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Religious Experiences Across Different Faiths

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Religious Experiences Across Different Faiths

Throughout history, there have been a variety of opposing interpretations amidst the definitions and significance of a religious experience. There have been numerous accounts of people who claimed to have such an experience and these narratives have been studied and interpreted by many people. One western philosopher, Saint Teresa of Jesus, proposed two types of religious experience: one of an internal illumination where one can feel the presence of God and the other where one can only see Him with the eyes of the soul. However, in non-western religions, mystical experiences are about perspectives and examinations rather than receiving an experience from a being of higher power, such as God.

        The western religious experiences of Muhammad are widely known occurrences that have been thoroughly examined. Muhammad commenced a habit of making trips to Mount Hira to pray and meditate and would ultimately stay in this isolated state for days. One prominent experience occurred during a meditation in a cave on Mount Hira when Muhammad was instructed to be a prophet and ultimately a teacher of God’s new faith, called Islam. After this revelation, the angel Jibreel recited words to Muhammad in which he believed to be the words of God. Muhammad recorded the words and over time, these revelations became the Holy Qur’an. However, Muhammad’s most famous vision is the Night Journey, where Muhammad was carried on a winged horse from Mecca to the Jerusalem Temple under the direction of Jibreel. In this experience, Muhammad climbs from the Temple to the heavenly throne on a ladder. This Journey is both considered literal and representative but the event is recognized annually and it also led to the instruction to pray five times a day.

        The religious experience of Muhammad reflects the second type of Saint Teresa’s religious experiences. Muhammad’s revelation occurred without any presentation of the image of God and his soul was what interpreted the glory of the revelation. In addition to Saint Teresa, one can use William James’ four marks of mystical experience in order to justify a religious experience. In the case of Muhammad, there are a few overlaps in his experience with the four marks. His experience had much noetic quality to it since he was given the knowledge of the new religion and also the words of God. His experiences were full of important significance, which contributed to his intellect. In addition to noetic quality, the experience possessed passivity since he was not in control of the occurrence and there was presence of an alternative personality, or prophetic speech.

        Another prominent experience within western religion is the experience of St. Bernadette Soubirous. Bernadette began having visions at the young age of 14. Throughout her life, she encountered God 18 times at a grotto just outside of Lourdes. Bernadette encountered God through a beautiful woman who said she came from God. At first, the woman just prayed the rosary with her and Bernadette decided to take a bottle of Holy water in case the woman appeared again. As soon as Bernadette began to pray the rosary, the woman appears, and Bernadette says: “if you are from God, stay. If not, go away.” But the lady smiled and remained, and Bernadette realized she was having a religious experience. Following this apparition, many others occurred. During one subsequent apparition, Bernadette was seen crawling on her hands and knees, drinking water from the stream and eating grass and thus, was deemed ‘mad’ by the witnesses that were present. Later, the beautiful woman then told Bernadette of her desire for a chapel to be built on the area she had appeared and Bernadette relayed the message to her Parish priest, who asked Bernadette to ask for the woman’s name. It took numerous meetings for the woman to tell her, but she finally told her “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

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