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

  • 1 The King‘s University,, Edmonton, Canada


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

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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.