Philosophy Religious Experience
by
Keith E. Yandell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0206

Introduction

There is no general agreement about what “religion” means. Nonetheless, in constructing a bibliography on religious experience, some characterization is useful. Without claiming more than utility for present purposes, we will use the idea that “a religious tradition is an integrated set of beliefs and practices that offers salvation or enlightenment to its members” as a point of reference for readings. A religious experience, we will assume, is one or more conscious states to which a religious tradition attaches importance relative to its notion of salvation or enlightenment. Thus “experience” is used here, as typically in the philosophy of religion, as it appears in the sentence “Moses had a religious experience at the burning bush,” rather than “The religious experience of the Roman people has attracted attention.” Quite different views are held, for example, as to the structure and content of religious experiences, the degree to which they can be described, and what sort of insight into reality, if any, they provide. These and related topics determine the references given.

Examples

In spite of the complexities noted in the introduction, there seems to be a surprising agreement as to what counts as a religious experience at a preanalytic level, where the structure, content, and significance remain to be decided. While mystical experiences are regarded as religious experiences, not all religious experiences are mystical. Further, “mystical” may be used where what is meant is “religious,” as in William Alston’s phrase “Christian mystical practice.” A broad sampling of reports of religious experiences follows.

Jewish, Christian, and Islamic

The first three of the following selections are concerned with religious experiences from the monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Dan 2003 contains a discussion of Jewish views of language, history of Jewish mysticism from late antiquity through the Modern period, and multiple examples of Jewish mysticism. McGinn 2006 selects widely from Christian mystics, starting with examples concerning biblical interpretation, and running to more than ninety examples. Smith 1994 focuses on Muslim mystics, providing selections, translated by the author, from Muslim mystics starting from the beginning of Muslim mysticism.

Diverse Traditions

Besides books selecting from one tradition, there are others containing examples of diverse religious traditions. Among these are the books edited in Happold 1991, Katz 2012, Radhakrishnan and Moore 1967, and van Over 1971. These provide a wide sampling of reports of religious experiences, ranging over Hinduism; Plato; nature mysticism; Buddhism, including Chen and Chinese; Confucianism; Native American; Taoism; and Jainism.

  • Happold, F. Crossfield. Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Penguin, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Independent of a controversial view of mystical experience are some twenty-six selections from Hinduism, Plato, and Christianity, plus a final example from nature mysticism.

    Find this resource:

    • Katz, Steven T. Comparative Mysticism: An Anthology of Original Sources. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Selections from Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, and Native American sources.

      Find this resource:

      • Radhakrishnan, Sarvapali, and Charles Moore. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        A standard reference work with a very useful collection of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts that include descriptions of religious experiences.

        Find this resource:

        • van Over, Raymond. Chinese Mysticism. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Selections from Taoist and from Chen and Chinese Buddhist texts.

          Find this resource:

          Diverse Contemporary Experiences

          The Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College (Oxford) began in 1969 and was renamed The Alister Hardy Research Centre in 1985, after its founder. In 1991, it moved to Westminster College, being renamed The Religious Research Centre. Through all this time it collected more than five thousand reports of religious experiences, most from Great Britain, from representatives of a multitude of cultures. Religious experiences are described as (at least apparent) encounters with a transcendent being, different from the observer, that changed the lives of their subjects. The Centre’s efforts include the publication of some of these contemporary reports. They illustrate that religious experiences have not ceased to occur in our scientific age. Two accounts of a significant number of such reports are Beardsworth 1977 and Hardy 1983. Robinson 1977 is a discussion from various perspectives on religious experience published by the Centre.

          • Beardsworth, Timothy. A Sense of Presence: The Phenomenology of Certain Kinds of Visionary and Ecstatic Experience: Based on a Thousand Contemporary First-Hand Accounts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            A collection of contemporary reports of religious experiences collected by the Religious Research Unit at Manchester University.

            Find this resource:

            • Hardy, Alister. The Spiritual Nature of Man: A Study of Contemporary Religious Experience. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.

