‘Knowledge of God and/or ourselves can be transformed by religious experience’
Examine and comment on the importance of this claim for understanding ourselves and/or God with reference to the topic you have investigated. (50)
A religious experience (RE) is an encounter with the divine, which is a personal, subjective and non-empirical proof for God’s Existence. It is an inductive argument and so can only produce a probability that God exists. For believers it provides the ultimate proof that God exists as it shows God acting in the world and gives believers a deeper understanding of God. There are both biblical and modern examples of religious experiences. There are lots of different types of RE, for my investigation I have focused on conversion religious experiences, these are experiences that cause a person to change their beliefs. A biblical example of this is the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus. A modern example is the conversion of Nicky Cruz, the ex gang member of the notorious New York Gang the Mau Maus.
William James was a philosopher and psychologist who argues that RE stand at the heart f religion and the experiences themselves are true religion. He argues that RE are psychological phenomena that occur in the brain but they may have a supernatural element. He argues that RE are emotional reactions, which is directed by God however they are too subjective for those who have not experienced them. He therefore argues that RE gives us knowledge about God and ourselves. As it shows the psychological and emotional aspects of RE in ourselves but they are directed by God which gives us further insight into him. James collected empirical evidence and found 4 common themes of RE. He argued all RE were: Passive, acting upon the person; transient, not sustained but passes; ineffable, beyond description; and noetic, giving a deep knowledge as directed by God.
James spoke directly about conversion RE in his book ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ he argues that conversion RE provide empirical evidence for God as it causes people to have dramatic changes in character and lifestyle for the better. James’ criteria are also demonstrated in St Paul’s conversion in the bible. It was passive as Saul met god face to face; it was transient as it was a short experience that passed; it was ineffable as even the men travelling with him were stunned and speechless; and it was noetic as it gave Saul the knowledge to change his ways, to stop persecuting Christians and to become a disciple.