Religious Experience Research Centre


The Religious Experience Research Centre was founded by Sir Alister Hardy in 1969 at Manchester College, Oxford. The Centre's aim is to study contemporary accounts of religious or spiritual experiences.

The Centre houses an archive with over 6,000 accounts of first-hand experiences of people from across the world who had a spiritual or religious experience. In addition to its archive of accounts the RERC houses a specialist collection of books and journals, organises a research seminar and conferences and publishes an online journal.

The RERC has an active group of researchers working on a range of projects.

Current Projects / Initiatives include:

  • 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 will study the place of spirituality in therapeutic context in the UK and Brazil. Our aim is to understand the place of spirituality within a therapeutic context. We want to examine the role of spirituality within psychotherapy, counselling and other medical contexts as well as the understanding of spirituality among therapists.

We have prepared two online surveys with a series of questions asking about experiences with spirituality in the therapeutic context, one in English and one in Portuguese. The essential question is how important spirituality (or religion) is in the work place, either as therapist or counsellor or as student of psychology.

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

More information

  •  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.

  • Near-Death Experience, Shamanism, and Afterlife Beliefs in Indigenous Religions (Dr Gregory Shushan)

This study explores the relationship between near-death and shamanic experiences, and beliefs about the afterlife in traditional societies in Africa, North America, and the Pacific prior to conversion to a non-indigenous religion. Using ethnohistoric accounts from early encounters with explorers, missionaries, and ethnologists, it examines the role culture plays in how people experience and interpret NDEs. In seeking to account for both the cross-cultural similarities and differences between the experiences and beliefs of various societies, an interdisciplinary methodology is adopted, integrating individual, socio-cultural, environmental, and universal cognitive factors, while taking seriously narratives of extraordinary experiences. 

  • 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.

The Faculty celebrated the launch of a new publication that came out of a conference organised by the Religious Experience Research Centre. 

Here is a link to the recording of the book launch:

Here are some publications of researchers linked to RERC:

Hunter, Jack.‘Preliminary Report on Extraordinary Experience in Permaculture: Collapsing the Natural/Supernatural Divide’.' Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2018. pp. 12-22.

Hunter, Jack.‘Reflecting on Edith Turner's Work and Influence.Journal for the Study of Religious Experience.’ Vol. 4, No. 1. 2018, pp. 102-104.

Hunter, Jack. ‘Religious Education and the Paranormal: Reflections on Discussing Anomalous Experiences in the Classroom.’ Religious Studies News: Spotlight on Teaching, 2017 October, pp. 4-8.

Hunter, Jack.‘Engaging the Anomalous: Reflections from the Anthropology of the Paranormal.’European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, Vol. 18, No. 2, 2016, pp. 170-178.

Hunter, Jack.‘Between Realness and Unrealness: Anthropology, Parapsychology and the Ontology of Non-Ordinary Realities.’Diskus: Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2015, pp. 4-20.

Hunter, Jack. Spirits are the Problem: Anthropology and Conceptualising Spiritual Beings.’Journal for the Study of Religious Experience, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2015, pp. 76-86.

Pierini, Emily. ‘Fieldwork and Embodied Knowledge: Researching upon the Experiences of Spirit Mediums in Brazil’. In Bettina Schmidt (ed.), The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies, London: Equinox, 2016.

Pierini, Emily. Becoming a Jaguar: Spiritual Routes in the Vale do Amanhecer’. In Bettina Schmidt and Steven Engler (eds). Handbook on Brazilian Religions. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

Pierini, Emily. Incontri Incorporati: Pratiche Medianiche e Etnografia del Sentire’, In S. Botta and M. Ferrara (eds.), Corpi Sciamanici: La Nozione di Persona nello Studio dello Sciamanesimo, Roma: Nuova Cultura, 2016.

Pierini, Emily. Becoming a Spirit Medium: Initiatory Learning and the Self in the Vale do Amanhecer’. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. 2014. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2014.929598, pp.1-25.

Schmidt, Bettina E.  ‘Provincializing Religious Experience: Methodological Challenges to the Study of Religious Experiences; A Brazilian Case Study’. In Bettina Schmidt (Ed.), The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies. Durham: Equinox, 2016.

Schmidt, Bettina E. Spirit and Trance in Brazil: Anthropology of Religious Experiences. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Schmidt, Bettina E. The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies, ed. by Bettina E. Schmidt. Durham: Equinox, 2016.

Schmidt, Bettina E. ‘Spirit Mediumship in Brazil: The Controversy about Semi-Conscious Mediums’. DISKUS: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions, Vol. 17 (2), pp. 38-53. DOI:

Shushan, Gregory. ‘Cultural-linguistic constructivism and the challenge of near-death and out-of-body experience.’  In Bettina Schmidt (ed.) The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies.  London: Equinox (2016).

Shushan, Gregory. ‘Extraordinary experiences and religious beliefs: deconstructing some contemporary philosophical axioms.’  Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, vol. 26 (2014) 384-416.

The RERC organised in collaboration with the Research Cluster ‘Spirituality, Health and Wellbeing’ of the Faculty Humanities and Performing Arts a one day conference with the topic Spirituality, Therapy and Wellbeing. The conference took place on July 16th 2017 in the Old Hall in the Old Building of the Lampeter campus.

Spirtual Therapy and Wellbeing Conference - July 2017

Keynote speaker was Dr Wendy Dossett,  University of Chester. She  spoke about ‘Spiritus contra spiritum’: Spirituality and recovery from alcohol use disorder.

Dr Dossett is Principal Investigator of The Higher Power Project; a large qualitative project exploring spirituality amongst people in twelve-step style recovery from addictions. Amongst her most recent relevant publications is a volume co-edited with Hannah Bacon and Steve Knowles entitled Alternative Salvations: Engaging the Sacred and the Secular (Bloomsbury 2015) in which she has a chapter on this research, and a Special Issue of the journal Religions, on religion and addiction, which she co-edited with Professor Christopher C H Cook.

Other speakers were:

  • Dr Lymarie Rodriguez on Alcoholics Anonymous, Recovery and Care of the Self
  • Patricia R. Souza, on the Role of Food in Candomblé’s Healing Rituals,
  • Dr Thomas Jansen on Food and Fasting in Chinese Buddhism
  • Rev Dr Jeff Leonardi and Prof Bettina Schmidt on the first finding of their joint project on Spirituality within a Therapeutic context.

The conference was free of charge and open to the public.

Find out more: Information about past and future events

RERC offers a MRes in Religious Experience that is supported by a bursary sponsored by the Alister Hardy Trust. We also supervise PhD students.



Drawing by Alister Hardy

Drawing by Alister Hardy