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Water and skyReligious Experience


Most people, at times, have feelings that can be seen as spiritual or religious.

With rituals, meditation, religious services, and prayer, these can be prompted by religious practice.

Similar feelings may occur with non-religious prompts, in responding to natural beauty, in encounters with art, and in marveling at the birth of a child.

These can also occur with use of some types of drugs, and for no apparent reason at all.

Feelings are often brief and mild, like moments of déjà vu. They can include a sense of reverence, appreciation, or wonder. In rare cases, they may be full-blown mystical experiences – timeless, with a sense of connection that can be powerful and in some cases life-changing. These can be beautiful, frightening, confusing, or full of meaning. Those who feel such things may want to experience them again.

In religious traditions, these may be seen in terms of contact with God. With a naturalist view, these are understood as particular types of activity in the brain.

One factor, for some, in attraction to religious naturalism is that it can provide science-based ways of understanding spiritual feelings. It can also identify activities that may contribute to these types of experiences.


Personal descriptions of spiritual experiences
Frequency of spiritual/religious experiences
Daniel Dennett discusses secular spirituality
Neurotheology: This is Your Brain on Religion. (National Public Radio online. December 15, 2010.)
‘Magic Mushroom’ Drug Study Probes Science, Spirituality. (HealthDay News. July 11, 2006.)
Religious experiences. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Added reading

Wesley Wildman. Religious and Spiritual Experiences. Cambridge University Press 2011.
Patrick McNamara. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. Cambridge University Press 2009.
Ann Taves. Religious Experience Reconsidered. Princeton University Press 2011.
William James. Mysticism. Lectures XVI and XVII in Varieties of Religious Experience. 1902.
Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Mysticism.