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What Counts as Religious Experience

What Counts as Religious Experience

Ann Taves
Professor of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Date and Time: 
Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 17:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


How do we study religious experience? We know that people all over the world have experiences that stand out for them, but do the same experiences stand out in all cultures? Or are people in other cultures watching out for experiences you would never think to notice? And of the experiences that stand out for people, what do they make of them? Do people across cultures tend to consider the same sorts of experiences spiritual or religious or do they differ? We have designed the Inventory of Non-Ordinary Experiences (INOE) to help us answer these questions by asking people, first, what experiences they have had and, then, what they thought of them. In this talk I explain how we came up with the questions and share the preliminary results we got from more 1400 people in the US and India who completed the Inventory. The results surprised us. In terms of what counts as religious experience in these two cultures, we found an interesting mix of similarities and differences


Ann Taves is the Virgil Cordano OFM Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies. Trained at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, over time her answering historical questions about religion to using historical and ethnographic sources to exploring how people make sense of ambiguous events and experiences that inhabit the indeterminate space between imagination and reality, craziness and inspiration, fiction and faith. She is the author of six books, among them Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things (2009).