From Existential Feelings to Belief in God
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable publication of the research
The question of the relation between religious experience and Christian belief in God is addressed in radically different ways within contemporary theology and philosophy of religion. In order to develop an answer which avoids the pitfalls of the ‘analytic perception model’ (Alston, Yandell, Swinburne) and the ‘overlinguistic’ model for interpreting Christian religious experience (Taylor, Lindbeck), this thesis offers an approach which combines a phenomenological study of feelings, conceptual investigation of Christian God-talk and ‘belief’-talk, as well as theological, sociological and anthropological perspectives. At the centre of the interpretation developed here is the phenomenological category ‘existential feelings’ which should be seen, it is suggested, as a theologically and philosophically central aspect of Christian religious experiencing. Using this contemporary concept, a novel reading of F. Schleiermacher’s concept of ‘feeling’ is proposed and several kinds of Christian experiencing interpreted (like the experiences of ‘awe’, ‘miracle of existence’, ‘wretchedness’, and ‘redeemed community’). By way of a philosophical understanding of Christian believing in God, this study offers a critical interpretation of the later Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘religious belief’, combining Wittgensteinian insights with Paul Tillich’s notion of ‘dynamic faith’ and arguing against Wittgensteinian ‘grammaticalist’ and ‘expressivist’ accounts. Christian beliefs about God are normally life-guiding but nevertheless dubitable. The nature of Christian God-talk is interpreted, again, by combining the later Wittgenstein’s insights into the grammatical and expressive roles of God-talk with Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on linguistic innovation and Roman Jakobson’s perspective on the functions of language. Finally, the claim which connects phenomenological, conceptual and theological strands of this study is a recognition of a ‘religious belief-inviting pull’ of the relevant experience. Christian religious belief-formation and concept-formation can be seen as stemming from ‘extraordinary’ existential feelings, where the resulting beliefs about God are largely but not completely bound by traditional meanings.
PhD in Theology