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Religious Experience Research Centre

Religious Experience Research Centre

Originally founded in 1969 as the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford, England, by Professor Sir Alister Hardy after his retirement from the chair of zoology at Oxford University. In 1985, shortly before he died, Sir Alister was named before a group of eminent churchmen and scientists at the Church Centre of the United Nations as the winner of the Templeton Prize, awarded annually for progress in religion. Following Hardy's death in 1985, the name of the unit was briefly changed to the Alister Hardy Research Centre. In 1991 the name of the organization was renamed the Religious Experience Research Centre when it moved to Westminster College.

The purpose of the Religious Experience Research Centre is "to make a disciplined study of the frequency of report of first hand religious or transcendent experience in contemporary members of human species and to investigate the nature and function of such experiences." The centre explores such questions as: How many people in the modern world report religious or transcendent experiences? What do people mean when they say they have had one of these experiences? What sort of things do they describe? How do they interpret them? What effects do they have on their lives? Are the sorts of people who report them more likely to be: Well or poorly educated; impoverished or well provided for; happy or unhappy; mentally unbalanced or stable; socially responsible or selfpreoccupied; members of religious institutions or not?

Since its foundation, the centre has built up a unique body of research data consisting of more than 5,000 case histories of individuals who have had some form of such experience. Although these case histories have come mainly from Britain, and, to a lesser degree, from other English-speaking countries, many other cultural and religious traditions are represented. The centre has also conducted a number of large scale and in-depth surveys of reports of religious experiences in Britain and the United States.

Repeated national polls indicate that between a third and a half of the adult populations in Britain and the United States claim to have been "aware of or influenced by a presence or a power, whether they call it God or not, which is different from their everyday selves." Parallel studies in the United States and Australia (e.g., by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the Survey Research Center of the University of California at Berkeley, and Gallup International) have produced similarly high figures. The centre has now completed a number of in-depth studies in Britain, in which random samples of particular social groups (e.g., adult members of the population of an industrial city, a sample of postgraduate students, and a sample of nurses in two large hospitals) have been interviewed personally and at length about their experiences. In all these groups the positive response rate has been over 60 percent.

The centre believes that such research is particularly important "in view of the crisis through which Western culture (and hence the world affected by it) is now passing, in part the result of an intellectually restricted perspective which appeared at the time of the European Enlightenment, especially during the eighteenth century." The centre claims that modern analyses of the alienation, meaninglessness, and violence increasingly endemic to society have been limited by the proscriptions enforced by this dominant (and materially successful) thought pattern, particularly in failing to comprehend or dismissing the religious or transcendent dimension of human experience.

The mailing address of the Religious Experience Research Centre is Westminster College, Oxford, OX2 9AT England.

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