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Mystical, Spiritual, and Religious Experiences


... most religious persons define themselves as spiritual there is an emerging group ... paranormal events in a fashion that denies them religious importance ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Mystical, Spiritual, and Religious Experiences

Mystical, Spiritual, and Religious Experiences
The religion/spirituality debate and its
empirical consequences for experience
  • Scientific definitions of both spirituality and
    religion must include a sense of, a belief in, or
    a search for the transcendent (Hill et al.,
  • While most religious persons define themselves as
    spiritual there is an emerging group of people in
    the U.S. who define themselves as spiritual but
    not religious (Hood, 2003).
  • When religion is defined so broadly as to exclude
    the necessity for a sense of the divine the term
    loses its analytical power.

Experiences of being both religious and spiritual
  • The majority of persons identify themselves as
    both religious and spiritual (Hood, 2003).
  • For these people, being spiritual identifies a
    largely experiential component of their faith.
  • Hufford (1982) demanded that social scientists
    pay careful attention to the richness of
    experience to see precisely what aspects of
    experience their theories can and cannot explain.

Key Papers
  • Francis, L.J., ap Siôn T., Lewis, C.A., Barnes,
    L.P., Robbins, M. (2006). Attitude toward
    Christianity and religious experience
    Replication among 16- to 18- year-old adolescents
    in Northern Ireland. Research in Education, 76,

Sectarian experiences of being both religious and
  • Reflexive ethnography (Davies, 1999) is a term
    that unites methodological approaches to
    understanding the conditions under which
    experiencing religion occurs
  • For example, Polomo (2003) documents the shift in
    Pentecostalism from an emphasis on glossolalia to
    holy laughter that serves to revitalise
    religious feelings suppressed by

Web Site
  • Glossolalia (http//
  • Holy Laughter during a church service

Experiences of being spiritual but not religious
  • 25-30 of individuals in U.S. identify themselves
    as spiritual but not religious.
  • For some spirituality is a fierce rejection of
  • Those who identify themselves as spiritual but
    not religious have high rates of spiritual
    experiences, including mystical experiences
    (Hood, 2003).
  • Fuzzy (Spilka, 1993) is a fluid term allowing
    for a wide range of genuinely spiritual
    experiences that many conservative religions
    reject (Hood, 2003).

Experiences of being spiritual but not religious
  • Elkins (2001) has proposed a humanistic model of
    the scared focusing upon its more secular
    (horizontal) psychological expressions.
  • Wondrous events can occur in cultures and
    traditions that have no term for the supernatural
    (McClenon, 1994).

Paranormal claims of UFOs and alien abductions
  • The APA defines anomalous experiences as those
    that while common are nevertheless believed to
    deviate from ordinary experience or from the
    usually accepted definitions of reality (Cardena
    et al., 2000).
  • Examples include hallucinations, near death, past
    life, mystical and paranormal experiences.
  • Anomalous experiences contradict
    institutionalized knowledge, both scientific and

Paranormal claims of UFOs and alien abductions
  • Some define paranormal events in a fashion that
    denies them religious importance (Spickard,
  • However, the Bible is a mine of information on
    ESP or psi phenomena (Kelsey, 1972).
  • For Pentecostals, the experience or the
    paranormal is normal (Poloma, 1989).
  • Alien abduction experiences have begun to
    generate a considerable body of scientific study.
  • Some investigators have suggested that certain
    chemicals that effect receptor sites for
    serotonin may elicit awareness of dimensions of
    reality in which reports of alien abduction
    become possible as actual events (e.g.,
    Strassman, 2001).

Paranormal claims of UFOs and alien abductions
  • As fantastic as alien abduction claims appear to
    be, pathological processes cannot explain them
    (Williams Fallconer, 1994).
  • Among the most plausible and least controversial
    explanations for these reports are fantasy
    proneness caused by using cultural available
    scenarios derived from film and other media
  • If military authorities evaluate UFO reports then
    psychology too has the duty to investigate this
    problem (Jung, 1958).

Web sites
  • Abductees (Alien Abduction Interviews)

Psychedelics or entheogens
  • It has long been recognised that many religions
    employ various naturally occurring mind-altering
    substances in their religious rituals.
  • There is an obvious similarity between various
    religious experiences and some chemically
    facilitated experiences.
  • Leuba (1986) argued that religious experience in
    advanced traditions should be invalidated because
    it was similar to drug-induced states in less
    advanced traditions.
  • However, one can no more invalidate an experience
    because its physiology is known than one can
    invalidate physiology because its biochemistry
    has been identified.

