Transformative Experience and the Problem of Religious Disagreement

In Matthew A. Benton & Jonathan L. Kvanvig (eds.), Religious Disagreement and Pluralism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 127-141 (2021)
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Peer disagreement presents religious believers, agnostics, and skeptics alike with an epistemological problem: how can confidence in any religious claims (including their negations) be epistemically justified? There seem to be rational, well-informed adherents among a variety of mutually incompatible religious and non-religious perspectives, and so the problem of disagreement arises acutely in the religious domain. In this paper, we show that the transformative nature of religious experience and identity poses more than just this traditional, epistemic problem of conflicting religious beliefs. In encountering one another, believers, agnostics, and skeptics confront not just different beliefs, but different ways of being a person. To transition between religious belief and skepticism is not just to adopt a different set of beliefs, but to transform into a different version of oneself. We argue that the transformative nature of religious identity intensifies the problem of pluralism by adding a new dimension to religious disagreement, for there are principled reasons to think we can lack epistemic and affective access to our potential religious, agnostic, or skeptical selves. Yet, access to these selves seems to be required for the purposes of decision-making that is to be both rational and authentic. Finally, we reflect on the relationship between the transformative problem of religious disagreement and what it shows about the epistemic status of religious conversion and de-conversion, in which one disagrees with one’s own (transformed) self.

Author's Profile

Joshua Blanchard
Oakland University


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