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Critically assess with reference to William James, the argum

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Peter Cave

on 8 December 2013

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Transcript of Critically assess with reference to William James, the argum

Critically assess, with reference to William James, the arguments from religious experience.
as always...
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William James
noted that a religious experience has great authority over the person who has the experience. Often changing a person, and causing a
E.g. St. Paul converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus after having a religious experience with God having spoken to him
This is an example of a direct experience, an indirect experience may be something such as the birth of a child.
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Four characteristics of a religious experience:
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St. Teresa
agrees with James’ four characteristics, with her own personal religious experiences. She believes that the only possible sign that an experience is from God is a
good disposition
Use St. Teresa’s examples - she was spoken to by Jesus, and said that she felt the presence of God watching over her and protecting her. She also had bodily manifestations of her spiritual elevation.

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Richard Swinburne
agrees with William James’ view of religious experiences, but uses the idea of religious experience being categorised into two sections, either
Also need to mention Swinburne’s argument of the
Principle of Credulity
– ‘Can you trust people who say they have had a religious experience?’ – Person could be on drugs, could have been drunk etc. whilst the “religious experience” took place. Therefore, outside factors could have caused experiences, so no divine force (e.g. God) was involved.
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• Swinburne’s argument took into account the similarities of religious experiences to that of dreams and hallucinations, but he didn't deny that a divine force could be involved.
• Link in with scientists evidence = people who have taken drugs have been recorded as having very similar highs to that of a religious experience whilst on drugs.
• Example - Toronto Blessing – The way that the people who were being blessed were acting was very similar, almost repetitive with each person’s actions, e.g. fainting, or shuddering on the floor etc. – This behaviour can be explained by psychologists as being group conformity, because it’s not a passive, individualistic experience but a impassive, group experience.
Define key terminology:
Religious experience.
Direct and indirect

James said that religious experiences were a
source of evidence
and the focal point of religious institutions i.e. churches.
He also believed that these experiences gave people a loss of anxiety, and helped them to gain new knowledge.
‘Solitary events in which the individual experiences the divine.’ = William James.
This meant to James that these
experiences pointed to something larger
, but may not necessarily be God. So his argument wasn't made to support the idea of God, but to point towards an outside force, which is above us. institutions i.e. churches.
He also said that religious experiences were ‘
psychological phenomena’
, which meant that it could be experienced as a part of a person’s psychological make-up. However, he did not believe this was an argument against the belief in God, as James thought that each person had their own, individual religious experience which was natural to them – such as other psychological experiences, like
beyond human language
offers a revelation
temporary, but effects last
not willed, spontaneous
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• 1st source of religious beliefs

Psychologists and Sociologists
views are that experiences normally happen to believers, such as with the example of the Toronto Blessing.
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Bertrand Russell’s
Thomas Hobbes’
view on religious experience – view it scientifically – chemical reactions in the brain causes religious experiences.
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