Religious Experience and Religious Lives: An Epistemology defends a moderate approach to religious experiences in which they can contribute to the justification of central religious beliefs, most importantly belief in God. Epistemologists of religion disagree about what evidential value religious experiences have. Some argue that religious experiences have no evidential value while others argue that religious experiences constitute proof of God’s existence. However, Walter Scott Stepanenko argues that religious experiences can contribute to these justificatory cases in several distinct ways and that several justificatory cases are philosophically viable. This book contends that this joint justificatory viability is best explained by the diversity and development of religious lives: as religious believers grow in a faith tradition, their access to an evidential base can develop and the contributory work religious experiences provide in defense of religious belief can change. This suggests that various epistemologies of religious experience implicitly emphasize different life stages or different prototypical religious believers and that a fully adequate epistemology of religious experience will be expansive, pluralistic, and responsive to the diversity of religious believers and their development in a religious tradition.
Walter Scott Stepanenko is assistant professor in the Department of Arts and Humanities at York College of Pennsylvania.
Chapter One: Rejecting Anti-Experientialism
Chapter Two: Resisting Strong Experientialism
Chapter Three: Defending Moderate Experientialism
Chapter Four: Religious Experience and Religious Lives
Chapter Five: Religious Experience and Cognitive Science
Conclusion: Final Considerations
In this book, Stepanenko stakes out a new position on the question of the evidential force of religious experience, After a careful exposition and analysis of the literature, in which he lays out a taxonomy of religious epistemologies, he stakes out and argues for his own position, according to which religious experiences can be part of a cumulative case for theism. He does it all with such care and precision that the book could be used in a wide variety of courses and seminars. But most important, all epistemologists of religion need to read it right now.
Walter Stepanenko has provided a service to the analytic philosophy community. Religious Experience and Religious Lives offers an up to date defense of how religious belief can be rational for scientifically informed persons. Religious epistemologists will be especially interested in Stepanenko’s balanced engagement with the cognitive science literature. Stepanenko’s volume is a must read for those interested in contemporary religious epistemology.
Walter Scott Stepanenko has given us a thorough and articulated argument for the justification, and—indeed—practicality of religious beliefs supported by religious experiences. This is an account that is detailed, scholarly, at many points convincing, and always written with an openness and honesty that is refreshing to read. On matters of faith the question, “Yes, but how can you know?” is too often put forward as a kind of self-congratulating defeater; here Stepanenko offers a series of possible answers, and does so with grace and humility.