Classic Revisited: Proudfoot, “Religious Experience”

When I was a student, one of the best and most insightful books on the quality of religious experience that I came across was Wayne Proudfoot’s Religious Experience (1985).  Proudfoot’s exploration is important for law in a variety of ways, one of which may be that it may be seen as in conversation with the “is-religion-special” literature that is now emerging in legal scholarship.  Proudfoot’s emphasis on the noetic quality of religious experience (building upon William James’s writing in deeply interesting ways) has influenced my own thinking about the nature of the experience at issue in cases like Lyng v. Northwest Indian Protective Cemetery Ass’n and others.  Here is a passage from the introduction of the book:

This book is about the idea of religious experience which has been so influential in religious thought and the study of religion in the past two centuries.  It is an examination of some of the most important theories of religious experience, an elucidation of the idea or concept as it is presupposed by such topics as mysticism and reductionism in the study of religion, and a consideration of the implications of these theories and this idea for contemporary issues in the philosophy of religion.  Particular attention will be given to the way people come to understand or interpret their behavior and what is happening to them, and under what conditions they label certain bodily or mental states religious. 

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