These are transcripts of lessons on “Reality of Revelation and Religious Experience” delivered by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah once a week in 2021.
Lesson 10 – June 15th, 2021
In this brief lesson we will expand on six types of religious experiences as expounded on by Caroline Franks Davis in her work The Evidential Force of Religious Experience.
1) Interpretive Experiences: The experience in it and of itself is not religious, but it is the interpretation of that experience that makes it religious. What matters is “how it seems at the time” and not “how things are in reality”. For example, consider the spread of Covid, a virus that has spread all over the world. A believer experiences the spread of Covid just like an atheist would, but it is how they understand and interpret the presence of Covid that matters. A religious person may interpret it as a divine punishment, or a trial and tribulation.
Another example is supplications. Consider a religious person prays for a child and they have a child a decade later, they will interpret the birth of their child as an acceptance of their supplication.
Most philosophers of religion believe interpretative experiences have no value in arguing for the truth of a belief or any position.
2) Quasi-Sensory Experiences: This is any experience that has an element of sensory knowledge, but it is not limited to just the physical senses. For example, seeing an angel or hearing the voice of an angel is considered a quasi-sensory religious experience. Even things a person sees, hears, tastes, in dreams can be considered this type of religious experience.
Philosophers of religion fall into two camps with respects to the authority of these experiences:
a) They are either true experiences or not on an epistemic level, and we know some of these experiences are most definitely false. Some went on to say since some experiences are most definitely false, it is most likely the case that all such experiences are false. Of course this is a fallacy and one cannot make a judgement about the invalidity of the other set of experiences.
b) Some philosophers of religion say some of these experiences are valid. An example they give is the presence of miracles and how people who experience miracles are convinced of the truth of prophets.
3) Revelatory Experiences: By revelatory experiences, they are not referring to just Prophetic experiences of revelation, rather an experience any individual can go through that is a sudden inspiration that grants person a special kind of insight regarding any given matter. It has five salient qualities:
i) It is sudden and unexpected, and it is a short and quick experience.
ii) It results in a new knowledge, without the need of reflection and thinking.
iii) The person who experiences it believes they attained this new knowledge from outside of themselves.
iv) The person who experiences it has strong conviction in the knowledge they attain from it.
v) It is near impossible for a person to explain or describe their experience accurately in words to anyone else.
This is similar to the experience of mystics who are considered al-Majdhūb al-Sālik, a wayfarer who reaches existential closeness to Allah without extensive effort.
4) Regenerative Experiences: This is the most frequent type of religious experience among people and it renews people’s faith and improves their spiritual and moral well-being. Carloine says, this category includes a wide range of experiences: experiences of new hope, strength, comfort, peace, security, and joy, seen as ‘religious’ because they are obtained during a religious activity such as prayer, apparently brought about a divine power.
For example, a person goes to Hajj and they go through a regenerative experience such that when they come back to their city they feel very different.
5) Numinous Experiences: Rudolph Otto (d. 1937) believes numinous experiences are non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self. In this experience a person feels utter dependence on God, great awe of divine power and an intense longing for God.
These experiences are only felt by those who believe in a religion in which God has a clear description and relatable attributes, such as Abrahamic religions. According to Otto, a person feels the experience of “another”, something external of them, and that this “other” is far greater and superior to them, so much so that it cannot be described.
6) Mystical Experiences: These experiences are felt by mystics of different religions, and have been studied by many philosophers of religion in the 20th and 21st century. What exactly is the difference between mystical and numinous experiences? Mystical experiences are built upon unity, whereas numinous experiences are built upon duality and “otherness”.
According to Rudolph Otto, the experience of prophets is numinous and not mystical. As for mystical experiences, even though they are based on unity and experiencing Oneness, yet there are still differences in what they experienced, whether these mystics belong to different religions or even within the same religion.
All of this was an introduction to religious experience, so that we can begin our main discussion in phase five, which concerns Prophethood itself and the nature of revelation in light of religious experience.
Sayyid Ali Imran studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from The Islamic College of London in the summer of 2018. He continued his seminary studies in legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is also a regular instructor for Mizan Institute.