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Religious Experience

Religious Experience

Wayne Proudfoot
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Religious Experience
    Book Description:

    How is religious experience to be identified, described, analyzed and explained? Is it independent of concepts, beliefs, and practices? How can we account for its authority? Under what conditions might a person identify his or her experience as religious? Wayne Proudfoot shows that concepts, beliefs, and linguistic practices are presupposed by the rules governing this identification of an experience as religious. Some of these characteristics can be understood by attending to the conditions of experience, among which are beliefs about how experience is to be explained.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90850-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xx)

    For the past two centuries, the issue of religious experience has been central in the work of religious thinkers and of those who have contributed to the development of the study of religion as an academic discipline. Religion has always been an experiential matter. It is not just a set of credal statements or a collection of rites. A religious life is one in which beliefs and practices cohere in a pattern that expresses a character or way of life that seems more deeply entrenched in the life of that person or community than any of the beliefs or practices....

    (pp. 1-40)

    The early years of the nineteenth century figure prominently in the history of the idea of religious experience. Modern attention to religious experience, and the desire for an accurate description of that experience which would convey its distinctive character and avoid reductionism, stems from that period. Friedrich Schleiermacher’sOn Religion: Speeches to the Cultured Among its Despisers,published in 1799, is important for understanding both religious thought and the study of religion during the past two centuries. In his review of the origin and development of the concept of religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1964: 45) wrote ofOn Religion:“It...

    (pp. 41-74)

    Religious beliefs and practices are interpretations of experience, and they are themselves fit objects of interpretation. Numerous scholars have recently argued for the primacy of the method of interpretation in the study of religion and culture. Clifford Geertz (1973) has called for a semiotics, and Ricoeur (1970, 1976) for a hermeneutics, of culture. Both view religion as central to any culture, and both argue that cultures are properly studied through some kind of interpretative approach. A myth serves as an interpretation of the experience of a community, and it is itself a text that calls for interpretation. The study of...

    (pp. 75-118)

    The phrasereligious experiencehas in some quarters come to be reserved almost exclusively for aspects of experience which are allegedly prereflective, transcend the verbal, or are in some way free of the structures of thought and judgment which language represents. Reports of religious experience appear to testify to the intensity, the privacy, the ineffability, and the engagement that characterize our emotional lives in contrast to the formulation of doctrines and the making of inferences.

    Some have adopted the traditional tripartite division of the mind into intellectual, volitional, and affective components and have tried to assimilate religious experience to the...

    (pp. 119-154)

    Concepts that are offered as descriptions or even as contributions to the theory of religious experience sometimes function in an evocative manner. They serve to establish conditions for the identification of an experience as religious in such a way as to insure that it be of a certain character. Schleiermacher’s instructions to the reader for identifying the moment that precedes the differentiation of consciousness, and Otto’s incorporation into his instructions for the identification of a religious experience the condition that it not be amenable to naturalisticexplanation, both serve to illustrate this phenomenon. Both restrict the conditions under which an experience...

    (pp. 155-189)

    The search for a definition that will capture the essence of religious experience is a futile one.¹ As can be seen from attempts to definereligionormysticism,the meaning ofreligious experiencecannot be fixed by appeal to clear and universally shared intuitions. But an explication of the phrase, with the explicit recognition that it is our phrase and that it has a rather parochial location in modern Western culture, might be helpful. What are the criteria by which we discriminate religious experience from moral or aesthetic experience, or from cognate experiences of joy, guilt, or wonder? The meaning...

    (pp. 190-227)

    Reductionismhas become a derogatory epithet in the history and philosophy of religion. Scholars whose work is in other respects quite diverse have concurred in advocating approaches to the study of religion which are oriented around campaigns against reductionism. These campaigns are often linked to a defense of the autonomy of the study of religion. The distinctive subject matter of that study, it is argued, requires a distinctive method. In particular, religious experience cannot properly be studied by a method that reduces it to a cluster of phenomena that can be explained in historical, psychological, or sociological terms. Although it...

    (pp. 228-236)

    The program that Schleiermacher inaugurated with his portrayal of religious belief and practice as expressive of an autonomous moment of human experience has been extremely influential for both religious thought and the study of religion during the past two centuries. The felt quality of an experience from the subject’s point of view is considered to be the only legitimate account that can be given of that experience, and the result is a protective strategy that serves apologetic purposes. We have seen that the central thesis of Schleiermacher’s program cannot be sustained. Religious experience cannot be identified without reference to concepts,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 237-248)
    (pp. 249-260)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 261-263)