              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              A collection of further contemporary reports of religious experiences collected by the Religious Research Unit at Manchester University.

              Find this resource:

              • Robinson, Edward, ed. This Time-Bound Ladder: Ten Dialogues on Religious Experience. Oxford: Religious Experience Research Unit, 1977.

                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Ten dialogues on religious experience from a variety of perspectives, including representatives knowledgeable in theology, physics, psychical research, depth psychology, Anglicanism, Greek Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, and folk religion.

                Find this resource:

                Types

                The basic question here is whether there is more than one type of religious experience. One view is that there is only one kind, though instances thereof may be overladen with inessentials. This may be qualified by saying that there are two kinds—internally focused and externally focused—that have the same religious significance. Another perspective takes there to be two fundamental kinds, each irreducible to the other and to any other sort of experience. Still another answer is that there are as many types of religious experiences as there are types of religious traditions, since to a very significant degree, the content of a subject’s tradition impacts the religious experience the subject has. Yet another classification yields five types. While the typical answer to the question, at least in philosophy, bases itself on the structure and content of the experiences, the answer may be distinguished by reference to the psychological profile of the subject and the consequences of the experience on the subject’s life. The readings here discuss the view that religious experiences are very much shaped by the traditions in which they occur so that different traditions have their own types of experience, a view embraced in Katz 1978. James 1902 holds that extreme religious experiences vary in terms of the types of personalities that have them. Otto 1958 says that a central type of religious experience is numinous in content. Pike 1960 argues that experiences often seen as nontheistic are in fact theistic. Stace 1966 suggests that mystical experiences divide into introvertive and extrovertive and are in themselves nontheistic. Wach 1965 characterizes religious experiences as “responses of one’s whole being” that contain imperatival content. Wiebe 2004 offers the view that religious experiences are “of God” or “of other spirits.” Zaehner 1960 argues that Stace, in his classification of mystical experience, leaves out the “love mysticism” that is central to monotheism.

                • James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Modern Library, 1902.

                  DOI: 10.1037/10004-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  Gifford Lectures with lots of reports of religious experiences described by James as “extreme” examples, classified by their effects and the personality types of those who have them, presented in the context of James’ pragmatism and pluralism.

                  Find this resource:

                  • Katz, Steven. “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism.” In Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis. Edited by Steven Katz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Proposes that religious experiences differ because the different religious and cultural contexts in which they occur strongly affect their content. If the content of the experience is filtered through the beliefs it is taken to support, appeal to it as evidence for that tradition is question-begging. Each tradition has its own type of experience.

                    Find this resource:

                    • Otto, Rudolph. The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.

                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Highly influential discussion of experience of the holy, which Otto calls “the numinous”—the uncanny at its most extreme—where awareness of the numinous humbles the subject; the numinous content of religious experience is reducible to no other felt content.

                      Find this resource:

                      • Pike, Nelson. Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of Mysticism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1960.

                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Careful discussion of the prayers of Quiet, Union, and Rapture in several medieval mystics, in which Pike argues that, upon careful examination, the phenomenology of these states is theistic.

                        Find this resource:

                        • Stace, Walter T. Mysticism and Philosophy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966.

                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Divides mystical experience into extrovertive (experience of unity of nature in which the subject feels included) and introvertive (supposedly devoid of concepts and images).

                          Find this resource:

                          • Wach, Joachim. Types of Religious Experience: Christian and Non-Christian. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Suggests that a religious experience is a response, of the strongest sort, of the whole being to what the subject believes to be ultimate reality, which contains a practical or imperatival content. Only four chapters discuss religious experience.

                            Find this resource:

                            • Wiebe, Phillip H. God and Other Spirits: Intimations of Transcendence in Christian Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

                              DOI: 10.1093/0195140125.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              In a sober and scholarly manner, quotes and discusses reports of experiences that the subjects regard as encounters with God and other spirits, thus including in the examples a wider-than-typical range of experiences.

                              Find this resource:

                              • Zaehner, R. C. Concordant Discord. Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.

