he argues that although people from different cultures may see different things in their religious experiences, this doesn?t mean that they are making it up. Amongst the psychology community the prevalence provides more evidence for religious experience. It is possible also to draw out similarities. James argues then that these people see the same thing but interpret it differently. Lastly there is pragmatism ? James believes that the truth was not fixed and that the truth is whatever has great value for us. Thus when looking at the effects of R.E we are obliged to conclude that religion holds truth. This is a similar argument to that of R.M Hare who claims we all have bliks (things that we regard are valid and true) whilst others may not see religious experiences as valid, for some who have that blik it is meaningful and so can be regarded as truth. ...read more.

Conclusion

However Rudolf Otto is in support of religious experience, in his Book ?The idea of the Holy?, he suggests that religion sprung from religious experience as James too believes. He describes it as something that is ?wholly other? than the natural world. Thus using this description of religious experience it would seem that the realms of science and psychology cannot be used to validate religious experience as it is so different, therefore many of these criticisms could be discounted. Martin Buber stresses personal relationships with God and that which underlies them. In his book ?I and Thou? he argues for two types of relationship the I-it and the I-thou. The former is where view things as merely phenomena. But by probing deeper we can enter the second relationship both with people and things. This is an interesting point as it could explain why people discount religious experience as nonsense; using Buber explanation it could be said that because they do not have a personal relationship with religion or God they see it as just a normal occurrence, but those who have actually had a religious experience move in the I-thou and therefore can see that it is extraordinary phenomena. Many have used conversion religious experiences as evidence of the validity of the experience; it is argued that such a dramatic chance in such a short space of time is great evidence of the actual reality of the experience. For instance St. Paul on the road to Damascus?. Edwin Starbuck criticises conversion religious experience and suggests it is a normal process that we all undergo. ...read more.

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