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Open Theology

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The Demystification of Nick Zangwill’s “Myth of Religious Experience”

Manuel Fasko
Published Online: 2017-08-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2017-0029


The debate about religious experiences has recently been shaped by the question of whether they exist or if they are a myth. One of the most compelling arguments for the non-existence of religious experience was put forward by Nick Zangwill. In his “The myth of religious experience” (2004) he argued that God can be perceived neither by our ordinary five senses nor by some special sixth sense. While I agree with Zangwill that God cannot be perceived with our ordinary five senses (or a sixth religious sense), I do not think his argument shows that religious experience - based on Zangwill’s own understanding of the term - is a myth. In this paper, I offer in two steps a philosophical defence - in the analytical tradition - of the possible existence of religious experience as perceptual experiences. In the first step, I adumbrate Zangwill’s argument for the myth of religious experience, which fails because it ultimately begs the question - as I argue in the second step, by presenting a Berkelean answer to Zangwill’s challenge.

Keywords: Perceptual Model of Religious Experience; Mediate and Immediate Perception; Religious Experience as Mediate Perceptions of God; Berkelean Solution; Philosophy of Religion; David Hume on Miracles


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About the article

Received: 2017-06-01

Accepted: 2017-06-20

Published Online: 2017-08-04

Published in Print: 2017-01-26

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 370–379, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2017-0029.

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© 2017. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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