Ch.4 - Chapter 4 Phenomenological Approaches to Religion...

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J.M. Nelson, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_4, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009 103 Chapter 4 Phenomenological Approaches to Religion and Spirituality 4.1 Introduction At the heart of the spirituality of every person and group, one can find experiences that are both personal and compelling, sometimes life changing in their impact. Because of this, a proper understanding of religion and spirituality must involve the study of experience. Over the past century, scientists and philosophers have been refining the study of phenomenology , or the lived experience of human beings, and applying these new techniques and knowledge to the analysis and understanding of our spiritual life. Phenomenology takes us beyond simple functional analyses of religion to look at its substance and the experience of transcendence (Berger, 1974). In this chapter, we will look at what scientists, philosophers, religious studies experts, and mystics have learned about spiritual and religious experience. 4.1.1 Definitions and Concepts Consciousness and Subjectivity Experience can be thought of as a way we gain knowledge, “an intuitive and affec- tive grasping of meanings and values” perceived in the world (Vergote, 1969, p. 27). The primary way that we have this mental experience is through consciousness , “ the system, context, or field within which the different aspects of the mind . . . including thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, images, memories, and so forth, function in patterned interrelationships” (Metzner, 1989, p. 331). This experience of perception and consciousness is subjective , that is, personal to each of us individually. In a famous article entitled “What is it like to be a bat?” the philosopher Thomas Nagel (1974) notes that each of us operates from a single point of view that is always different from that of others, sometimes so completely different that we cannot possibly imagine their expe- rience. While our bodies can be understood from several points of view, e.g., a doctor or a friend who knows us well, subjectivity can only be understood from our own point of view. Consciousness and subjectivity are thus unique phenomena that are not easily studied but cannot be avoided if we wish to understand religious experience.
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104 4 Phenomenological Approaches to Religion and Spirituality For our purposes, it is useful to talk about states of conscious experience as lying along two dimensions—differentiation and relationality. At one end of the first dimension is our normal everyday consciousness or differentiated experi- ence. In this type of experience, consciousness is directed toward objects differ- ent or separate from ourselves, the subject. In phenomenology, this directedness of thought is known as intentionality ; it is believed to be a fundamental component of consciousness and an indicator that people are agents who actively construct their world (Vergote, 1998, p. 226). As we direct our attention toward these con-
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This note was uploaded on 12/07/2011 for the course PSYCHOLOGY 321 taught by Professor Reber during the Fall '10 term at BYU.

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Ch.4 - Chapter 4 Phenomenological Approaches to Religion...

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