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 6,500 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 annual conferences and publishes an online journal.
The RERC has an active group of researchers working on a range of projects.
Current Projects / Initiatives include:
- Spiritual Experience and COVID19
Supported by the Global Wales Mobility Fund a new research was initiated to research spiritual experiences and their impact on people during the pandemic. In collaboration with the Centre of Mind and Culture at the University of Boston, USA, online surveys were set up to collect stories about the impact of non-ordinary experiences. A first article was published recently about the silence around non-ordinary experiences.
Prof Bettina Schmidt, Director of the Religious Experience Research Centre
Dr Kate Stockly, Centre of Mind and Culture, Boston University
- 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 circulated 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 workplace, either as a therapist or counsellor or as a 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
- 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.
- Religiosity and Spirituality in Psychotherapy: An Intercultural Study Based on the Perception of Clinical Psychologists (Prof. Marta Helena de Freitas, Universidade Católica de Brasília/ Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre)
This project aims to compare research data from a project entitled "Religiosity and Spirituality in the Psychological Clinic: Perceptions of Psychotherapists," coordinated by Prof. de Freitas in a Brazilian context, with data and clinical material available at the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, UWTSD Lampeter. This intercultural study will both utilise data held in the Alister Hardy Centre and add new data to the Centre’s database.
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 an edited volume about the study of religious experience that came out of a conference organised by the Religious Experience Research Centre.
Here are some recent publications of researchers linked to RERC (last 5 years):
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.
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.
Schmidt, Bettina E. and Kate Stockly, The silence around non-ordinary experiences during the pandemic. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, Vol. 13 (1) (2022). DOI 10.5840/asrr20226889
Schmidt, Bettina E. and Jeff Leonardi, eds. Spirituality and Wellbeing: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Religious Experience and Health. Sheffield: Equinox, 2020.
Schmidt, Bettina E. ‘Incorporation does not exist’: The Brazilian rejection of the term ‘possession’ and why it exists nonetheless. In: Spirit Possession: Multidisciplinary Approaches to a Worldwide Phenomenon, ed. by Éva Pócs and András Zempléni. Budapest, Vienna, New York: Central European University Press, 2022, pp. 75-92.
Schmidt, Bettina E. The Entanglement of Spirituality, Wellbeing and ‘Spiritual Economy’ in Brazil: The Shift from ‘Living well together’ to ‘Leading a good life’. In: New Spiritualities and the Culture of Well-being (Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach, Vol. 6), ed. by Geraldine Mossiere. Frankfurt/New York: Springer, 2022, pp. 117-133. doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-06263-6_8.
Schmidt, Bettina E. Mediumship as Ordinary Experience: An anthropological discussion of ordinary vs non-ordinary – What is the difference? In: Festschrift: Essays in Honour of Peggy Morgan (Special issue of the Journal for the Study of Religious Experience, Vol. 6.2), ed. by Andy Burns, Wendy Dossett and Bettina E. Schmidt. 2020, pp. 183-206.
Schmidt,. Bettina E. The Experience of Seeing: Spirit Possession as Performance. In: Religion and Sight, ed. by Louise Child and Aaron Rosen (Religion and the Senses series). Sheffield: Equinox, 2020, pp. 122-140.
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.
The Annual conference in 2023 was postponed to 2024. The topic will be music and religious experience. More information will be added soon.
Mystical Experiences: Past and Present. Annual conference of the Religious Experience Research Centre, 10 July 2021 (9 July 2022). Keynote speaker: Dr Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Wales and Canterbury. [recordings will be made available soon]
"Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of Religious and Spiritual Experiences" Annual conference of the Religious Experience Research Centre, 10 July 2021 (via Zoom). Keynote speaker: Prof Jane Shaw, Master of Harris Manchester College, Oxford
The Future of the Study of Religious and Spiritual Experience: 50th Anniversary of the Religious Experience Research Centre. Annual conference of the Religious Experience Research Centre, 1 -3 July 2019, Keynote Speaker: Prof Ann Taves, Link: The Religious Experience Research Centre Conference 2019
RERC offers a MRes in Religious Experience that is supported by a bursary sponsored by the Alister Hardy Trust. We also supervise PhD students.