                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Argues that Stace 1966 leaves out an important type of introvertive mysticism, namely the love mysticism of both India and the West—a type of experience that is theistic.

                                Find this resource:

                                Effability and Ineffability

                                It is widely held that religious experiences are literally ineffable—not merely not fully expressible in language, a property arguably had by all experiences, but not expressible in language or accessible to concepts at all. If this is so, waiving the apparent inherent incoherence of a claim that applies a concept to what is said not to be conceptually accessible, then the status of religious experience as evidence seems negated. Thus the question as to whether religious experiences are at all describable is an important one. Are claims to ineffability to be taken literally, or less radically as making some such point as that the apparent object of such experience is not just another item found among items contained in the world? It is true that many, though by no means all, of those who have religious experiences say that they are ineffable. There is also the fact that many of the experiential subjects who make the most emphatic claims of ineffability go to great lengths to describe the experiences, or the apparent object or content, along with consequences and unobservable properties of these experiences. Some find the idea of ineffability, taken literally, hopelessly confused. Others take it to be crucial to there being religious experiences that really enlighten. Ineffability is denigrated and glorified. Appleby 1980 thinks that the notion of ineffability arises from linguistic confusion. For Alston 1956, theories of ineffability are indefensible. Davidson 1989 takes claims to experiential ineffability to be contentless. Matilal 1992 considers the idea that what can be meant can be said. Positive treatments of ineffability offered through much of intellectual history are anthologized in Franke 2007. Hick 2000 and Kukla 2005 defend the idea that some experiences are ineffable, whereas Insole 2000 provides critique of defenses of ineffability. Each aspect of this discussion is sampled below.

                                Self-Authentication

                                Self-authentication, if it occurs, is a three-way relation: some experience self-authenticates some belief to the subject of some experience. The relation is supposed to justify certainty that the belief is true. In general epistemology, this relation has been said to hold regarding one’s belief in one’s existence and the content of one’s present mental states. Our concern is limited to self-authentication and religious experiences. On one account, the idea is that it is logically impossible that a subject has the experience, believes that there is the apparent object or content of the experience, and be mistaken in that belief. A self-authenticating experience must be veridical in the sense of confirming the authenticated belief. But can the sort of religious experience in question authenticate beliefs about things not private to the subject and not dependent on his consciousness? Is there a problem in that subjects in diverse traditions claim self-authentication for incompatible beliefs? Is it an insoluble problem for self-authentication that religious beliefs, typically, if not always, entail a variety of claims, the falsehood of any of which would call into question the veridicality of the experience? Self-authentication would protect a belief from refutation. Ferre 1961 argues that the attempt to give that status to a belief requires that it be largely emptied of content. Gale 2010 rejects the idea on the grounds that it is conceptually impossible to perceive God. Penelhum 1971 holds that the claim that God exists cannot be self-authenticated because of the range of propositions that must be true if God exists. Levine 1984a rejects self-authentication of religious claims on the grounds that being self-authenticating can apply only to reports of subjective experience, and to reduce religious claims to such reports trivializes them. The idea has been defended in Oakes 1979 as applying to experiences that guarantee the truth of the belief based on them. Oakes contends that at least the idea of such an experience is not obviously incoherent. That view is criticized in Levine 1984b on the grounds that he conflates being essentially veridical and being believed to be essentially veridical, and Oakes 1983 replies to this argument. Yandell 1974 argues that the question of whether self-authenticating experience is possible is cross-culturally significant and raises similar issues in each context in which it appears.

                                • Ferre, Frederick. Language, Logic, and God. New York: Harper, 1961.

                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Explores the controversial suggestion that, if one makes the claim to have experienced God, and closes the claim to have done so to considerations other than appeal the experience itself, then one removes it from other possible confirming or disconfirming evidence, and thereby cancels any evidential force the experience might have regarding God’s existence. See pp. 69–94.

                                  Find this resource:

                                  • Gale, Richard. “On the Cognitivity of Mystical Experience.” In God and Metaphysics. By Richard Gale, 33–53. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2010.

