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Religious Experience


... sensory qualities) justifies religious beliefs (I 'saw' God justifies ... religious experience is such a distinctive sort of experiential basis for belief, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Religious Experience

Religious Experience
  • Its Nature and Significance

Experience and Inference
  • Sense experience is direct perceptual awareness
    of a material being
  • Statements can describe or express the content
    of our experience
  • Example I hear voices in the hallway. (Alston,
  • An inference is a conclusion drawn from other

Example There are people talking in the
Religious Faith
  • Faith shares some qualities with both experience
    and inference
  • Like experience, it feels and/or is accepted as
    obvious or certain, although it is not based
    sensory facts.
  • Like inference, it is an acceptance of that which
    is not itself directly experienced, although some
    argue that the object of faith can be
    demonstrated by reason.

Religious experience
  • Religious experience (Alston, RE) shares some
    qualities with perceptual experience.
  • Both religious and perceptual experience are
    modes of direct awareness of something.
  • Thus, there is the feeling of certainty that is
    grounding in the reality of direct awareness.
  • Unlike perceptual experience, however, religious
    experience is not of natural being it is
    directed beyond that which can be normally

Philosophical Questions
  • The Descriptive Task
  • What are the reported characteristics of
    religious experiences, in all their variety?
  • The Interpretive Task
  • What can we infer about ultimate reality, based
    on the data of such experiences?

Our Readings on Religious Experience
  • Smart explores both the nature and significance
    of religious experience generally.
  • Suzuki explains sartori, or the Buddhist
    experience of the ultimate nature of things.
  • Alston and Penelhum debate the significance of
    religious experience.

Experiential Dimension
  • Ninian Smart and the Varieties and Interpretation
    of Religious Experience

  • Numinous
  • Externally oriented of the awesome and fearful
    Other dualistic
  • Mystical
  • Internally oriented of the ultimate oneness and
    unity of all

Two Kinds of Religious Experience
  • Numinous
  • Externally oriented
  • Otherness
  • Dualistic
  • Mystical
  • Internally oriented
  • Connectedness
  • Non-dualistic

Shared Characteristics 1. Smallness of self 2.
Limits of the ordinary
Exploring the Experience
  • Some religions emphasize one kind of religious
    experience over the other.

Buddhism No ultimate being or reality Focus on
consciousness attainment of selflessness, peace
Christianity Ultimate Being Outer orientation
(before inner cultivation of union)
Exploring the Experience
  • Some emphasize an integration of the two.

Hinduism Braham Ultimate reality and objective
truth exists outside of created beings Atman
Ultimate reality and subjective truth exists
within all beings and is experienced by
sentient beings
Exploring the Experience
  • The distinction can create conflict within a
  • Mystic visions v. Orthodox interpretations
  • Christian or Sufi (Muslim) mystics challenge the
    orthodox teaching of
  • the holiness and otherness of God
  • the idea that salvation flows from God the other

The Question of Truth
  • Religion experience has an undeniable subjective
    effect. Why think it has objective significance?
  • Challenges from psychologists regarding the
    causes of these unusual experiences (Freud,
    Fromm, Jung)

Brief Comment about Truth
  • Freuds theory does not apply universally
  • Fromms critique of numinous experience is
    insupportably judgmental
  • Jung reduced religious experience to collective

Common problem (according to Smart) Each
involves judging a (religious) worldview from a
(humanist) worldview that is, arbitrarily
applying the criteria of one perspective to that
of another.
Perceiving God
  • Alston on the Significance of Religious Experience

Two Kinds of Perceiving
  • Sensory perception (SP)
  • Rooted in the physical universe
  • Source of claims about the existence and nature
    of physical things
  • Religious experience (RE)
  • Rooted in the putative spiritual universe
  • Source of claims about the existence and nature
    of God (and other spiritual phenomena?)

Sensory Perception Direct Realism
  • 1. the theory that what you see is what you
  • 2. assumes that the object of perception exists
    and causes the experience of perception

3. asserts that the perceptual experience caused
by the object of perception reliably represents
the nature of that object.
Religious Experience God Realism
  • religious experience is a form of experience
  • as experience, it supports the idea that there
    is a (religious) cause of the experience
  • Religious experience reliably represents the
    nature of its religious cause i.e., religious
    experience provides evidence for the existence
    and nature of God (M-Beliefs)

The Justification Argument
  • Based on these similarities, Alston argues that
  • As sense experience justifies perceptual beliefs
    (I see a table justifies the claim that there is
    a table)
  • So religious experience (via something other than
    sensory qualities) justifies religious beliefs (I
    saw God justifies the claim that God exists)

Standards of Justification
  • Shared perceptions are a basis for claims about
    objective reality
  • Perception is supplemented by other shared means
    to construct and verify knowledge
  • Override systems apply those other means
  • Override systems are themselves derived from

Alstons Analogy
  • SP and RE are significantly alike in that both
  • Are based on individual perceptual experiences
  • Support a wider world view based on those same
    perceptual experiences (doxastic value)
  • Have an override system (188)

The Epistemology of Religious Perception
(according to Alston)
  • All claims to knowledge must reference an
    experiential basis of belief
  • religious experience is such a distinctive sort
    of experiential basis for belief, like sensory
  • All claims to knowledge must fit into a
    distinctive range of belief contents (subject
  • Those who have religious experiences tend to
    report religiously acceptable conclusions from
    their experiences

The Epistemology of Religious Perception
  • There must be an overrider system to correct
    unjustified leaps from experience
  • Not every unusual experience counts as a
    religious experience, by virtue of religious
    communities own experiences and bodies of belief
  • It is unreasonable to ask of any experiential
    doxastic system that its beliefs be indubitable.

Yeah, but.
  • Religious perception seems to assume what it is
    trying to prove
  • Objection I we are assuming that there is a God
    to cause a RE
  • Objection II different people report different
    and contradictory claims about what God is or
  • Objection IV there are naturalistic
    explanations of putative religious experiences

Yeah, but.
  • Religious perception is significantly unlike
    sensory perception.
  • Objection III sense experience varies according
    to the varied conditions of perception
  • Objection V RE is not universally available,
    and its inferred claims are vague or obscure
  • Objection VI there is no intersubjective
    confirmation of RE claims

Penelhums Response
  • The basic problem is that religious experiences
    by Alstons own criteria are religiously
  • Such experiences can be explained by both SP
    (naturalist) criteria and RE (religious) criteria
  • Alstons argument seems to put both on a parity,
    as he explicitly claims that these doxastic
    systems have epistemic parity.

Penelhums Response
  • Other observations
  • The demand for parity makes us accord (epistemic)
    rights to apparently incompatible religious
  • The demand for parity makes us accord (epistemic)
    right to non-religious systems.

Glossary - Alston
  • Doxastic having to do with belief
  • Compare aesthetic having to do with the
    senses with artistic experience
  • Compare existential having to do with meaning
    with the purpose of life
  • Doxastic practices having to do with
  • the social and logical conventions and standards
    through which beliefs are generated and validated