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Religious Experience

Chapter three defines a religious experience as "any experience that initiates or strengthens, maintains or weakens, or terminates a person's reliance on or commitment to a pivotal value.

  • God initiates the call; the response is up to Moses
  • The call leads to both questioning of Moses' pivotal values as well as a deepened commitment.
  • Part of the encounter with God leads to a significantly deeper knowledge of the identity and nature of God.


  • Gautama's religious experience is actually the culmination of a long quest that began with the termination of his prior pivotal values.
  • Notice that in contrast to the call of Moses, Gautama's experience of enlightenment was self-initiated.
  • Gautama's experience led him to formulate a new pivotal value, the key insight of Buddhism: "Life contains suffering because humans selfishly desire physical, spiritual, and intellectual attainments and satisfactions."


Sufi encounters
  • Recall that sufism is an expression of Islam that emphasizes direct mystical experience or union with God.
  • Notice that the text does not actually describe a sufi's encounter with God. Direct experience or union with God is sought through a number of means including:
    • asceticism (self-denial)
    • trance-like states induced or heightened with music and dance
  • The sufi experience may both modify pivotal values and deepen them. In other words, it modifies the traditional servant-master relationship between the believer and Allah by emphasizing a relationship of love and devotion.


Saint Teresa of Avila (16th Century)
  • Teresa' ecstatic experiences are both self initiated and divinely given. Notice that in her account, the individual is responsible for the initial discipline of prayers, but the ecstatic experience is a gift from God.
  • Saint Teresa also set a standard for distinguishing between a true experience and a hallucinatory one: the influence of the experience on the rest of one's life. Put another way, the experience both is integrated into and serves to integrate all elements of one's religious life.
Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe (16th Century)
  • Like Moses, Juan Diego's experience was initiated by the Divine through an unusual occurrence.
  • Like Moses, the experience is a call to perform a particular action.
  • Like Moses, Juan is sent to a leader with a message and performs divinely given signs to convince the leader of the truth of the message.
Mahatma Gandhi
  • Gandhi does not seem to have a single experience; rather it is an ongoing sense of an "inner voice"
  • Gandhi saw truth in Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
  • Formulated the strategy of satyagraha.