The Aesthetic in Religious Experience

Religious Studies 4 (1):1 - 24 (1968)
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William James catalogued an amazing diversity of religious experiences. Yet even the pluralistic James was able to find a nucleus, consisting of an uneasiness and its solution, ‘1. The uneasiness, reduced to its simplest terms, is a sense that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand. 2. The solution is a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers.’ But by stressing the moral factor, James seems to exclude those who stress rather the sense of mystery stemming from man's theoretical limitations. Einstein, for example, writes: ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious side of life. It is the deep feeling which is at the cradle of all true art and science. In this sense, and only in this sense, I count myself amongst the most deeply religious people.’ For Einstein as for Pascal : ‘The last proceeding of reason is to recognise that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it.’ Thus I propose the following revision of James' conception of the nucleus of the religious experience: uneasy awareness of the limitations of man's moral or theoretical powers, especially when reality is restricted to sense data and natural objects; awe-full awareness of a further reality—beyond or behind or within; conviction that participation with this further reality is of supreme importance



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