Modest Reflections on the Term ‘Religious Experience’

Michael Durham Torre 1
  • 1 University of San Francisco, , San Francisco, United States of America


The paper urges a reconsideration of the term “religious experience,” as it is presently used in textbooks in the Philosophy of Religion (to which it first refers). The term needs to include not only what might be termed “extraordinary” religious experience (as used in those texts), but the “ordinary” experience of most who practice a religion, and it needs to assess such experience not so much as a “proof” of God (or a “Transcendent Reality”), but rather as a credible witness to what it affirms. The central portion of the paper then investigates how “experience” was used and understood-as a conscious term of analysis-by Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas. It then argues that this understanding of “experience” can be applied successfully to refer to “religious experience,” whether “ordinary” or “extraordinary”: it argues that such an understanding would fit well any phenomenological description of what most people mean by their “religious experience.” It concludes that there is work to be done both to develop adequate criteria to discern how credible religious experience is, as a witness to its object, and to apply such criteria to major religions.

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Open Theology is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal that welcomes contributions written in English addressing religion in its various forms and aspects: historical, theological, sociological, psychological, and other.