Individual ecstasies: the revelatory experience conference

On March 23rd London will host a unique conference on the neuroscience, psychiatry and interpretation of revelatory visionary experiences.

It’s been put together by Quinton Deeley from our research group at the Institute of Psychiatry and brings together cognitive neuroscientists, anthropologists, religious studies scholars, psychologists and psychiatrists to discuss different ways of understanding ‘revelatory experiences’.

Mental health professionals frequently encounter people who report experiences of God or supernatural beings speaking or acting through them to reveal important truths. In some cases it is difficult to know to what extent such experiences are best explained as ‘illness’, or represent experiences which are accepted and valued within a person’s religious or cultural context. Indeed, revelatory experiences form a key part of the formation and development of major world religions through figures such as prophets, visionaries, and yogins, as well as in the religious practice of shamans and others in traditional smaller scale societies.

Why are revelatory experiences and related altered states of consciousness so common across cultures and history? What neural and other processes cause them? When should they be thought of as due to mental illness, as opposed to culturally accepted religious experience? And what value should or can be placed upon them? In this one day conference leading scholars from neuroscience, psychiatry, theology and religious studies, history and anthropology gather to present recent findings, and debate with each other and the audience about these fundamental aspects of human experience.

Rarely do we get the chance to look at visionary experiences from so many diverse angles so it should be a fascinating day.

Full details at the link below. See you there.

Link to details of Revelatory Experiences conference.

10 thoughts on “Individual ecstasies: the revelatory experience conference”

  1. As a neuroscience “hobbiest” (geeky weird yes) I’d LOVE to attend this conference and blog/tweet about it. It’ll be interesting to see how ecstatic-experience believers ultimately rationalize the debate and conclusions. I suspect not happily…

    1. As an experiencer of ecstasy I can tell you that I feel no need to rationalize the debate at all. According to science what I experience does not exist. There is no room for debate beyond the body. For me the body is only the beginning and the questions are silly. Why is it common across history and cultures? Cause it is real, d’oh.

  2. Isn’t the ‘Ah-ha!’ moment in science, or anywhere, a revelatory experience?

    Getting ‘zoned in’ is also similar, I would think.

    Debating about free will lately, there are a couple of times that, very powerfully, things I hadn’t ever thought of before became crystal clear, my thinking process for minutes and hours, and the certainty they were true.

    I think this differs from what the conference is about, but alas, I can’t be there.

    Dawn, lol, you make a great point! At a certain level of self insight and rationality, perhaps we even lose the ability to interpret these things as mystical, for which I feel blessed, ha ha 😉

  3. Thankfully for humanity, it’s not a debate at all. There are things we know and things we don’t know, and revelatory experiences straddle the boundary in a fascinating, meaningful, and intrapsychic way.

    “Science” is a useful way of knowing things, but the pursuit thereof is clouded and disrupted by a total inability to tolerate not-knowing. The persistent belief that things unexplained by science will eventually be explained by science is inexcusably dogmatic. Creating a class of people called “ecstatic-experience believers” is a false dichotomy; if you have experienced something, your understanding of that experience is intrinsically empirical. The projected accusation that they may “rationalize” the conclusions of an innacurate/tired science vs. ignorance battle is deliciously ironic.

    Re-framing the scientific “a-ha” moment as a revelatory experience is as unproductive as re-framing religious experiences as psychotic ones. I look forward to the cult of neuroscience losing its tight grip on the domain of popular “logic,” and look forward to intelligent cooperation toward some sort of post-empirical model that can address the next set of humanity’s issues.

    1. Interesting points you make, NKM. I dont disagree. My previous comment was probably unnecessarily simplistic and glib. Can science someday explain revelation? I dont know. I do think that when I experience something enthralling, captivating, or life-changing, I integrate it in my own personal way. I become an “ecstatic-experience believer.” If my integration includes believing I’ve heard the voice of the angels, I may be resistant to the concept that it’s my brain in seizure (for example). I will indeed rationalize it to maintain my deeply felt interpretation and world view. Would I be wrong? Not necessarily. If open inquiry rules, it can result in remarkable conversations such as ours.

  4. This sounds fantastic…
    As an ex-theology and religious studies student, currently an OT working in brain injury, and having had a friend recently hospitalised with religiously-themed psychosis – this tickles my fancy! Sadly, I’m in Australia…Please, please, please, post some follow up on this.

  5. Looks wonderful, though it’s a shame it’s on a weekday. Weekday academic conferences are a sure way to exclude the wider population from involving themselves in current scientific discourse and debates.

  6. I wonder if there will be anyone there who has actually had revelatory visionary experiences? There will be religious studies scholars, but one doesn’t need to have personal experience with mysticism in order to be a religious scholar.

    I am suspicious of this conference.

    I wonder if there will be anyone there who has read the book, ‘Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence’

    It’s published by the APA, so I would expect so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: