Religious Experience. It’s 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, SP).
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It’s Nature and Significance
Example: “There are people talking in the hallway.”
Faith shares some qualities with both experience and inference:
Religious experience (Alston, RE) shares some qualities with perceptual experience.
What are the reported characteristics of religious experiences, in all their variety?
What can we infer about ultimate reality, based on the data of such experiences?
Ninian Smart and the Varieties and Interpretation of Religious Experience
Externally oriented; of the “awesome and fearful Other”; dualistic
Internally oriented; of the ultimate oneness and unity of all
1. Smallness of self
2. Limits of the ordinary
Some religions emphasize one kind of religious experience over the other.
No ultimate being or reality
Focus on consciousness: attainment of selflessness, peace and
Outer orientation (before inner cultivation of “union”)
Some emphasize an integration of the two.
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
The distinction can create conflict within a religion
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)
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.
Alston on the Significance of Religious Experience
1. the theory that “what you see is what you get.”
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.
Based on these similarities, Alston argues that:
The basic problem is that religious experiences – by Alston’s own criteria – are “religiously ambiguous.”
Such experiences can be explained by both SP (naturalist) criteria and RE (religious) criteria
Alston’s argument seems to put both on a parity, as he explicitly claims that these “doxastic” systems have epistemic parity.
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 belief-formation
the social and logical conventions and standards through which beliefs are generated and validated