OCR guidelines – religious experience

Religious Studies H572: Philosophy of Religion G581

Religious Experience


Suggested teaching time: 12 hours

Topic outline:

  1. Introduction/Different forms of religious experience
  2. The aims and main conclusions drawn by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience
  3. Different forms of religious experience: visions and voices
  4. Different forms of religious experience: numinous experiences
  5. Different forms of religious experience: conversion experiences
  6. Different forms of religious experience: corporate religious experiences
  7. Argument from religious experience from William James
  8. The concept of revelation through sacred writings
  9. Exam practice

Suggested teaching and homework activities:

  1. Brainstorm: different forms of religious experience. Discuss what makes an experience religious. – Look at some examples of experiences. What problems might these examples raise?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Explain Otto’s idea of numinous experience. Evaluate his notion that this is at the heart of all religious experience.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Students attempt past question.

Suggested resources:

  1. Some good examples in Religious Experience Today (David Hay) – Reason and Religious Belief (Peterson et al)
  2. 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)
  3. One or more case studies from William James or David Hay’s books. – The example of Augustine is given in chapter 8 of James.
  4. Reason and Religious Belief (Peterson et al) – Philosophy of Religion (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate)
  5. Video extract of the Cross and the Switchblade – Philosophy of Religion (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate) – Questions about God (Patrick Clarke)
  6. Various Christian websites can be easily found both to support and criticise the phenomena – Philosophy of Religion (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate
  7. 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)
  8. Questions about God (Clarke) – Beginner’s Guide to Ideas (Raeper & Smith)
  9. Past exam papers.

Points to note:

  1. Issues such as verification, the logical privacy of the experience, interpretation, religious pluralism, neurology etc may be recurring themes during discussion on this topic.
  2. James’ argument for the existence of God could also be covered here and not later on as in this scheme of work.
  3. Use of publishing software might make this more stimulating for students and a copy could be printed for classroom display.
  4. Examples of experiences will help to reinforce the point. In terms of evaluation, Buber’s I and Thou relationship provides an interesting contrast.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. It is not essential to focus on the Bible. Any sacred text may be chosen for study.







Past Questions

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