What Counts as Religious Experience? A New Approach to Designing and Validating Cross-Cultural Measures
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Description: Keynote Address: Religiosity in East and West – Conceptual and Methodological Challenges, 25 June 2019. Abstract: In operationalizing ‘religiosity’ (or ‘spirituality’) as a measurable construct, researchers tacitly treat this aspect of human existence as if it were a discrete and cross-culturally stable ‘something’ rather than investigating the way it and other related concepts are used to interpret (or appraise) contested aspects of human life within and across cultures. This talk will use attempts to create cross-culturally viable measures of religious and mystical experience to illustrate the difficulties inherent in operationalizing these constructs and the Inventory of Nonordinary Experiences (INOE) to illustrate an alternative. By distinguishing between experiences (i.e., events, happenings) and the way people appraise them, the INOE allows us to (1) treat ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ as appraisals with culturally and linguistically distinct meanings and (2) view concepts such as religious, spiritual, paranormal, and psychotic as claims about how (the causes) and why (the reasons) an event occurred. When validated and administered across cultures, this design allows us to investigate the effects of cultural schemas on the frequency, co-occurrence, and appraisal of experiences and, thus, differences as well as similarities across cultures.