UWTSD hosts the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre 50th Anniversary Conference


Delegates and keynote speakers from across the globe have this week visited the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Lampeter Campus for the 2019 Religious Experience Research Centre Conference. 

Sir Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre Conference 2019

(Pic L-R: Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent; Professor Bettina Schimdt, Director of the RERC and Senior Lecturer ay UWTSD & Professor Ann Taves, University of California, Santa Barbara)

This year’s conference was entitled ‘The Future of the Study of Religious and Spiritual Experience’ and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) which is now housed at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

Bettina Schmidt, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of RERC said: “This conference looks at the future of the study of religious experience and how we continue the work of studying religious experiences in more secular societies.

“Fifty years ago - in 1969 - Hardy invited scholars to Oxford to discuss whether a scientific approach to the study of religious and spiritual experience was possible,” continues Professor Schmidt.  “Following this first symposium, he founded the Religious Experience Research Centre.  Now, half a century on, academics continue to engage with the study of spiritual and religious experience, albeit with greater urgency in the context of progressive secularisation.  This conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of the centre and looks back at its work during the past five decades while also looking forward to the future.”

The Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, sponsored by the Alister Hardy Trust, houses an archive with over 6,000 accounts of people from across the world who have had a spiritual or religious experience in church settings as well as in nature.  Founded by Sir Alister Hardy in 1969 at Manchester College, Oxford, the RERC transferred to UWTSD’s Lampeter campus in July 2000.  The Centre’s aim is to study contemporary accounts of religious or spiritual experiences.


Sir Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre Conference 2019

(Pic: Some of the key note speakers from this year's annual RERC Conference)

One of those who’s always been fascinated by Sir Alister Hardy's work and research is eminent American academic, Anne Taves, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and former President of the American Academy of Religion.

Having been approached to take part in this year’s anniversary conference, Professor Taves was delighted to accept and to give the first key note speech of conference.

“I’ve known about Sir Alister Hardy’s research for years, I have a number of his books on my shelf.  He collected an incredible body of data – first person accounts of religious experiences – which are now in archive in Lampeter.  The research that he initiated has been continued here at the Religious Experience Research Centre – a centre that was named for him.

“One of the things that I’m very interested in discussing at the Conference is the implications of researchers starting with a concept of religious experience that they define rather than figuring out ways to investigate the experiences that people have and find out which ones they consider religious or spiritual; which ones they consider important.....I think the experiences we call religious are a subset of those – and they’re not a stable subset.  Different traditions, different cultures tend to encourage people to pick out certain kinds of experiences as particularly significant.”

Other key note speakers at the conference included Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent and Professor Leslie Francis from the University of Warwick, who is also chair of the Alister Hardy Trust Board of Trustees.

Sir Alister Hardy was a renowned Scientist and approached the complex field of religious and spiritual experiences in the same disciplined and scientific manner way as he approached natural science.  Asking people to send him accounts of first-hand experiences with spiritual or religious powers he established the RERC that has since been at the forefront of the academic study of religious experiences.

The Centre’s members’ research interests range from health and spirituality; spiritual apprenticeships; religious notion of body and selfhood; mediumship and possession; cross-cultural approaches to near-death experiences and shamanism.  Their approaches vary from anthropology to religious studies to psychotherapy.

The Centre also publishes an online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal entitled The Journal for the Study for Religious Experience as well as offering a MRes in Religious Experience at UWTSD.

To find out more about the Sir Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, please visit https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/library/alister-hardy-religious-experience-research-centre/


Further Information


For further information, please contact Sian-Elin Davies, Principal Communications and PR Officer on 01267 676908 / 07449 998476 sian-elin.davies@uwtsd.ac.uk