I find the meanings and implications of words and phrases fascinating. All words and phrases have a history and a web of connotations. It can be interesting (I think) to unpack some of the terms we use almost without thinking… yesterday I used the term ‘religious experience’ on my tumblr page to describe something that isn’t easily describable that happened to me one time when I encountered a Culbert - Hotere artwork.
After that, I got into a bit of a discussion about the word ‘religious’ with a friend on Facebook. The word ‘religious’ has become a bit dirty in the last 50 years. Generally speaking, contemporary people aren’t big fans of religion. Even in Christian circles the term is avoided because of its associations with a tired, old-fashioned, legalistic, formulaic, nominal form of belief.
In thinking through my use of the term ‘religious experience’ I found a rather nice definition of the phrase on Wikipedia, and realised that the term was more appropriate to what had happened to me when I saw that artwork than I had hoped or dreamed when I somewhat casually used the term in yesterday’s post:
“Religious experience (sometimes known as a spiritual experience, sacred experience, or mystical experience) is a subjective experience in which an individual reports contact with a transcendent reality, an encounter or union with the divine. A religious experience is most commonly known as an occurrence that is uncommon in the sense that it doesn’t fit in with the norm of everyday activities and life experiences, and its connection is with the individual’s perception of the divine.”
The article also carries William James’s description of the characteristics of a religious experience, which I also found fascinating:
Transient - the experience is temporary; the individual soon returns to a “normal” frame of mind.
Ineffable - the experience cannot be adequately put into words.
Noetic - the individual feels that he or she has learned something valuable from the experience.
Passive - the experience happens to the individual, largely without conscious control