Psychedelics or entheogens
  • Empirical studies indicate that more dogmatic
    persons will reject as genuine religious
    experiences triggered by drugs, despite the fact
    that outside of mainstream religions one of the
    most commonly cited triggers of mystical
    experience is entheogens.
  • With an appropriate set and setting, psychedelic
    drugs can facilitate religious experiences
    insofar as someone under the influence of these
    drugs may for the first time see the world in
    terms appropriate to a particular system of

Psychedelics or entheogens
  • The use of sacramental or religious metaphors was
    common among participants using entheogens
    (Masters Houston, 1996).
  • Two churches have a history of sacramental use of
    entheogens that demonstrate that drugs can be
    incorporated into religious frameworks and used
    to facilitate experiences whose meaning is
    accepted as religious (Bergman, 1971 LaBarre,
  • Multilevel interdisciplinary methodological
    approaches extend the range of material that
    psychologists must consider as they explore the
    conditions under which individuals experience
    their religion or spirituality.

Mystical, spiritual, and religious experiences
  • Social expression (as opposed to social
    construction) suggests an open conceptual and
    empirical possibility that there are fundamental
    experiences that are inherently mystical,
    religious, or spiritual and that become only
    partially expressed through language.

Numinous and mystical experiences
  • A numinous experience is an awareness of a holy
    other beyond nature and a sense that one is in
    communion with this holy other.
  • Ottos (1917) phenomenology of religious
    experience includes the essential fact that for
    him religious experience includes a non-rational
    component that is characterized psychologically
    by a numinous consciousness.
  • As social scientists we can study the response to
    the numinous by noting that from the believers
    perspective it is a response to a transcendent
    object experienced as real

Numinous and mystical experiences
  • The numinous consciousness is both compelled to
    seek out and explore this transcendent object
    (mysterium fascinans) and to be repelled in the
    face of the majesty and awfulness of this object
    (mysterium tremendum)
  • Staces (1960) categories of introvertive and
    extravertive mysticism are derived from Ottos
    (1932) mysticism of introspection and unifying
  • Empirical studies use measurements that tend to
    emphasize either experiences of a sense of
    presence favouring numinous experiences or a
    sense of unity favouring mystical experiences.

Numinous experience as a sense of presence
  • The empirical study of numinous experiences has
    largely focused upon responses to surveys and
  • The most common word used to describe numinous
    experiences was awesome (Pafford, 1973).
  • 72 of respondents answered yes to the question
    have you ever as an adult had the feeling that
    you were somehow in the presence of God (Glock
  • Both children and adults report numinous
    experience whether they identify themselves as
    religious and spiritual or simply as spiritual
    but not religious.
  • Williamson and Froese (2001) developed a measure
    of awe based on Ottos work, which links the
    empirical study of awe to classic works in the
    phenomenology of awe.

Mystical experiences
  • Hood (1975) based his measure of mysticism on the
    phenomenological work of Stace (1960).
  • The Staces unity thesis suggests that mystical
    experience has a common core that is universal
    despite variations in the language in which this
    experience is expressed.
  • Stace (1960) identified introvertive,
    extravertive, and interpretive factors.
  • In a series of factor analytic studies Hood has
    replicated Staces phenomenology.

Key Books / Papers
  • Hood, R. W. Jr. (2001). Dimensions of mystical
    experiences. Empirical studies and psychological
    links. Amsterdam Rodopi.
  • Belzen, J. A. Geels, A. (Eds.) (2003).
    Mysticism. A variety of psychological
    perspectives. Amsterdam Rodopi.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr. (1975). The construction and
    preliminary validation of a measure of reported
    mystical experience. Journal for the Scientific
    Study of Religion, 14, 29-41. 
  • Hood, R. W., Jr. (1976). Conceptual criticisms of
    regressive explanations of mysticism. Review of
    Religious Research, 17, 179-188. 

Mystical experiences
  • Thalbourne and his colleagues suggested that
    mysticism is best identified by a single factor
    associated with other phenomena such as
    creativity, belief in the paranormal, and
  • Transliminality is a concept to describe the
    ability, likely genetically based, to attend to
    inner psychological states and processes
    (Thalbourne et al., 1997 Thalbourne Delin,
  • Thalbourne and his colleagues counter Hoods claim
    that mysticism is a universal experience with
    ontological ramifications.
  • Rather, mysticism is part of a purely natural
    psychology rooted in the tendency to be sensitive
    to internally generated states of consciousness.

Mystical experiences
  • Both Hood and Thalbourne suggest that mystical
    experiences are associated with reports of
    paranormal phenomena.
  • When controlled for unconventional religious
    beliefs, church attendance was strongly
    associated with lower paranormal belief
    (Orenstein, 2002).
  • Spiritual but not religious believers likely
    account for the substantial proportion of
    believers in the paranormal.
  • Paranormal experiences are reported by over half
    the population in all countries where samples
    have been taken (Targ et al., 2000).