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Roundtable Series: What is "religious experience"?

Rudolf Otto

That the “essence” of religion consists in a distinctive type of experience that is in some sense “sui generis” (i.e., “of its own kind” or “irreducible”) is a claim that was often cited in the twentieth century to justify the existence of Religious Studies as an independent academic discipline.  Influential expressions of this view are found in such classic works as and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) by William James and The Idea of the Holy (1917) by Rudolf Otto.  More recently, this position has been called into question.  Discussions of the topic are ongoing, however, as reflected in the recent publication of the Cambridge Companion to Religious Experience (2020).

In this roundtable, Dr. Todd Gooch will start things off by briefly describing some of the relevant issues before opening the floor to a discussion of these questions, among others:

  • Is there such a thing as “religious experience”?
  • If so, what qualifies an experience as “religious”? If not, why not?
  • What are some examples of the kinds of experiences that might qualify?
  • By what psychological, sociological, historical, and/or linguistic factors might such experiences be shaped?
  • What avenues of study are available to scholars interested in investigating these sorts of religious experiences (or reports of them)?
  • What philosophical conclusions might one arrive at through the examination of such experiences?

This event will take place on Wednesday, August 31, 3:30pm-4:30pm in the Main Library, Room 208.

Please direct any questions to the series organizer: (Phone: 859-622-2979)

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