|Religious Studies H572: Philosophy of Religion G581
Suggested teaching time: 12 hours
- Introduction/Different forms of religious experience
- The aims and main conclusions drawn by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience
- Different forms of religious experience: visions and voices
- Different forms of religious experience: numinous experiences
- Different forms of religious experience: conversion experiences
- Different forms of religious experience: corporate religious experiences
- Argument from religious experience from William James
- The concept of revelation through sacred writings
- Exam practice
Suggested teaching and homework activities:
- Brainstorm: different forms of religious experience. Discuss what makes an experience religious. – Look at some examples of experiences. What problems might these examples raise?
- Introduction, giving brief overview of the work of William James. Students work on research project following structure provided. Focus on his empiricism and psychology, characteristics of mystical experiences, neurology etc. – A more able group with more time could be given extracts in pairs of key chapters as a jigsaw exercise. Feedback to whole group to give overall picture.
- Examine some case studies in which visions or voices are involved, eg Bernadette at Lourdes, Augustine’s experience or some modern equivalents. Students to write a newspaper article reporting the event. The article can contain expert comments from James, Freud and others.
- Explain Otto’s idea of numinous experience. Evaluate his notion that this is at the heart of all religious experience.
- Stimulus: look at an account of a religious conversion, eg John Wesley, Nicky Cruz. What has happened? What could have caused it? – Students to use resources available to produce a mind map of the topic, addressing what conversion is, when it occurs, different types of conversion and whether it is genuine.
- Review personal and private nature of most religious experiences. Would an experience carry more authority if shared? – Case study of a corporate religious experience: Toronto or Fatima. Research project leading to two or three paragraphs evaluating the credibility of these experiences.
- Stimulus: car sticker or similar claim. What is proved or suggested? Can this be an argument for the existence of God? – Outline the argument of William James and suggest strengths and weaknesses. Use carded arguments to assist in the preparation of a model answer.
- Link: religious experiences are said to reveal God. How else might God be revealed? How might God be revealed through sacred writing?- Introduce key terms such as natural theology, revealed theology, fideism, propositional and non-propositional revelation, fundamentalist, liberal. – Research project exploring how Christians have viewed God’s revelation through the Bible over time. Students to write clear definitions and draw a timeline showing key views. – Summarise own views on the coherence of the idea of revelation through sacred writings.
- Students attempt past question.
- Some good examples in Religious Experience Today (David Hay) – Reason and Religious Belief (Peterson et al)
- A Beginner’s Guide to Ideas (Raeper & Smith) – The Thinker’s Guide to God (Peter Vardy & Julie Arliss) – The Varieties of Religious Experience (William James)
- One or more case studies from William James or David Hay’s books. – The example of Augustine is given in chapter 8 of James.
- Reason and Religious Belief (Peterson et al) – Philosophy of Religion (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate)
- Video extract of the Cross and the Switchblade – Philosophy of Religion (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate) – Questions about God (Patrick Clarke)
- Various Christian websites can be easily found both to support and criticise the phenomena – Philosophy of Religion (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate
- OHT slide or PowerPoint image of the car sticker “God is alive, he spoke to me this morning”. – A Beginner’s Guide to Ideas (Raeper & Smith) – The Varieties of Religious Experience (William James) – Questions about God (Clarke)
- Questions about God (Clarke) – Beginner’s Guide to Ideas (Raeper & Smith)
- Past exam papers.
Points to note:
- Issues such as verification, the logical privacy of the experience, interpretation, religious pluralism, neurology etc may be recurring themes during discussion on this topic.
- James’ argument for the existence of God could also be covered here and not later on as in this scheme of work.
- Use of publishing software might make this more stimulating for students and a copy could be printed for classroom display.
- Examples of experiences will help to reinforce the point. In terms of evaluation, Buber’s I and Thou relationship provides an interesting contrast.
- Students who have a religious faith may volunteer information about their own conversion. This is a very useful resource if handled sensitively. – Celebrity stories may also be a good resource if they are reasonably current.
- The model answer is a good opportunity to reinforce essay structure and exam technique. – Argument cards could consider ideas such as Ockham’s Razor, Swinburne’s principles of credulity and testimony, Freud’s psychological explanation, Marx’s explanation, privacy, verification/falsification, similarity of experiences.
- It is not essential to focus on the Bible. Any sacred text may be chosen for study.
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