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

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

What Counts as a ‘Religious Experience?’: Phenomenology, Spirituality, and the Question of Religion

Neal DeRoo
Published Online: 2018-08-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2018-0022


This paper: a) offers a phenomenology of the religious that challenges the assumption that “religious experience” is primarily to be understood as a type of experience, called ‘religious’ experience, which is distinct from other (i.e., ‘non-religious’) experiences; and b) traces out some implications of this for phenomenological and other scholarly approaches to religion. To achieve these aims, the paper begins by explaining the phenomenological claim-found most explicitly in Husserl and Merleau- Ponty-that all experiences are expressive of a certain kind of spirit. This account of spirit, when applied to the phenomenological understanding of the ‘religious,’ allows us to distinguish between religiosity (as a transcendental structure), religions (as dynamic forces that express that structure), and religious phenomena (as concrete phenomena that express religions). In turn, this tri-partite distinction allows us to explain how religiosity leads to the development of religion in a way that suggests that ‘the religious’ is best conceived as a particular dimension of all experience. In that light, two major implications for the study of religion emerge from the phenomenology of the religious provided in this paper: 1) the realm of possible subjects of study is greatly expanded; while 2) the proper object of study is narrowed and clarified

Keywords: Phenomenology of religion; Husserl; Caputo; Schilbrack; expression; spirit; religiosity; what is religion


  • Barber, Michael. Religion and Humor as Emancipating Provinces of Meaning. Dordrecht: Springer, 2017.Google Scholar

  • Barber, Michael. “The Finite Province of Religious Meaning and the Appresentative Mindset,” delivered at “The Symbolic Construction of Reality,” 3rd Meeting of the International Schutz Circle for Phenomenology and Interpretive Social Science, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan, May 6-8, 2016. Page numbers refer to author’s unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar

  • Bergson, Henri. Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays. Translated by H. Wildon Carr. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920.Google Scholar

  • Caputo, John D. The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.Google Scholar

  • Caputo, John D. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion with/out Religion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.Google Scholar

  • Caputo, John D. The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.Google Scholar

  • Dahl, Espen. Phenomenology and the Holy: Religious Experience after Husserl. London: SCM Press, 2010.Google Scholar

  • DeRoo, Neal. Futurity in Phenomenology: Promise and Method in Husserl, Levinas and Derrida. Fordham University Press, 2013.Google Scholar

  • DeRoo, Neal. “Spiritual Expression and the Promise of Phenomenology,” in The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: New Approaches to Husserl edited by Iulian Apostelescu, Verdran Grahovac, and Patrick Flack. New York: Springer, forthcoming.Google Scholar

  • Derrida, Jacques. “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone” in Acts of Religion, edited by Gil Anidjar, 40-101. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.Google Scholar

  • Derrida, Jacques. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction. Translated by John P. Leavey. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.Google Scholar

  • Derrida, Jacques. The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy. Translated by Marian Hobson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.Google Scholar

  • Derrida, Jacques. Voice and Phenomena: An Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Translated by Leonard Lawlor. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2010.Google Scholar

  • de Vries, Hent. “Introduction: Why Still ›Religion‹?” in Religion: Beyond a Concept, edited by Hent de Vries, 1-98. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.Google Scholar

  • Dooyeweed, Herman. A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Three Volumes. Translated by David H. Freeman, William S. Young and Henry de Jongste. Philadelphia, PA: The Reformed and Presbyterian Publishing Company, 1953-1957.Google Scholar

