Examine the different forms of religious experience
Examine the variety of forms of religious experience (30)
There are three main forms of Religious Experience, visions, conversions and mysticism. There are different types of visions as is the form in which they present themselves from group visions (angel of mons) to imaginative and corporeal visions.
One example of an individual vision however whereby the form was a religious figure was St Teresa d’Avila. This nun’s most famous vision was on an angel who was holding a long spear at the end of which was something like a fire. This seemed to pierce her heart several times and when it was withdrawn it left her completely alive with a great love for God. In contrast to this vision where the form was a religious one, one could experience an image or event in which there is a message, for example St Peter in acts 10 when a large sheet descended upon him containing a list of all kinds of animals and birds he should kill and eat. When St Peter refused, the voice told him that he should not call anything impure that God has made clean and Peter then realised that the point of this religious experience was that he could eat with a Gentile.
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Another form of religious experience is conversion, whether this be a sudden conversion like St Paul on the road to Damascus “..suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
or a gradual moral conversion like the reformed gangster John Pridmore whose ‘self-surrendering’ and active search for the divine and willingness to leave his former corrupt life behind led to his conversion. Furthermore, one may go like St Paul converting from one faith to another or in the case of John Pridmore converting from no faith to a faith. It appears after examining the forms of conversion however that all involve a unifying of the inner self as understood by the philosopher William James.
Lastly, mysticism, an experience which can be defined as an experience that alters the state of consciousness and brings people to claim a new awareness of ultimate reality. Robert Zaehner who was a professor of eastern religions distinguishes three types of mystical experience, one which is of ‘nature’, a sense of oneness with nature, another being monistic, the experience of one’s own spirit as the absolute, the identity of brahman and atman (found more in eastern religions) and theistic, a union or communion with a personal Lord which connects to the vision of St Teresa d’Avila for example. William James examine mystical experiences with four key ideas in mind, one of ineffability where no adequate account of the experience can be given . “The soul is fully awake as regards God but wholly asleep as regards things of this world.” (St Teresa d’Avila)
In addition mystical experiences such as Isaiah’s experience in the temple in Jerusalem possess a noetic quality; an experience which reveal insights that are beyond human reason and understanding. Thirdly, transiency; experiences which don’t last long and are imperfectly remembered and as we have seen earlier in our description of Teresa d’Avila a sense of being taken over; passivity.
In conclusion, after having examined the three main different forms of religious experience it does appear that they are not mutually exclusive and as seen with St Paul and Teresa d’Avila, more than one form; i.e visions and mystical experiences can be a part of a conversion experience.