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Research

The Religious Experience Research Centre studies in an academic manner contemporary forms of spiritual and religious experience across the world.

The Centre organises conferences and meetings and publishes its findings in books, articles and occasional papers. It also publishes an online open access Journal for the Study of Religious Experience.

Jointly with the School of Theology, Religious Studies and Islamic Studies, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the Centre offers an MRes in Religious Experience.

In collaboration with the Alister Hardy Trust the RERC offers special bursaries based on needs for students applying to the MRes Religious Experience: http://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/bursaries/

The Research Committee consists of:

  • Prof Bettina Schmidt (Director)
  • Dr Nick Campion
  • Dr Jack Hunter
  • Dr Thomas Jansen
  • Dr Jeff Leonardi 

Honorary Research Fellow

Dr Jeff Leonardi has been made Honorary Research Fellow of the University linked to RERC. Dr Leonardi, a retired Bishop’s Adviser for Pastoral Care and Counselling, Diocese of Lichfield, is a graduate of the University of East Anglia with a Phd on person-centred approach to Spirituality. His research area is  counselling and spirituality in the UK. He will organise a series of seminars and other events at the RERC.

Current Projects / Initiatives include:

  • COVID-19 and Spiritual Experiences (Prof Bettina Schmidt)

 In a collaboration between the Religious Experience Research Centre and the Center for Mind and Culture in Boston, Massachusetts in the US, a new research project studies the types of spiritual and religious experience people experienced while fighting COVID-19. If you are interested in it and want to contribute, follow the link to the survey COVID-19 and Spiritual Experiences Survey (surveymonkey.com)

  • Spirituality and Health

Supported by INSPIRE the RERC began a new research project on Spirituality and Health which is linked to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. The project studied the place of spirituality in therapeutic context in the UK and Brazil. The first publication coming out of the project is Spirituality and Wellbeing: Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religious experience and health edited by Bettina E. Schmidt and Jeff Leonardi (Equinox, 2020).

  •  Spiritual experience in the context of counselling and psychotherapy (Dr Jeff Leonardi)

Much of the research into spiritual experience tends to be focussed on individual accounts of personal experiences. The psychotherapeutic literature in general and of the Person-centred approach in particular, however, contains significant references to spiritual experiences in relational contexts, both one-to-one and small and large group. The present research consists in exploring such accounts and the implications of it for the framing of our understanding of spiritual experience.

  • Health and Spirituality in Brazil – a study of alternative approach to wellbeing (Prof Bettina Schmidt)

The last decades have seen a shift in the understanding of health and wellbeing. After having been limited to “absence of disease” the concept of health is now broadened towards a more holistic understanding of wellness and health. However, there is still little attention on the impact of spirituality. This project will examine the ways how spirituality addresses important questions that have an impact on the quality of life. The focus is on alternative religious practices in Brazil.

  • Spiritual Apprenticeship and Therapeutic Trajectories The Vale do Amanhecer in Europe and Brazil (Dr Emily Pierini)

Drawing upon extensive fieldwork in the Brazilian mediumistic religion Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn), this research addresses case studies of people learning the practice of spirit mediumship as a complementary part in their therapeutic process. It compares ethnographic cases from temples in Brazil with those in Europe, exploring the process of initiatory learning, and the way this process acts upon the cognitive, the bodily, and the biographical levels.

  • Extraordinary Experience, Consciousness, Religious Education and Ecology (Dr Jack Hunter)

Much of my research focusses on the intersections of anthropology, religious studies and parapsychology. In particular I have researched the experiential dimensions of trance and physical mediumship through participant observation at a non-denominational Spiritualist lodge in Bristol. This research focussed on the role of extraordinary experiences in shaping the development of alternative models of self and consciousness amongst practitioners of spirit mediumship. My current research is examining the connections between extraordinary experience and engagement with landscape and ecology, especially in the context of the practice of Permaculture design. I am also exploring the connections between Religious Education (RE) and Religious Studies (RS) in secondary school and further education contexts, and the Anthropology of Religion at university level in an effort to build bridges between disciplines.

Research Projects completed or sponsored by the Centre include:

  • Religious Experience as Liberation - Dr. David Hay
  • Religious Experience in Childhood - Edward Robinson
  • Religion and Values at 16 Plus - Edward Robinson & Dr. Michael Jackson
  • Psychosis and Religious Experience - Dr. Michael Jackson
  • Spiritual/Religious Experience in Modern Society - Dr. Geoffrey Ahern
  • Environmental Influences on the Nature of Religious Experience - William Ord
  • The Relation of Functional Theology - Dr. Newton Malony
  • Negative Religious Experiences - Dr. Merete Jakobsen
  • Dream States, Spirituality and Wellbeing - Dream Research Institute

The Centre welcomes accounts of spiritual / religious experiences (however people define these terms). All accounts are treated in confidence. Give as much information as possible, including what you think might have led to and / or 'triggered' the experience(s), when (including date if possible) and where you had the experience(s) and how it / they may have affected you subsequently. Please include, also, some personal details, e.g. about your age at the time, religious upbringing and affiliation (if any) and anything else which you might think relevant: Religious, Spiritual or Paranormal Experiences - Form 

For the past four years the main research of our Centre has been focused on a major project exploring religious experience in China.