                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Argues that it is conceptually impossible to have a perception of God.

                                    Find this resource:

                                    • Levine, Michael. “Can There Be Self-Authenticating Experiences of God.” Religious Studies 19 (1984a): 229–234.

                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0034412500015067Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Argues that, if one applies the predicate “is self-authenticating” to an experience of God, then (contrary to one’s intention) one is in fact using it to refer to purely subjective states.

                                      Find this resource:

                                      • Levine, Michael. “Self-Authenticating Experience of God: A Reply to Professor Oakes.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16.2 (1984b): 161–163.

                                        DOI: 10.1007/BF00136574Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Contends that the Oakes 1979 article conflates the property being essentially veridical with the property being known to be essentially veridical.

                                        Find this resource:

                                        • Oakes, Robert. “Religious Experience, Self-Authentication, and Modality de re: A Prolegomenon.” American Philosophical Quarterly 6 (1979): 217–224.

                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Defines a self-authenticating experience as one that has “the epistemic uniqueness of guaranteeing—all by itself—its veridicality to the person who has it,” and argues that the notion of such an experience is at least not obviously mistaken.

                                          Find this resource:

                                          • Oakes, Robert. “Reply to Michael Levine.” Religious Studies 19.2 (1983): 235–239.

                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0034412500015079Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Argues that Levine has not shown that the thesis of the Oakes 1979 article is mistaken.

                                            Find this resource:

                                            • Penelhum, Terrence. Religion and Rationality. New York: Random House, 1971.

                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Takes the position that, given the wide variety of conceptual connections that belief in God has, an “of God” experience cannot by itself legitimate the claim that God, so conceived, exists. See pp. 172–176.

                                              Find this resource:

                                              • Yandell, Keith. “Religious Experience and Rational Appraisal.” Religious Studies 10.2 (1974): 173–187.

                                                DOI: 10.1017/S0034412500007393Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Critically discusses various senses of “self-authentication” concerning numinous and nirvanic experiences.

                                                Find this resource:

                                                Epistemological Principles

                                                A religious experience could provide evidence for religious belief without being self-authenticating. But if religious experience is to provide evidence for religious belief, there must be truths that connect the evidence and the belief. There need not be an explicit conscious inference here, though there can be. If you seem to see a rose, you do not claim that if you seem to see a rose then there is a rose that you see, and thereby believe there is a rose. The belief is simply elicited by the experience. Nonetheless, if the claim just referred to and anything very like it is false, one’s belief is not supported by one’s experience even if one’s belief is inevitably elicited by it. Alternatively, one can argue that the best explanation for the occurrence of a religious experience is that it is caused by its apparent object, or that the experience makes it probable that its apparent object exists, or that it provides evidence to that effect. Thus the subject of a religious experience can take it that she is directly aware of its apparent object, or is justified if she infers that the apparent object of the experience exists from the experience itself. In either case, an epistemological principle linking the experience and the belief is needed. Of course appropriate qualifications need to be added to rule out factors that would negate the evidential force of the experience. The result is often called the Principle of Credulity, of which there is more than one version. It should be noted that, along with Swinburne 2004 (cited under Credulity), the other focus of the relevant issues has been Perceiving God (Alston 1991, cited under Arguments for Theism). Alston claims that, if there is a successful social belief-forming practice, one who uses that practice is justified in forming her beliefs, given one or another experience, in the way standard within the practice. The net effect is to make doxastic practices the target of rational assessment and the danger is relativism.

                                                Credulity

                                                Charlie Dunbar Broad in his one essay on the philosophy of religion (Broad 1939) suggests that religious experience is so widespread that it is unlikely to be bereft of ontological significance. This foreshadows the Principle of Credulity, the gist of which is that experiences that are “outer-directed”—are structurally of something—provide corrigible presumptive evidence that the content of the experience corresponds to something real. Swinburne 2004 develops this principle, as it applies to religious experience, in detail. Draper 1992 criticizes this view on the grounds that the principle applies only to the immature. Rowe 1982 asserts that since we do not know how to tell that someone is deceived in identifying the object of their experience as God, we cannot apply the principle to religious experience. Losin 1987 responds to Rowe’s criticism. Alston 1986 proposes a different approach that defends the principle of credulity within the context of theistic belief-formation, a view criticized globally in Pasnau 1993.

