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Elements of Religious Experience


Religious Orientations

Your text suggests that there are at least five basic orientations that may characterize an individual's or group's religious experience. Remember that a religious experience can be described as something that modifies one's pivotal values through an encounter with the sacred.  The five basic religious orientations that the author identifies are:
The Moral Orientation:
   The "moral orientation" focuses on following a prescribed, often divinely revealed, way of conduct.  Notice that there are actually two factors that make up this orientation. First, there is the notion that a way of conduct has been revealed or discerned.  This way may have been made known in divinely revealed law and instructions such as in the case of Judaism and Islam.  The pattern of conduct may have been discerned through observation and analysis of the natural or social order as in the case of Taoism and Confucianism. In either case, a pattern of conduct that originates in the sacred realm is the basis for the moral orientation.

Second, the moral orientation includes the conviction that one's actions orient one toward the sacred. Thus, the moral orientation primarily emphasizes right action rather than belief in a doctrine or teaching.

The Mystical Orientation


The mystical orientation focuses on a participation with, direct experience of,  or union with Ultimate Reality. The means by which one reaches this union with Ultimate Reality often includes such practices and intense disciplined prayer and meditation.

Dale Cannon (see below) refers to the mystical orientation as the way of mystical quest.


The Aesthetic Orientation

  The aesthetic orientation focuses on finding the  pattern or logic of  reality underlying.  This approach often uses the rational or reasoned inquiry.  It is the orientation adopted by theologians.

The Ecstatic Orientation

  The ecstatic orientation focuses on supernormal experiences that bring the individual under control of transcendental powers. In other words, the individual transcends the profane and enters into the (often) unseen realm of the sacred.  Ecstasy comes from a Greek word that literally means "to stand outside of." When one enters the sacred realm, one literally "stands outside" himself or herself. Thus, this experience may be described as ecstatic.  The ecstatic experience may include trances, speaking in tongues, the experience of visions and a sense of spiritual travel.   Contrary to what your text indicates, this experience may or may not be sought. In many cultures an traditions, the individual has the strong conviction that the powers of the sacred realm have called him/her even though he/she did not seek the experience.

The Magical Orientation

  The magical orientation seeks to discover and exercise methods that allow for the control of transcendent powers for human purposes.  This orientation may actually be a small subgroup of a larger orientation that we can refer to as the way of sacred rite.

Recently, Dale Cannon has proposed that all religious experience can be classified according to one or more of six ways of being religious.

According to Cannon these six ways are:

  • The way of Right Action (moral orientation)
  • The way of Mystical Quest (mystical orientation)
  • The way of Reasoned Inquiry (aesthetic orientation)
  • The way of Shamanic Mediation (ecstatic orientation)
  • The way of Sacred Rite (may include magical orientation, but not all sacred rites involve the kind of magical orientation described in your text)
  • The way of devotion.  There is not corresponding category in your text.

The last "way of being religious" merits special consideration. The way of devotion focuses on faith in and loving devotion to a deity. According to Cannon, "The way of devotion specifically involves cultivation of a personal relationship to ultimate reality of whole-hearted adoration, devotional surrender to its transforming grace, and trust in its providential care."  The way of devotion often involves an emotional conversion experience.  This orientation is prominent in Protestant Christianity as well as in popular Hinduism and some branches of Buddhism