Critically Asses, with Reference to William James, the Arguments from Religious Experience. Essay

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Pages: 7

In the book ‘the varieties of religious experience’, James concluded that religious experience testifies that “we can experience union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find our greatest peace”. He defined such experiences as “experiences of the divine” and believed that religious experience was at the heart of religion. For James, religious teachings, practices and attitudes are second hand religion, which later develop as individuals reflect on their common experience. It is the actual experiences that directly point to God. However this theory does little to prove religious experiences simply because many of his claims do not stand up to critical analysis.
James looked at a variety of religious experiences,
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are fundamentally identical. In addition, most religions make claims that conflict with each other, for example, Christians claim that Jesus is the Son of God whereas Muslims claim Jesus was simply a prophet who did not die on the cross and Jews reject Jesus’ divinity. For some scholars these conflicting claims in different religious traditions cancel each other out, weakening James’ claims.
Another thing James believed was that religious experiences were valid and objective because of two observable effects they had on people both in the immediate and long term. Firstly, the immediate impact which may be quite dramatic and involve visions and voices and may last a few minutes or hours. Secondly, the moral helpfulness of the experience, they usually involve a recognition that their current lifestyle is wrong or lacking in something. This will then normally lead to profound and significant changes to their moral perspective. People will often feel more fulfilled and purposeful in their understanding of the world and their place in it. Examples of this include St Paul, who after conversion on the road to Damascus ceased persecuting Christians and became a leader of the early church. Similarly, John Wesley after his conversion founded Methodism. Another famous example of someone who has been inspired by their beliefs and experience of God would be Martin Luther King. For James, no use of drugs or auto-suggestion could produce the visions and voices which often