The Current Debate Concerning the Epistemic Value of Religious Experience

Dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1996)

This dissertation assessed the contemporary debate concerning the epistemic value of religious experience and proposed a future direction for building a substantial case for the epistemic value of religious experience. ;In the last few years, several new attempts to address the epistemic validity of religious experience have emerged. These new efforts tend to be more subtle than past attempts and are more modest in their assertions. While there are still assertions that religious experience has no epistemic validity , there are efforts which affirm that religious experience gives some information about reality. Chapter 1 introduced this debate and typed the categories of religious experience. ;Chapter 2 discussed the skeptical position of the work of Michael Martin, professor of philosophy at Boston University, who, in his recent book, has asserted that religious experience has no value. It is concluded that while some of Martin's critiques are valid, his presuppositions preclude any chance of finding epistemic value in religious experience. ;Chapter 3 examined the psycho-social approach of Wayne Proudfoot, who accepted the reality of religious experience to the subject of the experience and noted that religious experiences have meaning only within their own religious context. Proudfoot discussed religious experience within its language-game and argued against a simple reductionism. However, his own style of reduction prevented him from assigning epistemic value to religious experience. ;Chapter 4 examined the work of William Alston, of Syracuse University, who believed that the perception of religious experience has cognitive value, able to give information about God, and even more specifically, about being Christian. Alston's innovative work in epistemology grants a greater warrant than other epistemologies to religious belief, thus allowing religious experience to be granted an epistemic value. Alston used religious experience as part of a cumulative argument for the Christian God. ;Chapter 5 evaluated the strengths and weakness of each of these writers. In the light of critical assessment of these writers and Alston's modified epistemology, this dissertation proposed a case for the epistemic value of religious experience based on perception and doxastic practice
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