Philosophy Word of the Day – Religious Experience

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“First, religious experience is to be distinguished from religious feelings, in the same way that experience in general is to be distinguished from feelings in general. A feeling of elation, for example, even if it occurs in a religious context, does not count in itself as a religious experience, even if the subject later comes to think that the feeling was caused by some objective reality of religious significance. An analogy with sense experience is helpful here. If a subject feels a general feeling of happiness, not on account of anything in particular, and later comes to believe the feeling was caused by the presence of a particular person, that fact does not transform the feeling of happiness into a perception of the person. Just as a mental event, to be a perception of an object, must in some sense seem to be an experience of that object, a religiously oriented mental event, to be a religious experience, must in some way seem to be an experience of a religiously significant reality.

“So, although religious feelings may be involved in many, or even most, religious experiences, they are not the same thing. Discussions of religious experience in terms of feelings, like Schleiermacher’s (1998) “feeling of absolute dependence,” or Otto’s (1923) feeling of the numinous, were important early contributions to theorizing about religious experience, but some have since then argued (see Gellman 2001 and Alston 1991, for example) that religious affective states are not all there is to religious experience. To account for the experiences qua experiences, we must go beyond subjective feelings.” (continue article)

— Mark Webb in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day – William P. Alston (1921 – )

Although he has contributed to other areas of philosophy, his main interests lie in the areas of epistemology and philosophy of religion.  His work on epistemic justification has been particularly influential, and he has published extensive discussions of religious language.

In Perceiving God (1991), these two interests come together in a detailed account of the epistemology of religious experience.  Alston argues that religious experiences which are taken by their subjects to be direct non-sensory experiences of God are perceptual in their character because they involve a presentation or appearance to the subject of something that the subject identifies as God.

He defends the view that such mystical perception is a source of prima facie justified beliefs about divine manifestations by arguing for the practical rationality of engaging in a belief forming practice that involves reliance on mystical perception. (by Philip L. Quinn in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy [1995], 22.)

Together with other philosophers (Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Robert Adams) Alston was involved in setting up the philosophy journal Faith and philosophy and the Society of Christian Philosophers. Alston is a past president of the American Philosophical Association and was one of the core figures in the late 20th century revival of the philosophy of religion. (via Wikipedia)

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