Reassessing religious experience in a scientific age: early approaches to religious pluralism

Hauch, Sofie (2013) Reassessing religious experience in a scientific age: early approaches to religious pluralism. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In this thesis I am investigating the religious ideas of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, H. P.
Blavatsky and Annie Besant as examples of early approaches to religious pluralism. In this
context, the term ‘religious pluralism’ refers to the belief that all religious traditions are
paths to genuine religious ends. Thus, religions other than one’s own are considered to be
of significance to people of all faiths and even to those who are not believers.
I relate the appearance of these early notions of religious pluralism to the historical and
ideological setting in which they were proposed, particularly the late nineteenth-century
debate about science and religion in the West and its spheres of influence. I argue that
theories of evolution, in addition to the emerging field of historical biblical criticism,
presented a serious challenge to traditional understandings of religion. Together, these two
strands of thought made a strong case for a purely materialistic worldview and for the
further development of modern sciences on such a basis. In response to this crisis of
religion, the four thinkers proposed religious teachings inspired by their own intense
religious experience. They emphasised the experiential aspect of these teachings in order to
claim an epistemic status of religious knowledge equal to that of scientific or empirical
knowledge. In order to universalise this claim, they appealed to religious experience and
religious knowledge originating in all faith traditions.
In my assessment of these arguments I suggest that the two main thinkers, i.e.
Ramakrishna and Blavatsky, may have been led towards pluralistic ideas of religion
through their endorsement of the esoteric traditions of Tantrism and Hermeticism,
respectively. Moreover, I trace the impact of the British colonial presence in India on the
content, presentation and reception of the teachings of all four thinkers.
I conclude that the teachings of Ramakrishna et al. represent early attempts to engage with
the fact of religious plurality from a religious perspective. Thus, the four thinkers
encouraged people to relate to the beliefs and practices of other faiths and to explore them
in relation to their own life. These early efforts in interreligious understanding represented
the initial steps towards our current debates about religious pluralism and interreligious

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jeanrond, Prof. Werner
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Dr Sofie Hauch
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4277
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2013 15:28
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2013 15:28

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