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Chapter 11

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    Slide 1:Chapter 11

    Religious Experience

    The Messenger of God said, While I was sleeping in the Hijr, Gabriel [the angel] came and stirred me with his foot . . . He brought me out to the door of the shrine and there was a white animal, half mule half donkey, with wings on its side. The messenger and Gabriel went their way until they arrived at the shrine at Jerusalem. There he found Abraham, Moses, and Jesus among a company of the prophets. --Islam: Muhammads Night Journey Beyond the sense, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression, is the Fourth [aspect of Self]. It is pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterate. It is ineffable peace. Hinduism: Mandukya Upanishad. [Zen monk Koshu] went without food or sleep, giving himself up to constant zazen, often crying out in his torment . . . At last Koshu admitted his failure and, determined to make an end of it, advanced to the railing and slowly lifted a leg over it. At that very instant he had an awakening. Zen Buddhism: An enlightenment account. I was all by myself, left on the hilltop for four days and nights without food or water . . . Of course, when it was all over, I would no longer be a boy, but a man. I would have had my vision. --Lakota Sioux Religion: Vision Quest account of John Fire Lame Deer. About a quarter before nine, while [the preacher] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. --Christianity: John Wesleys conversion account My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, Where is your God? --Judaism: Psalm 42 You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. Theres more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are. --Ebenezer Scrooge to the ghost of Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. John Wesley seems to be describing a religious experience of regeneration, or being born again. could you describe this kind of experience in your own words? Have you had similar experiences, maybe not even religious ones? Do you know many people who have had religious experiences, or are they pretty rare? Tradition says that Muhammad was taken away on a strange beast like a flying horse to Jerusalem, as related in the first quote. Look also at the picture of St. Frances receiving the stigmata (??). Could such stories be real? Could we verify them? Do we need to? Note that the psalmist in the sixth quote talks of his thirst and unhappiness. Look also at the picture of the prophet Jeremiah, famous for his lamentations. Are some religious experiences not very pleasant? Are they still religious experiences? In the second quote, the Hindu doctrine describes an awakening of deeper consciousness within oneself, completely apart form sensory, worldly, external experience. But St. Paul in the painting was knocked to the ground by a vision of Christ, thus dramatically changed, he would say, by something outside himself, namely Jesus. Is religious experience inside or outside? Is it something we do to ourselves or something done to us by an outside power? Is it both? The Buddha in the picture sat in perfect peace and tranquility while around him danced the flames of Mara, the tempter. Similarly, Gomatesvara, the saint of Jainism, stood in perfect quiet for so long that vines grew up around him. Would you expect such peace and quite to be a standard kind of religious experience? Or should religious experience be more exciting, more dramatic, and more passionate? Compare again to Jeremiahs sorrow or Muhammads vision. Koshu, the Zen Buddhist, achieved his enlightenment experience finally after days of hunger and struggle. the Vision Quest tradition of the Sioux Indians, too, includes fasting and isolation. Consider how much struggle and effort and self-deprivation goes into such experiences. Does this show how powerful our visions can be, or does it make them seem like matters of self-hypnosis? In the famous line from Dickens A Christmas Carol, Scrooge sees the ghost of Jacob Marley but attributes it to bad digestion. Might all religious experience similarly just be matters of physical changes in the body such as changes in brain chemistry? How could we tell? Is Scrooge reasonable, or is he too skeptical? Religious experience is . . . the noncognitive, emotional, and impassioned parts of religious life, not just what we think or do in religion but how we feel our religion. (Richter, p. 283) As weve seen, religious experience is often central to the founding of a religion or religious movement: Buddha Saul of Tarsus/Paul Muhammad Joseph Smith ???? Scholars define a commissioning experience as an encounter with the Holly that leaves the believer with a sense that he must carry out a special mission.? To what extent are these experiences transferable?

    Slide 21:Experiencing Ottos mysterium tremendum

    Sometimes the experience of the holy includes feelings of fear, terror, wonder, awe, delight, awesome presence, worship of grandeur confrontation, the Sacred as a raging storm. Other times it includes peacefulness, quiet, restfulness, oneness, loss of identity, loss of language, the Sacred as a quiet ocean.

    Slide 22:Two Poles of Religious Experience

    Slide 23:Religious Systems Associated with Two Poles of Religious Experience

    Slide 24:Two-types of Experience

    Combinations: e.g., some forms of Mahayana Buddhism, Medieval Christianity, Taoism, etc.

    Slide 25:Similarities

    Do these differing experiences apply to the same entity? Are nirvana and the Divine one?

