Religious Perspectives on Psi - Syllabus

Course Description

This course will provide an introductory exploration of the relationship between psi phenomena (broadly, ESP and psychokinesis) and the world’s eastern and western religious traditions. The course will explore four main questions:

  • Does psi provide support for any of the core concepts of the eastern and western religious traditions?
  • How have religious traditions interpreted phenomena parapsychologists commonly classify as psi or psi related? For example, veridical out-of-body and near-death experiences, ostensible past-life memories, and communications from the deceased through mediums.
  • How is psi potentially related to other important features of religious belief and practice? For example, miracles, efficacious petitionary prayer, revelation and meditational insight, and prophecy.
  • How have religions distinguished between benevolent and malevolent manifestations of psi?

In this course, we will primarily be interested in how religious traditions have acknowledged, interpreted, and incorporated psi or psi-related phenomena, as well as how religions have deployed such phenomena to underwrite claims in their religious and theological narratives. But we will also consider from a point of view outside religious traditions whether psi offers support for religious concepts or claims, and whether aspects of religious narratives – for example, miracles, prophecy, and efficacious petitionary prayer – can plausibly be reinterpreted in terms of psi-functioning.

Religious traditions will include Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. Topics will include past-life memories, mediumship, and near-death experiences in relation to life after death, psychokinesis in relation to efficacious prayer and miracles, and precognition and prophecy. Readings will include modern and contemporary philosophers, religious studies scholars, and scientists, as well as selections from sacred texts.

Course Objectives

The course has two main objectives:

  • The primary objective of the course is for students to develop an introductory-level understanding of how eastern and western religious traditions have acknowledged, interpreted, and assimilated phenomena which parapsychologists classify as psi or as psi related.
  • The secondary objective is for students to understand how, from a religiously neutral point of view, psi phenomena can be leveraged as (i) support for core religious ideas and (ii) an interpretative framework for other religious phenomena.

Course Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will have demonstrated an understanding of:

  • six core ideas in the eastern and western religious traditions,
  • at least three ways researchers have argued that psi can be viewed as supporting core religious concepts,
  • four examples of how religious traditions have interpreted psi-related phenomena that are ostensible evidence for personal survival of death: out-of-body and near-death experiences, mediumship, and past-life memories and other features associated with cases of the reincarnation type,
  • at least two ways religious traditions have appealed to psi or psi-related phenomena to underwrite or support religious narratives,
  • at least two ways psi can be related to ostensibly supernormal or supernatural religious phenomena – for example, miracles, efficacious petitionary prayer, revelation and meditational insight, and prophecy, and
  • at least two ways religious traditions have distinguished between benign and malevolent manifestations of psi

Course Outline

Week 1

Course Introduction

  • Personal introduction
  • Course syllabus
  • Introduction to the course’s main questions

Week 2

Core Religious Ideas

  • God or transcendent reality
  • The world
  • The self
  • Praxis and personal transformation
  • Modes of knowing
  • Human destiny

Week 3

Psi as Potential Support for Core Religious Ideas

  • Defining Psi
  • Transcendent Reality
  • Mystical experience
  • Conceptions of the self
  • Human destiny and life after death

Week 4

Religious Perspectives on Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences

  • The Arda Viraf text of Zoroastrianism
  • Bardo in the Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • OBEs/NDEs in the Abrahamic Traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)

Week 5

Religious Perspective on Mediumship and Cases of the Reincarnation Type

  • Reincarnation in the Vedic (Hindu) traditions
  • Reincarnation in the Buddhist traditions
  • Reincarnation and Mediumship in the Abrahamic traditions

Week 6

Psi and Other Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice

  • Miracles
  • Efficacious Petitionary Prayer
  • Revelation and Meditational Insight
  • Prophecy

Week 7

Religious Perspectives on Malevolent Manifestations of Psi

  • Distinguishing between benign, benevolent, and malevolent psi
  • Psi, Demonic Possession, and Exorcism

Week 8

Course Summary – Key Themes, Problems, and Conclusions

Course Materials

  • Various articles selected by the instructor and provided for download throughout the course.

Course Activities

  • Students will be expected to view the class broadcasts or the recordings of the classes each week.
  • Students will be expected to participate in weekly discussion forums and activities. Each student will be expected to provide an original posting each week and to respond to at least one other student in the discussion forums. Greater participation in this area will be considered during class evaluations.
  • One multiple choice or short answer evaluations will be assigned after the 4th or 5th week of class.
  • Final Exam

Evaluation and Grading

Students who are taking the course for a grade will be assessed using a letter grade based on the standard letter grade format.

  • A (90-100)
  • B (80-89)
  • C (70-79)
  • D (60-69)
  • F (below 60)

Participation in the forums is a large component of the grading, and substantive postings are necessary to get full credit for each discussion topic.

The following activities will be considered to contribute to the courses as follows:

  • Discussions (5 points per week; Total 40%)
  • Midterm (30%)
  • Final (30%)