                                                • Alston, William P. “Perceiving God.” Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986): 655–665.

                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Holds that religious experiences support theistic belief in the context of theistic doxastic (belief-forming) practice.

                                                  Find this resource:

                                                  • Broad, C. D. “Arguments for the Existence of God.” Journal of Theological Studies 40 (1939): 157–167.

                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    A defense of the evidential force of religious experience from a surprising source that makes essential appeal to the view that if a person seems to experience an X, and there is no reason to think the person mistaken, the rational thing to do is believe that he did experience X.

                                                    Find this resource:

                                                    • Draper, Paul. “God and Perceptual Evidence.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 32.3 (1992): 149–165.

                                                      DOI: 10.1007/BF01565347Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Noting that Swinburne 2004 holds that the Principle of Credulity is a universal principle of rationality, Draper claims that it does apply universally to beginning, immature perceiving believers, but that over time they become more sophisticated in their knowledge of the world, they also become better able to identify cases where the principle does not apply, or cannot properly be applied.

                                                      Find this resource:

                                                      • Losin, Peter. “Religious Experience and the Principle of Credulity: A Reply to Rowe.” Faith and Philosophy 4.1 (1987): 59–70.

                                                        DOI: 10.5840/faithphil1987416Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Argues that, contra Rowe 1982, the Principle of Credulity needed for the Argument from Religious Experience is a legitimate epistemological principle.

                                                        Find this resource:

                                                        • Pasnau, Robert. “Justified Until Proven Guilty? Alston’s New Epistemology.” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 73.1 (1993): 1–33.

                                                          DOI: 10.1007/BF00989794Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Not on the principle of credulity by itself, this essay critiques Alston’s overall doxastic practice epistemology in which the principle, formulated relative to the doxastic practice of a community, plays a central role.

                                                          Find this resource:

                                                          • Rowe, William. “Religious Experience and the Principle of Credulity.” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 13 (1982): 85–92.

                                                            DOI: 10.1007/BF00135820Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Claims, in reply to Broad 1939, that if we know how to tell that a person who seems to experience an X is deceived, then if someone reports experiencing an X and we have no reason to think that person is mistaken, we are rational in believing that he did experience an X, and that in the case of God we do not know how to do this.

                                                            Find this resource:

                                                            • Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

                                                              DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199271672.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              The book discussed most by those who challenge use of the Principle of Credulity in arguing for the existence of God, since it is the most detailed and influential use of the principle for this purpose.

                                                              Find this resource:

                                                              Testimony

                                                              A further issue concerns the experiences of others. That others have experiences in all religiously relevant ways like one’s own is important relative to the reliability of one’s own experience. That others also have these experiences can be learned only from their testimony. Thus some principle regarding reliable testimony is needed. Generally, it is conceded that testimony is an important source of knowledge or reasonable belief. But how this happens, what justifies its acceptance, and what constraints there are on its being rationally accepted, are debated. The readings that follow largely concern testimony without focusing on religious testimony. Declarative information from others plays a large role in our lives. Arguably, without it, according to Audi 1997, we’d lack the conceptual and linguistic information required for testing it. Coady 1995 discusses the issues regarding testimony in connection with historical views, and Graham 2000 critiques the views of Coady 1995 for illegitimately inferring from what we do to our being justified in doing it. Fricker 1994 contends that proper acceptance of testimony requires that the recipient monitor the trustworthiness of the testifier, lest she be gullible, a view criticized in Goldberg and Henderson 2006. Fricker 2006 responds to this criticism. Lackey 2010 defends the view that testimony is an irreducible source of knowledge gained, not from what people believe, but from than what they say. Goldman and Whitcomb 2011 explores the social and institutional context of testimony.

