Review of Types of Religious Experience, Christian and Non-Christian

Ellsworth Faris

This book is a collection of articles and lectures together with some unpublished material. It bears the marks of wide reading and painstaking scholarship. It will be of interest to theologians and seminarians but has only marginal contact with the questions which sociologists discuss.

The title will be misleading to some, for only four of the ten chapters are concerned with types of religious experience. One chapter is devoted to a careful and detailed exposition of a book on Islamic doctrine and a similar exegesis of volume on Mahayana Buddhism. Two Christian writers are similarly treated,

( 254) Schwenkfeld and a book by Rudolph, one of the author's teachers in Germany.

The sociologist unaccustomed to the trends in the theological seminaries will be confused by the unusual meaning given to the word history. Part two is entitled "History of Non-Christian Religions" but contains only the two chapters above referred to plus a chapter on "The Idea of Man". Part three is called "History of the Christian Religion" and contains only the two articles mentioned above and a chapter on de Tocqueville, proving, as if it needed to be proved, that the author of Democracy in America was a believing Catholic.

The explanation of this use of the word history lies in. the fact that the earlier interest in Non-Christians which went by the name of Comparative Religions became, for some reason, unsatisfactory, and professors in the seminaries now prefer the title History of Religion. To a layman sociologist the change seems unnecessary and misleading for they continue to set forth comparatively the different religious doctrines and seem to do little that we think of as historical. But it is not for an outsider to criticize the terminology of another discipline.

The author lays down four formal criteria for a definition of religion or, as he prefers to say, religious experience. I. It is a response to what is experienced as ultimate reality. 2. It is a total response of the total being. 3. It is the most intense experience of which man is capable. 4. It is practical, involving an imperative. One, two, or three of these criteria would not suffice to define a genuine religious experience, all four must be present. The word God is often replaced by the term Ultimate Reality. This leads to certain difficulties, for the author insists that religion is universal and that there are no people, how-ever primitive, without religion. But many preliterates lack some of the four criteria proposed and would thus be excluded from the number of those who have genuine religious experience. This difficulty is met by the proposition that there are pseudo-religious and semi-religious experiences, and that ought to take care of the exceptions. Not all tribes have "genuine religion",

Still another valid objection to the use of the word history would seem to lie in the refusal of the author to consider the origin of religion as a problem, This would seem to be equivalent to asserting that religion is not historical. Theories of the origin of religion do not interest the author but some notion of a beginning is necessary if we assume that religion has a history. Theories of the origin of the earth, or of the solar system or the galactic universe, are not ever wholly demonstrable, but our most eminent astronomers have not hesitated to propound them and to support their arguments with elaborate reasoning.

This reviewer has a vestigial connection with theology as a youthful seminarian, and the book was read-most of it-with interest. Whether sociologists without such a back-ground would find it worth while is doubtful, But Prof. Wach did not write for sociologists and the men in his field will undoubtedly welcome it. For the author is a man of sound scholarship, strong personal convictions, and has a charitable and irenic attitude toward those who differ.

Lake Forest, Illinois


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