With the help of Professors Keith Ward and John Hedley-Brooke of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford, Professors Xinzhong Yao and Paul Badham obtained a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation which made the research possible. Assisted by scholars from seven Chinese Universities and with the support of 110 trained interviewers they gathered information from ten representative sites across China. 3196 long questionnaires were completed. These provided a mass of data on Chinese religious belief and practice. The research attracted enormous interest and attention inside China, and Professor Yao was invited to present the research findings to universities across China and to the Central School of the Chinese Communist Party.

Among the more interesting findings were that though only 8.7% Chinese describe themselves as "religious", 28.6% feel comforted or empowered through prayer and worship and 56.7% have experienced the influence of "a kind of power that people cannot control or explain clearly". They identify this power with a religious being or force. 44% believe that life and death depend on the Will of Heaven and 41% agree with the statement that "we must do our best in life to glorify God/Lord of Heaven/the Buddha/Ancestors".

The survey found that atheistic ideological indoctrination in the workplace has become rarer in recent years and only 0.7% of the religious believers said that they had felt under pressure because of their religious beliefs. Firm atheists reject by 46.6% to 33.4% the idea that "Religion is the opium of the people" and though 47.5% of firm atheists believe that "religion is cheating nonsense", 34% disagree and 31.3% think that "Religion contains profound truth".

Religious believers understate their commitment. This is illustrated by the fact that only 4.4% claim to be Buddhist, and yet 27.4 % pray to a Buddha or bodhisattva and 18.2% acknowledge influence or control of the Buddha or a bodhisattva in their lives. Christianity is formally embraced by only 2.8% of the population, yet 11% seek to follow the way of the Christian God.

The project has also attracted attention in the UK. Members will recall that both our Directors have given progress reports at our Open Days in Oxford as well as at MA residentials at Lampeter and at our Annual conferences as well as speaking at a variety of other conferences and giving radio interviews.

Distinguished scholars in Turkey, Japan, India, Russia, Brazil, the USA and Taiwan have asked permission to adapt the methodology and the questionnaire to their own countries and to engage in comparative studies with our Centre. Arising from this the British Association for the Study of Religions focused its 2007 conference on Religious experience in global contexts and we were delighted that our Chinese colleagues as well as scholars from the other interested countries came to Edinburgh to present papers.

The initial findings of the research are documented in a 274 page book from the University of Wales Press entitled Religious Experience in Contemporary China (2007)as well as in articles in the Journal Modern Believing (April 2006 and January 2008), the Journal of Contemporary Religion (July 2007) and the Chinese Journal of World Religions (Shijie Zongjiao, No.4, 2007). Dr. Wendy Dossett cited some of the findings in her Guide to the new A level in Religious Experience, and Marianne Rankin hopes to make use of the findings in her forthcoming textbook on religious experience. Further publications are being planned in both Chinese and English.

In the light of the success of the China project the Religious Experience Research Centre is working with the Ian Ramsey Centre to seek funding for a further project comparing religious experience across cultures and traditions. Our colleagues in Turkey, Japan, India, Russia, Brazil, and the USA have pledged their support but we will not know for several months whether or not the Centre can secure the necessary funding for this vast successor project.

The Religious Experience Research Centre launched a project about the place of spirituality within therapy in the UK and Brazil. Our aim was to understand the place of spirituality within a therapeutic context. We examined the role of spirituality within psychotherapy, counselling and other medical contexts as well as the understanding of spirituality among therapists. In a second stage we examined how patients deal with spirituality when dealing with doctors and nurses in a medical context. We used online surveys with a series of questions asking about experiences with spirituality in the medical context, one in English and one in Portuguese. The essential question was the importance of spirituality (or religion) in the medical and therapeutic context. While we are still analysing the data, a first book was already published: Spirituality and Wellbeing: Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religious experience and health edited by Bettina E. Schmidt and Jeff Leonardi (Equinox, 2020). More publications will follow.

 Spirituality and Wellbeing book

Prof Bettina Schmidt, Director of the Religious Experience Research Centre
Rev Dr Jeff Leonardi, Research Fellow at the Religious Experience Research Centre
Dr Everton Maraldi, Researcher at the Institute of Psychology, Universidade de São Paulo