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The Epistemology of Religious Experience.

Yandell, Keith E. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. viii + 371 pp. $55.00--This is a meticulous, thoughtful, and progressive analysis and defense of the central question: Does religious experience provide evidence for religious belief? He answers the question affirmatively, provided that religious experience can be shown to be veridical, noncontradictory, and coherent. In so doing, he echoes one strain of medieval and contemporary thinking, that having evidence (reason) and having faith are compatible. In the tradition of Anselm of Canterbury, faith seeks understanding.

Yandell relentlessly counters claims regarding varying degrees of skepticism, relativism, and subjectivism about morality and belief In many creative ways, he demonstrates that religious truth values can be verified and that the process is neither improper nor impolite. The broadminded will concede that faith, at least on a personal theoretical level, provides a reasonable approach.

In chapter 1 Yandell clarifies the meaning and gives salient characteristics of the structure and content of religious experiences, expanding pluriform conceptions to include Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu traditions. In chapter 2 he sketches in broad outline some of the central concepts of the theory, structure and content of the epistemology of religious experience. Central to a religious claim on the experiential level is the logical possibility of evidence against the existence of that item.

Chapters 3 to 5 confront two sorts of skeptics about the evidence for religious experience: radically empiricist and positivist theories of meaning, and the zealous defenders of divine mystery. For the latter, the real significance of religious experience escapes language because that experience is regarded as ineffable, indescribable, and inaccessible to concepts. He challenges this property-less meaning of ineffable with its unrelatedness and unrelatability. A more direct and expanded reliance on traditional distinctions would be helpful here. Analogous predication contains both equivocal and univocal conceptions, the equivocal preserving the divinity's radical othernesss, as mystics attest. A distinction between transcendent ineffability and immanent ineffability would also be helpful.

Chapters 6 and 7 examine whether social science and other nonreligious explanations are sufficient to cancel the evidential force of religious experience. Such approaches often contend that religious belief is empirically false, untestable, and therefore unreasonable. He also examines nonepistemic explanations for religious belief. Chapters 8 and 9 argue against the privileged status granted both the content and cogency of beliefs. Beliefs cannot be dealt with only in the context of practices which hide a sheltered self-authenticating power. Chapters 10 to 12 struggle to provide the best principle of experiential evidence. Acceptable experiential evidence must be open to rational assessment, tested as possibly nonveridical, possibly contradictory, and often countered by the existence of evil. If the first rational attempt fails, try again, Yandell counsels.

Chapter 13 examines the enlightenment experience of eastern spirituality. Again one needs analytic reason to understand the seemingly contradictory views of person, for instance, as given by Buddhists and Jainists. Appeals to doctrines alone, incommensurability, self-authentication cation, and ineffability will not do. In a brief way, in chapter 14, Yandell shows the relevance of philosophical reflection and argument for topics such as evil, freedom, determinism, and divine foreknowledge. For such issues, coherent and consistent (albeit incomplete) narratives are possible.

Although Yandell's approach is compelling, some questions remain. If faith (belief) admits of reason, does reason admit of faith? If faith is open to understanding, can reason envision itself submitting to the space faith already provides? Can reason acknowledge its limits, that of the revelation of the Trinity, for example?
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Author:Pomedli, Michael
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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