The argument from religious experience seems to state that we can experience God and therefore God must exist, for surely what we experience must be real. William James, American psychologist and philosopher, worked to expand on and validate this topic.
James defined religious experience as ‘The feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatsoever they may consider divine.’ He then identified the four types of mystical experiences: ineffable, noetic, transient, passive. An ineffable experience is one that cannot easily be articulated. It is too big a thing for words and therefore not necessarily understood by those who have not experienced it. Noetic means intellect. It is an experience that is not purely based on emotion, but one that provides an insight into religious truths which have universal or eternal significance. A transient experience short, and cannot be sustained for a long duration of time. The final type, passive, is an experience which the recipient has no control over. They are a ‘gift from God’ and leave one powerless. They can be accompanied by some sort of ‘spiritual gift’ such as speaking in tongues.
James concluded that religious experiences are psychological phenomenas that occur in our brain and have both a physical and supernatural element to them. This conclusion was based on three principles. The first of these is empiricism. This is to say, we interpret religious experiences in the same way that we would for any other situation. Next we have pluralism. This tells us that regardless of differing religions, all experiences originate from the ultimate reality and act as proof for the existence of God. Lastly, there is pragmatism. James was a pragmatist and therefore believed that truth is not fixed. It alters as our values change. From looking at the effects of religious experience we can see that there is truth in religion.
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