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date: 11 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Among the basic elements found in older and more recent religions alike are striking experiences such as visions, out-of-body experiences, and mystical union. On the one hand, such experiences as psychological phenomena. On the other, they are also social facts; something as intangible as a personal experience is somehow transformed into the bedrock of a religious movement. The present chapter argues that the “religious” element of an experience is an effect of the way these experiences are categorized and interpreted. Quite a few people have had striking experiences, far fewer insist that their experiences have any validity for others, and fewer yet manage to convince other people of the supernatural origin and of these experiences and derive authority from them. A new religious movement will derive legitimacy from such experiences if they are presented in a narrative that frames them as “religious,” and if others are willing to accept this narrative.

Keywords: Religious experience, mysticism, interpretation of experiences, authority, religious narrative

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