                                                              • Audi, Robert. “The Place of Testimony in the Fabric of Knowledge and Justification.” American Philosophical Quarterly 34.4 (1997): 405–422.

                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Argues that testimony is a pervasive and indispensable source of knowledge and justification.

                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                • Coady, C. J. Testimony: A Philosophical Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Influential discussion of testimony that interacts with the views of Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, Hume, Reid, Russell, Collingwood, and H. H. Price, exploring ways in which testimony may be justified; he explores the issue in mathematics, law, history, and psychology.

                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                  • Fricker, Elizabeth. “Against Gullibility.” In Knowing from Words: Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony. Edited by Bimal Krishna Matilal and Arindam Chakrabati, 125–161. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1994.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-2018-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Argues that some principle requiring that the recipient of testimony must monitor the testimony’s source for trustworthiness is necessary in order to avoid gullibility. Reprinted in S. Bernecker, Reading in Epistemology: Selected Texts with Interactive Commentary (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006).

                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                    • Fricker, Elizabeth. “Varieties of Anti-Reductionism and Testimony: A Reply to Goldberg and Henderson.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 72.3 (2006): 618–638.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2006.tb00587.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      A response by Fricker to Goldberg and Henderson, contending that their arguments fail to establish the soundness of their critique.

                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                      • Goldberg, Sanford, and David Henderson. “Monitoring and Anti-Reductionism in the Epistemology of Testimony.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 72.3 (2006): 345–366.

                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Notes that the claims of Fricker 2006 include not only that monitoring the speaker of testimony for trustworthiness is required in order to escape blind belief in the acceptance of testimony, but also that this fact, while compatible with reductionism, is incompatible with anti-reductionism. Goldberg and Henderson argue that this view is mistaken.

                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                        • Goldman, Alvin, and Dennis Whitcomb, eds. Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          The question of determining the reliability of testimony is discussed in the context of social institutions and practices.

                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                          • Graham, Peter J. “The Reliability of Testimony.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61.3 (November 2000): 695–708.

                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/2653619Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Critiques Coady 1995 for inferring from what we do in accepting testimony to our being justified in so doing.

                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                            • Lackey, Jennifer. Learning From Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Offers the thesis that testimony is an irreducible source of knowledge gained, not from what others believe, but from what they say, and when veridical, it is a source of knowledge that is participatory by the hearer as a rational, social being.

                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                              Arguments for Theism

                                                                              Appeal to religious experience is less abstract than appeal to principles of modal logic, or to principles of induction or causality. The simplest suggestion is that just as at least seeming to see a tree is evidence for, makes it more probable than not, or is best explained by, there being a tree that one sees. Religious experiences that play a significant role as proposed evidence, or in arguments, for theism are “outer-directed” (at least seem to be “of” something distinct from the subject). They are thought of as perceptual in nature, and thus similar in this respect to sensory experience, allowing for relevant differences between God and physical objects. Then appeal is made to principles of testimony and credulity, to other principles of evidence, to a theory of properly basic belief (beliefs rationally held without propositional evidence), doxastic (belief-forming) practices, or the like. What is required for arguments of this sort are experiences that at least seem to be “of God” and something to link those experiences to belief that God exists. The linkage must be some variety of epistemic support of theistic belief by the experiences. Mavrodes 1970 presents relevant general epistemological concepts clearly. Gutting 1983 and Underhill 1961 focus on the claim that there indeed are such experiences. The coherence of the idea is defended in Gellman 2002, and social science explanations are discussed in Davis 1999. A detailed, distinct epistemology is presented as the proper context for considering evidence for theism in Moser 2008. Plantinga 2000 offers an account of knowledge as the product of properly functioning belief-forming mechanisms operating under proper truth-seeking conditions that yield basic beliefs—beliefs not based on other beliefs—and are elicited by theistic experiences, broadly construed. Alston 1991 proposes a view on which the proper focus in considering religious experience is belief-forming doxastic practices—practices formed in, and framed by, a full or partial worldview shared by those who engage in the relevant set of practices. The beliefs so formed are justified by the overall success of the practice in making and preserving a livable culture. Providing an adequate way of dealing with innovations, such as new discoveries and hitherto unrecognized inconsistency or incoherence. The degree of empirical adequacy is also important. This involves an inherent epistemic conservatism in which one is justified in staying in one’s present doxastic practice unless it is found wanting in the respects just noted.