  • Henry, Michel. “Material Phenomenology and language (or, pathos and language)” Translated by Leonard Lawlor. Continental Philosophy Review 32 [1999]: 343-365.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Analyses concerning Active and Passive Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Husserliana Band XI. Translated by A. J. Steinbock. Dordrecht/ Boston/London: Kluwer Academic, 2001.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Husserliana Band I. Translated by D. Cairns. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Springer, 1999.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Die Lebenswelt. Auslegungen der vorgegebenen Welt und ihrer Konstitution. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1916-1937). Husserliana Band XXXIX. Dordrecht: Springer, 2008.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Erste Philosophie. Zweiter Teil: Theorie der phänomenologischen Reduktion. Husserliana Band VIII. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a genealogy of logic. Edited by Ludwig Landgrebe. Translated by J.S. Churchill and K. Ameriks. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Formal and Transcendental Logic. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und Phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution. Husserliana Band IV. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1952.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. Logical Investigations. Translated by J.N. Findlay. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.Google Scholar

  • Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Translated by David Carr. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970.Google Scholar

  • Kwant, Remy C. The Phenomenology of Expression. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969.Google Scholar

  • Landes, Donald A. Merleau-Ponty and the Paradoxes of Expression. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.Google Scholar

  • Lawlor, Leonard. Thinking through French Philosophy: The Being of the Question. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.Google Scholar

  • Maclaren, Kym. “Life is Inherently Expressive,” Chiasmi International VII [2005], 241-260.Google Scholar

  • McCutcheon, Russell T. Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.Google Scholar

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind.” Translated by Michael B. Smith in The Merleau- Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting edited by Galen A. Johnson, 121-149. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993.Google Scholar

  • Merleau-Ponty, “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence.” Translated by Michael B. Smith in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting edited by Galen A. Johnson, 76-120. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993.Google Scholar

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Nature: Course Notes from the College de France. Edited by Dominique Seglard and translated by Robert Vallier. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2003.Google Scholar

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Donald A. Landes. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.Google Scholar

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Visible and the Invisible. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968.Google Scholar

  • Pulkinnen, Simo. “Lifeworld as an Embodiment of Spiritual Meaning: The Constitutive Dynamics of Activity and Passivity in Husserl,” in The Phenomenology of Embodied Subjectivity Contributions to Phenomenology 71, edited by R.T. Jensen and Dermot Moran. Cham: Springer 2013.Google Scholar

  • Schaefer, Donovon O. Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution and Power. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.Google Scholar

  • Schilbrack, Kevin. Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto. Malden and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.Google Scholar

  • Schilbrack, Kevin. “What isn’t Religion?” The Journal of Religion. 93:3 (July 2013), 291-318.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Schutz, Alfred. “On Multiple Realities.” In The Problem of Social Reality, vol. 1 of Collected Papers, edited by Maurice Natanson, 207-259. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962.Google Scholar

  • Simmons, J. Aaron, and Stephen Minister (eds.). Reexamining Deconstruction and Determinate Religion: Toward a Religion with Religion. Duquesne University Press, 2012.Google Scholar

  • Simmons, J. Aaron. “Vagueness and Its Virtues: A Proposal for Renewing Philosophy of Religion.” In Philosophy of Religion After Religion, edited by Richard Amesbury and Michael Rodgers, 45-70. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018.Google Scholar

  • Steinbock, Anthony J. Home and Beyond: Generative Phenomenology after Husserl. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1995.Google Scholar

  • Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. Cultural Liturgies Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.Google Scholar

  • Smith, James K.A. Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. Cultural Liturgies Volume 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.Google Scholar

  • Smith, James K.A. “Re-Kanting Postmodernism? Derrida’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone” Faith and Philosophy 17.4 (2000): 558-71.Google Scholar

  • Smith, James K.A. You are what you Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016.Google Scholar

  • Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.Google Scholar

  • Supp-Montgomerie, Jenna. “Affect and the Study of Religion,” Religion Compass 9:10 [October 2015], 335-345.Google Scholar

  • Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2007.Google Scholar

  • Tylor, Edward Burnett. Religion in Primitive Culture. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1970.Google Scholar

  • Yancy, George. Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008.Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2018-05-22

Accepted: 2018-07-30

Published Online: 2018-08-25

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 292–307, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2018-0022.

Export Citation

© by Neal DeRoo, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in