This research project investigates descriptions of “experimentation” with different religious practices/traditions, and self-conceptions of spiritual practice as “experimental,” in Western and Indian sources of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century. The project harbours various closely related research aims. The first aim is a contextualization of autobiographical descriptions of “experimenting” with religion/s. The second aim is a theoretical and systematic interest in the practices of spiritual experimentation as described by their protagonists. The third and final aim is a better historical understanding of the term “religious experience.”


All three aims are investigated through careful historical analyses combined with different types of theoretical interests. Two theoretical approaches are of particular interest to the project. The first of these is a narratological/autobiographical approach that traces the embedding of religious experiences in the larger autobiographies of spiritual narrators through such methods as cognitive metaphor analysis. The second theoretical approach is that of science studies. Drawing especially on the work of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, the investigations of spiritual experimenters can be recast in terms of experimental systems, providing a deeper analysis of these phenomena than has hitherto been attempted.