Critically Asses, with Reference to William James, the Arguments from Religious Experience.

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By fredeade
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In the book ‘the varieties of religious experience’, James concluded that religious experience testifies that “we can experience union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find our greatest peace”. He defined such experiences as “experiences of the divine” and believed that religious experience was at the heart of religion. For James, religious teachings, practices and attitudes are second hand religion, which later develop as individuals reflect on their common experience. It is the actual experiences that directly point to God. However this theory does little to prove religious experiences simply because many of his claims do not stand up to critical analysis.
James looked at a variety of religious experiences, particularly mystical experiences. This refers to experiences where God is revealed directly and there is a sense of oneness with the divine. James claimed that there are four criteria which are all characteristics of mystical experiences. Firstly an experience has to be ineffable, in that it is beyond proper description as it cannot adequately be described in words. It must also be noetic. James said that mystical states are not just feelings, but rather the experience gives the mystic a deep and direct knowledge of God. Another criteria of mystical experiences is that it must be transient. Although the experiences effects may last a long time, the experience is temporary and cannot be sustained. Lastly, it must be passive, meaning the experience is not initiated by the individual but they have a sense that something is acting upon them instead.
James accepted that religious experiences are psychological phenomena that occur in our brains. However, for a number of reasons, James argued that these experiences may well have a supernatural element as well as a physical element. Firstly, he believed that the sheer volume of his case…...

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