Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality,
DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_4, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
Phenomenological Approaches to Religion
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
, 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
188.8.131.52 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
system, context, or field
within which the different aspects of the mind . . .
thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, images, memories, and so forth, function
in patterned interrelationships” (Metzner, 1989, p. 331). This experience of perception
and consciousness is
, 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.