Empiricism and Religion

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Empiricism is the doctrine that all knowledge is based on sensory experience, rather than tradition. Naturally, it clashed with religion because it challenged the idea that something could be based on Scripture, revelation, or reason. Empiricists attempted to use the scientific method to obtain results or observation as proof. In response, theologians would argue that religion was not relevant to the material world which could be scrutinized through objective science, but rather it pertained to the subjective spiritual world. It is based more on inner “experience” which cannot be measured through empirical means. Pluralist critique came from those who argued that people of different faiths had different ideas about what the religious truths are, and no one religion is completely right. Apologists argued that religious experience transcends cultural barriers, and to some degree all religions had some claim to the truth as long as they had a sense of the divine. The core experience is pan-cultural, while the rest of a person’s faith is conditioned by socially learnt dispositions.

Western scholars emphasized “experience” when discussing religions. Asian religions, at first glance, seem to be rooted in mystical experience. However, the relevance of experience in Asian religion is even more modern than its relevance in the West. For example, meditation was originally a ritual that was meant to physically clean the body and communicate with deities. It was only in modern times that this view transformed into something that included “personal experience” in which people search for alternative states of consciousness. The change in perception of what meditation was a response to this “Western cultural imperialism” by Asian apologists such as the Hindu Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan or Buddhist D. T. Suzuki, who were schooled in the Western way of discussing religion.

Because the West was more advanced when it came to politics, the military, and technology, Asian...
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