The varieties of non-religious experience

Ratio 19 (4):474–494 (2006)
Abstract
I want to consider the suggestion that certain essential components of human experience are by their nature distinctively religious, and thus that the atheist is either debarred from participating fully in such experiences, or fails to understand their real nature. I am going to look at five kinds of experience: • the experience of the moral 'ought'; • the experience of beauty; • the experience of meaning conferred by stories; • the experience of otherness and transcendence; • the experience of vulnerability and fragility. These seem to me to be integral features of any meaningful human life. They are aspects of what it is to be human. Some theists would simply agree with that statement. Others, however, would say that though essentially human they are also essentially religious, and that the secular humanist's participation in such experiences is in some way defective. That is the claim which I want to consider and contest
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