Crisis in church? Religious authority and religious experience

Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw)
Richard Irvine (The Open University)
Agnieszka Halemba
Arts Classhall B
Start time:
26 August, 2010 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

We propose to examine an idea that certain types of religious authority do not accommodate well certain kinds of religious experience. Are some types of religious experiences, imageries and ritual practices more readily accepted by institutionalised or centralised religious traditions than others?

Long abstract:

Despite recurrent critiques of dichotomising categorisations, anthropologists and other social scientists time and again return to the idea that religion encompasses two very different sets of dynamics: from Max Weber's differentiation between routinisation and charisma; through Jack Goody's difference between literate and non-literate religions; Ioan Lewis's central and peripheral cults; Frederik Barth's guru regimes versus conjurer regimes; to the most recent doctrinal versus imagistic modes of religiosity proposed by Harvey Whitehouse. One of the central features that lead researchers to create such categorisations is the relationship between the nature of religious experience and the role of religious authority in maintaining the unity and cohesion of the religious group. Certain forms of religious experience are often viewed as highly individualised. How do hierarchies or other religious structures maintain orthodoxy in the face of such these experiences? What is the relationship, for example, between the experience of mystics and the doctrinal teaching of the church? What threats and opportunities might such experiences pose for the hierarchy of a religion? It is also well known that even the most centralised religious traditions, such as Catholicism, do encompass plenty of emotionally arousing religious practices and experiences - among the most obvious here are exorcisms and visions. Our question is: how are such practices received within institutionalised or centralised religions? What is their position? Can we say that some types of religious experiences, ritual practices and religious imageries are more readily accepted by institutionalised religious traditions than others?