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American Evangelical Relationship with God,

Just as there are a variety of religions, each with its own claims about the nature of reality, there are a variety of objects and states of affairs that the subjects of these experiences claim to be aware of. Much analytic philosophy of religion has been done in Europe and the nations descended from Europe, so much of the discussion has been in terms of God as conceived of in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. In those traditions, the object of religious experiences is typically God himself, understood as an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, free, and perfectly good spirit. God, for reasons of his own, reveals himself to people, some of them unbidden (like Moses, Muhammad, and Saint Paul), and some because they have undertaken a rigorous practice to draw closer to him (like the mystics). To say that an experience comes unbidden is not to say that nothing the subject has done has prepared her, or primed her, for the experience (see Luhrmann 2012); it is only to claim that the subject has not undertaken any practice aimed at producing a religious experience. In such experiences, God frequently delivers a message at the same time, but he need not. He is always identifiable as the same being who revealed himself to others in the same tradition. Other experiences can be of angels, demons, saints, heaven, hell, or other religiously significant objects.

In other traditions, it is not necessarily a personal being who is the object of the experience, or even a positive being at all. In the traditions that find their origin in the Indian subcontinent—chiefly Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism—the object of religious experiences is some basic fact or feature of reality, rather than some entity separate from the universe. In the orthodox Hindu traditions, one may certainly have an experience of a god or some other supernatural entity (like Arjuna’s encounter with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita), but a great many important kinds of experiences are of Brahman, and its identity with the self. In Yoga, which is based in the Samkhya understanding of the nature of things, the mystical practice of yoga leads to a calming and stilling of the mind, which allows the yogi to apprehend directly that he or she is not identical to, or even causally connected with, the physical body, and this realization is what liberates him or her from suffering.