    Slide 27:Numinous/Contemplative and Other Human Experience

    Numinous describes the apprehension of an external power||interplay between individual and environment (e.g., in early polytheism) Contemplative state lies within the individual||evolution, pure consciousness, self-awareness of the universe

    Slide 28:Experience and Context

    Is there a kind of perennial mystical experience, or . . . Does every tradition have particular diversities?

    Religious experience . . . Projection? Oceanic feeling?

    Slide 30:Experiencing as . . . (John Hick)

    Numinous Experience-> Vision of the Divine (e.g. as Creator)-> Continuing Disposition (God in nature)

    Slide 31:Experiencing as . . . (John Hick)

    Numinous Experience-> (High) experience of nirvana-> Vision of the Divine (e.g., as Creator)-> coming-to-see (e.g., truth of Buddhas analysis)-> Continuing Disposition (God in nature) disposition to see the world in that way

    Slide 32:Some Ramifications

    In both pre-Protestant Christianity and Buddhism, contemplation has generated monasticism While Protestantism could have generated more contemplation, until recently it has emphasized bhakti. In general, highly ritual systems generate hierarchies and elites, but almost everywhere movements try to break through the ritual mould to some kind of immediate experience/encounter The contemplative impulse towards asceticism and celibacy will create tensions in traditions that emphasize family life (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and some Protestantisms) Both poles can emphasize a sense of love: the numinous Holy One dispenses love and grace and receives the same via bhakti; seems to come from a sense of the divine and of union The numinous can attach to non-Divine figures (e.g., the Virgin of Guadalupe) Dreams can be interpreted as religious experience (vision) Healing can be interpreted as a religious experience

    Slide 33:Summary

    We can plot religious experience on two poles: the numinous and the contemplative We can delineate three forms for each of those two poles: numinous experience, divine conversion, divine disposition; contemplative experience, luminous conversion, luminous disposition Panenhenic experience seems to be another possibility When considering religious experience, it may be helpful to analyze the kinds of experiences that gave rise to, spawned from, or coincided with particular rituals, doctrines, and practices It may be helpful to treat religious experience phenomenologically rather than either accepting or dismissing it in an a priori way.

    William James could speak of the sick and the healthy soul. This was not how James evaluated those persons, but rather how they self-evaluate in the presence of the Holy. The sick soul feels inadequate, divided, burdened. The healthy soul feels more a sense of incompleteness than a since of sinfulness.

    Slide 35:Three Experiences of the Holy

    God distinct from the world. (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) All nature participates harmoniously in the wholeness of the Tao, then life, death, joy, and suffering are all just part of the system. (Taoism) The one reality is Brahman (the Ultimate) and the world is a trap, seduction, or illusion. (Hinduism, Buddhism?)

    Slide 36:Evaluating Religious Experience

    My friend was raised Christian but found it boring. Finally, he discovered Buddhism and found peace of mind. Are Buddhist teachings therefore true? My friend had a powerful conversion experience that had him weeping and shaking. He felt terrible burdens of sin until that day, and then he felt born again. Does this indeed show, as he claims, that Jesus is alive and loves him? My friend was a jerk; many people thought so. Then, upon being converted to a hare Krishna group, we all agreed that he had become a remarkably nice guy. Does that make his religious claims about the divinity of Krishna more believable? My friend was an alcoholic and then, upon going to a Pentecostal Christian meeting, was miraculously healed. She has not drunk since. Is her faith in the power of the Holy Spirit therefore justified? Is her belief true? I saw Jesus in a vision, walking down the road. Should anyone believe me? Does it make a difference that I am usually a very calm and reasonable person?

    Slide 37:Evaluating Religious Experience (cont.)

    I and several other people saw this vision. What if there were three of us? What if there were 500? Does that make the claims about the vision, or about Jesus, more believable? My friend had a cancerous liver. The priest went in and anointed her with oil, laid hands on her, and the next day the cancer was gone. Doctors were amazed. Is her religious belief therefore justified? True? We have a video of the parting of the Red Sea. Does this prove that the Red Sea parted or, even if it did part, does the video prove God parted it?

    Slide 38:Factors in Evaluating

    Subjective vs. Objective Experiences Self-induced Experiences Neuroscience and Religious Experience Religious Traditions and Experience

    Slide 39:Globalization and Experience

    Does religious experience contribute to our view of the world and thus to our impact on the eco-system? Christianity emphasizes domination. The First Axial period emphasized the split between heaven and earth. New responses: Miller, Teilhard de Chardin,???.

    Slide 40:Spirituality in America