In this wide-ranging interview (our 50th!), Ann Taves and David Wilson discuss the concept of religious experience. Taves challenges traditional models of religious experience, rejecting both an essentialist approach with a sui generis category and a constructivist approach which accepts only discourses. Instead, she argues that not only can we examine unusual experiences in themselves, ...

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About this episode

In this wide-ranging interview (our 50th!), Ann Taves and David Wilson discuss the concept of religious experience. Taves challenges traditional models of religious experience, rejecting both an essentialist approach with a sui generis category and a constructivist approach which accepts only discourses. Instead, she argues that not only can we examine unusual experiences in themselves, as they affect individual agents. From there, we can examine how these experiences become reified and institutionalised by specific traditions, as well as providing impetus for new religious movements. Taves’ work utilises historical and ethnographic methods in an attempt to establish an approach which might allow cross-cultural and diachronic analysis of unusual experiences without recourse to specific theologies.

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Ann Taves is Professor of Religious Studies and holder of the Virgil Cordano OFM Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a position she has held since 2005. Previously she taught at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate School. Her major publications include Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things (Princeton University Press, 2009), which received the 2010 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, 1999), which received the Outstanding Professional and Scholarly Book Award in Philosophy and Religion from the Association of American Publishers in 2000.

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Responses to this episode

Editors’ Picks, Summer 2018: Re-Experiencing Religious Experience

According to RSP Managing Editor, Tommy Coleman, "Anyone interested in stepping out the front door of their own discipline will find this podcast, like the book, contains tools for thinking you’d better not leave home without." During our "summer break", various members of the RSP editorial team will be sharing their thoughts on some podcasts from the RSP archive that they think you should listen to (again).

Other reasons to unpack ‘religious experience’

"...scholars should be more conscious of the ways in which some experiences are being distinguished (often implicitly), by either the person having the experience, the community in which the experience is happening, or the scholar studying it. Attention should be paid to the ways in which an experience is being marked as the sort of experience that is interesting."

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