What Counts as Religious Experience? Reappraising the RERC data from the UK and China
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Description: Sir Alister Hardy Lecture. The Future of the Study of Religious and Spiritual Experience: 50th Anniversary of the Religious Experience Research Centre. Abstract: Sir Alister Hardy solicited first-hand accounts of people’s religious experiences in the UK in the 1970s in order to understand spiritual feelings in a scientific age. His appeals, which focused on the experience of a power beyond the self, stressed that this could take the form of a continuing experience (a way of looking at the world) as well as dramatic, isolated experiences. Nonetheless, people overwhelmingly responded with accounts of sudden, dramatic experiences. Given that his appeals attempted to characterize what he meant by religious experience, we don’t know to what extent the responses genuinely reflected his respondents’ understanding of religious experience or were skewed by his prompt. If his results were valid for the UK, we still don’t know to what extent they can be generalized beyond the British context. Although efforts have been made to extend the research across cultures, it has met with methodological difficulties. This talk will introduce the Inventory of Nonordinary Experiences (INOE), which asks people whether they have had various nonordinary experiences before asking them whether they considered the experiences religious or spiritual. Comparing Hardy’s findings with data collected using the INOE in five countries (the US, China, Thailand, Vanuatu, and Ghana) allows us to assess both Hardy’s characterization of religious experience and the generalizability of his findings across cultures.