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Open Theology

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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

Abstract

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

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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.

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

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