Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Theology

Editor-in-Chief: Taliaferro, Charles

Covered by:
Elsevier - SCOPUS
Clarivate Analytics - Emerging Sources Citation Index

CiteScore 2018: 0.37

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.275
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.975

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Self-Evident Experience: A Challenge to the Empirical Study of Religion

Walter Renner
Published Online: 2015-10-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0023


Empirical psychology’s philosophy of science traditionally orients by Popper’s Critical Rationalism. This paradigm has been successful with observable behavior and some aspects of emotion and cognition. Still, phenomena like spirituality, empathy, or love have been neglected because they can neither be easily communicated nor instantly replicated. I propose to enlarge the scope of empiricism by accepting Self-Evident Experience (SEE) as a source of “soft” empirical data, as long as they (a) can be interpreted within a rationalist framework and (b) are supported by cumulative experiences by others in the course of time. Applying this approach to SEE of a spiritual or religious nature, the theological system of the individual’s denominational affiliation serves as the rational framework (a), and experiences similar to others serve as the accumulated “database” (b), both supporting the validity of the experience. In the sense of Critical Rationalism, apart from arguments (a) and (b), criteria for “falsifying” SEE are suggested: Experiences which are in line with an individual’s or society’s expectations and which lack an impact on the individual’s further course of life will be attributed less validity than experiences which put the individual at risk in today’s climate of skepticism and which substantially influence his or her life.

Keywords: Critical Rationalism; empirical psychology; Self-Evident Experience; mysticism


  • Aspell, J. E. & Blanke, O. “Understanding the Out-of-Body Experience from a Neuroscientific Perspective.” In Psychological Scientific Perspectives on Out of Body and Near Death Experiences, Psychology Research Progress, edited by C. D. Murray. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2009. Google Scholar

  • Davis, C. F. The evidential force of religious experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Google Scholar

  • Doblin, R. “Pahnke’s ‘Good Friday Experiment’: A Long-Term Follow-Up and Methodological Critique. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 23 (1991): 1-15. Google Scholar

  • Dulles, A. Models of Revelation (2nd ed.). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992. Google Scholar

  • Feyerabend, P. K. Wider den Methodenzwang (3rd rev. ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983. Google Scholar

  • Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. “Mapping the Moral Domain.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101 (2011): 366-385. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Green, C. E. Out-of-the-Body Experiences. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968. Google Scholar

  • Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance.” Psychopharmacology 187 (2006): 268–83. Google Scholar

  • Grof, S. The Cosmic Game: Explorations of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness. Albany: Sunny Press, 1998. Google Scholar

  • Haidt, J. “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment.” Psychological Review 108 (2011): 814-834. Google Scholar

  • Haidt, J. & Joseph, D. “Intuitive ethics: How Innately Prepared Intuitions Generate Culturally Variable Virtues.” Daedalus (2004, Fall), 55-66. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Haidt, J. & Kesebir, S. “Morality.” In Handbook of Social Psychology , edited by S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey, (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. Google Scholar

  • James, W. The Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in Human Nature. Lexington, KY., 1902/2014. Google Scholar

  • Kuhn, T. S. Die Struktur wissenschaftlicher Revolutionen. (2nd, rev. ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979. Google Scholar

  • Löffler, W. Wissenschaftstheorie für Theologie-DoktorandInnen (I). University of Innsbruck, Faculty of Theology: Innsbruck, 2010. Google Scholar

  • Mezzich, J. E., Kleinman, A., Fabrega, H. & Parron, D. L. (Eds.). Culture and Psychiatric Diagnosis: A DSM-IV Perspective. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1996. Google Scholar

  • Nelson, J. M. Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality. New York: Springer, 2009. Google Scholar

  • Pahnke, W. “Drugs and Mysticism.” International Journal of Parapsychology 8 (1996): 295-314. Google Scholar

  • Pahnke, W. & Richards, W. A. “Implications of LSD and Experimental Mysticism.” Journal of Religion and Health 5 (1966): 175-208. Google Scholar

  • Popper, K. Logik der Forschung. London: Routledge, 2005/1935. Google Scholar

  • Roberts, T. B. & Hruby, P. J. “Toward an Entheogen Research Agenda.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 42 (2002): 71-89. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Shweder, R. A. “The Cultural Psychology of Suffering: The Many Meanings of Health in Orissa, India (and Elsewhere).” Ethos 36 (2008): 60-77. Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Swinburne, R. (2013). The Existence of God (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Google Scholar

  • Tugwell, S. (Ed.). Albert and Thomas. Selected Writings. Mahwah (NJ): Paulist Press, 1988. Google Scholar

  • Wiebe, P. H. Visions of Jesus. Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Today. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Google Scholar

  • Zaleski, C. Otherworld Journeys. Accounts of Near Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2015-07-11

Accepted: 2015-09-23

Published Online: 2015-10-27

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 1, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0023.

Export Citation

©2015 Walter Renner. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Margaret R. DiMarco Allen
Philosophy of Management, 2018

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in