Many religious people report vivid or otherwise memorable religious experiences, which they regard as compelling reasons to believe. But why assume God is actually at the other end of the experience? Harold A. Netland, a professor of philosophy of religion and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explores this question in his new book Religious Experience and the Knowledge of God: The Evidential Force of Divine Encounters. Travis Dickinson, professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University, spoke with Netland about religious experience and how divine encounters may justify our Christian beliefs.
You are a unique scholar because of your work in both philosophy and intercultural and religious studies. You also have a unique background. How do these things motivate and inform the book?
I grew up in Japan, where my parents were missionaries. So I had that cross-cultural experience early on. I eventually ended up doing doctoral studies at Claremont Graduate University with a scholar named John Hick, who by that time had completely rejected historic orthodox Christianity for pluralism. For Hick, justification of our religious convictions is based upon our experiences.
Then I spent 10 years as a missionary in Japan and became increasingly interested in Buddhism and its experiential component. And finally, as I spoke with fellow Christians, I came to see the significant role that personal experience plays in their commitments. There are important philosophical issues involved in basing our commitments on religious experiences, although not many evangelicals have been addressing these issues.
What makes an experience a religious experience?
My first two chapters try to unpack that question, because the concept ...1
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