Religious Experience is a construct of the mind - Discuss

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‘Religious experience is a construct of the mind’ Discuss.

Religious experience can be viewed in five different categories: vision experiences, voice experiences, corporate experiences, conversion experiences and numinous experiences. The claim above suggests that all forms of religious experience are created by the mind; this view is a psychological view and is adopted most notoriously by Sigmund Freud.

Freud believed that religion is an illusion and an expression of people desires coming from a persons psychological needs. He believed that Religion is rooted in a childlike desire for a father-like figure such as God. Applying this to a religious experiences such as Paul on the Road to Demascus; Freud would say his experience of the ‘bright light’ and Jesus, were constructed by his mind as a result of his psychological needs. Freud could suggest that the conversion from Saul to Paul was a result of Saul lacking a fully supportive upbringing from his parents, hence why his mind created the experience to direct him to righteousness. However, there is little scientific evidence of the subconscious to support Freud’s claims of the subconscious and deem ‘nurture’ as an explanation for all religious experiences.

On the other hand, William James did believe in religious experience. He thought that through analysis we could determine if an experience qualifies as a religious experience, or has any legitimacy. James believed are four characteristics prominent in all religious experience. The first, ineffable; whereby the experience is on such an individual and personal level it defies all means of expression through language. Second, the experience should be noetic i.e. insightful into the knowledge of God and gaining knowledge that is not otherwise available. Thirdly he said the experience should be transient, short in duration, but transpiring to a change in lifestyle. Finally, he said experiences should be passive; by this he meant the experience should approach the mystic, he used this to counter the claim that people will their own experiences. After defining what a valid religious experience is, James said that experience are a psychological phenomena, believing that experiences could be explained as part of a person’s psychological make-up. This suggests that James wouldn’t rule out the fact that experiences could be a construct of the mind. Since James said he didn’t see psychology as an argument against the belief in God, he explained how he felt it could prove religious experience is ‘natural’ to a person, just like self-awareness or thinking.

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Nevertheless, sociologists would argue that religious experience is a reflection of the society you’ve grown up in, that's why in the main Catholics have visions of Mary and Hindu’s have experiences of Shiva. Karl Marx is the most notable sociologist to speak against religious claims, he objected to the validity of religion, and in effect against religious experience. Marx was influenced by a philosophical movement known as the Hegelians, who suggested that religion was a form of ‘alienation against ones true self’. He believed a mythological belief was created to distract people from their reality and went on to ...

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