                                                                              • Alston, William. Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                In considerable detail, develops the idea that there is a practice of forming theistic beliefs and that the discernible success of the practice justifies those beliefs.

                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                • Davis, Caroline Franks. The Evidential Force of Religious Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198250012.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Pays particular attention to social science objections to the reliability of religious experience and challenges skeptical objections.

                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                  • Gellman, Jerome. Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry. London: Ashgate, 2002.

                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Defends the coherence of the idea of the experience of God and defends it against objections, maintaining it can render theistic belief rationally compelling.

                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                    • Gutting, Gary. Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.

                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Claims that theistic religious experience does justify core beliefs about God (that God exists and is good, for example) but not beliefs that do not belong to the core, about which we may justifiably be skeptical.

                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                      • Mavrodes, George. Belief in God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religion. New York: Random House, 1970.

                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Makes clear some basic conceptual distinctions and contends for the evidential force of religious experience.

                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                        • Moser, Paul. The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Presents an epistemology that he finds in the New Testament in which religious experience justifies belief in God and for which spectator evidence without willingness to make a personal commitment is not something God should be expected to provide.

                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                          • Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/0195131932.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            In the context of an externalist theory of knowledge, holds that theistic belief can be grounded in what seem to their subjects to be experiences of God and can be properly basic (rational to hold without propositional evidence on their behalf).

                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                            • Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. New York: Dutton, 1961.

                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              A classic work on the topic with lots of reports of religious experiences, where she maintains that “sense of God” is not a metaphor.

                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                              Critiques of Arguments for Theism

                                                                                              We have noted that arguments for theism based on religious experience can be analyzed in terms of the experiences themselves and some sort of conceptual considerations that are proposed as providing a link between the experiences and the existence of God. Here are various efforts to show that the conceptual considerations offered to provide a link between the experiences and God are defective. Zangwill 2004 and Everitt 2003 reject the claim that there are theistic religious experiences on the ground that the concept of God is contradictory. Fales 1996 and Gale 1999 argue that sensory belief-forming practice and religious belief-forming practice are dissimilar in ways that make the latter unsupportable as providing evidence. Mackie 1983 claims that monotheistic belief is to be seen as causally the product of naturalistic factors. Proudfoot 1987 offers an explanatorily reductive account of religious experience but rejects a descriptively reductive account. The net effect is to treat the subject of the experience as the expert on the phenomenology of the experience but not on its causes or its evidential worth. Schellenberg 2007 offers a carefully developed constrained skepticism that applies to religious belief, including belief based on religious experience.

                                                                                              • Everitt, Nicholas. The Non-Existence of God. London: Routledge, 2003.

                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                In addition to arguing that the concept of God is contradictory and critiquing other theistic arguments, this work assesses both Alston’s and Swinburne’s versions of the argument from religious experience.

                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                • Fales, Evan. “Mystical Experience as Evidence.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 40.1 (1996): 19–46.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1007/BF00141751Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Contends, contra Alston, that the tools used in offering religious experience as supporting God’s existence are dissimilar in crucial ways from the tools we use in taking sensory experiences to support belief in physical objects, and that this nullifies Alston’s argument, even if we suppose it not to be an argument from analogy.

                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                  • Gale, Richard. On the Nature and Existence of God. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Explores whether the analogy between sensory and religious experience on which arguments from religious experience are typically based is close enough to bear their argumentative load.

                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                    • Mackie, J. L. The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      A book with an ironic title—the idea is that it is a miracle that there are theists—that relates religious experience to the natural history of religions.

                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                      • Proudfoot, Wayne. Religious Experience. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987.

                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        Distinguishes between descriptive reductionism (failing to identify an emotion, practice, or experience under the subject’s description) and explanatory reductionism (offering an explanation of an experience in terms different from those the subject would give and to which the subject might well object).

                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                        • Schellenberg, J. L. The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Argues that, in the context of a complex defense of one type of constrained skepticism, religious experiences having nonreligious explanations, and the principle of credulity being wrong-headed, show that the argument from religious experience fails, rejecting the former and approving the latter,

                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                          • Zangwill, Nick. “The Myth of Religious Experience.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 40.1 (2004): 1–22.

                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Proposes, contra Alston, that there are no religious experiences—no experiences with theological content—to serve as a direct awareness of, or argument for, the existence of, God.

                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                            Cognitive Science

                                                                                                            Cognitive science refers to a multidisciplinary effort to study the human mind, and includes the task of endeavoring to understand religious experiences in scientific terms. The endeavor can be intentionally reductionist—a religious experience is only a particular sort of brain event whose occurrence can be fully explained in scientific terms, with no nonnaturalistic factors brought in. It can also be seen as neutral regarding whether naturalistic explanation is sufficient to explain the occurrence of religious experience. Since we are humans, our having any experience, religious or not, will involve our being in various physiological states. This is so whether we are seeing a turtle, appreciating the beauty of a landscape, or at least apparently experiencing God. This fact does not lead to denial of our experience of the turtle or the landscape. Why should it lead to the denial that we experience God? There is the response that if a scientific explanation is sufficient to explain the experience then that explanation covers all that is involved. There is the reply that this is a philosophical thesis that must be assessed on its own rather than simply asserted. So the dispute continues, as these readings show. Boyer 2001 and Musacchio 2012 offer a blanket condemnation of religious belief, based on the idea that naturalistic explanations are adequate to account for all religious belief and experience. Visala 2011 proposes that this is so only if one has imported a presumption of naturalism into cognitive science at the outset. That consciousness is not identical to brain states and is not an epiphenomenal product of such states, is defended in Hick 2010. Jeeves and Brown 2009 defends the view that cognitive science perspectives can blend compatibly and coherently with religious perspectives. Barrett 2011 provides an overview of the present situation and suggests ways in which human cognitive systems relate to religious experience. An approach that emphasizes that religion has multiple causes is offered in van Slyke 2011, which rejects reductionism. McNamara 2009 provides a survey of recent views concerning how the brain and religious experience relate in contemporary cognitive science, along with evaluations of competing perspectives.

                                                                                                            • Barrett, Justin L. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton, 2011.

                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              An overview of cognitive science and religious traditions, investigating how human cognitive systems inform and constrain religious experience.

                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                              • Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origin of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

                                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Offers a naturalistic explanation of religion and religious experience.

                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                • Hick, John. The New Frontier of Religion and Science: Religious Experience, Neuroscience, and the Transcendent. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1057/9780230277601Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  An account of the current situation regarding neuroscience and religious belief, defending a nonmaterialist perspective.

                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                  • Jeeves, Malcolm, and Warren S. Brown. Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion: Illusion Delusion, and Realities about Human Nature. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton, 2009.

                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Makes suggestions on how modern scientific results concerning consciousness and mind can blend with religious belief.

                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                    • McNamara, Patrick. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511605529Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      A brain scientist explores and evaluates recent views regarding the brain and religious experience in his own and other sciences.

                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                      • Musacchio, José M. Contradictions: Neuroscience and Religion. New York: Springer, 2012.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-27198-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Argues that the results of neuroscience are inconsistent with religious beliefs, and that the latter should therefore be abandoned.

                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                        • van Slyke, James A. The Cognitive Science of Religion. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.

                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Rejecting reduction, an effort is made to a complementary approach through considering various causes of religion.

                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                          • Visala, Aku. Naturalism, Theism, and the Cognitive Study of Religion: Religion Explained? Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.

                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Argues that contemporary research in cognitive science is anti-religious only if placed in the context of an already assumed naturalism.

                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                            back to top

                                                                                                                            Article

                                                                                                                            Up

                                                                                                                            Down