Religious Experience Research Centre
Originally founded in 1969 as the Religious Experience
Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford, England, by
Professor Sir Alister Hardy after his retirement from the chair
of zoology at Oxford University. In 1985, shortly before he
died, Sir Alister was named before a group of eminent churchmen
and scientists at the Church Centre of the United Nations
as the winner of the Templeton Prize, awarded annually for
progress in religion. Following Hardy’s death in 1985, the
name of the unit was briefly changed to the Alister Hardy Research
Centre. In 1991 the name of the organization was renamed
the Religious Experience Research Centre when it
moved to Westminster College.
The purpose of the Religious Experience Research Centre
is ‘‘to make a disciplined study of the frequency of report of first
hand religious or transcendent experience in contemporary
members of human species and to investigate the nature and
function of such experiences.’’ The centre explores such questions
as How many people in the modern world report religious
or transcendent experiences What do people mean
when they say they have had one of these experiences What
sort of things do they describe How do they interpret them
What effects do they have on their lives Are the sorts of people
who report them more likely to be Well or poorly educated;
impoverished or well provided for; happy or unhappy; mentally
unbalanced or stable; socially responsible or selfpreoccupied;
members of religious institutions or not
Since its foundation, the centre has built up a unique body
of research data consisting of more than 5,000 case histories of
individuals who have had some form of such experience. Although
these case histories have come mainly from Britain,
and, to a lesser degree, from other English-speaking countries,
many other cultural and religious traditions are represented.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Religious Experience Research Centre
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The centre has also conducted a number of large scale and indepth
surveys of reports of religious experiences in Britain and
the United States.
Repeated national polls indicate that between a third and a
half of the adult populations in Britain and the United States
claim to have been ‘‘aware of or influenced by a presence or a
power, whether they call it God or not, which is different from
their everyday selves.’’ Parallel studies in the United States and
Australia (e.g., by the National Opinion Research Center at the
University of Chicago, the Survey Research Center of the University
of California at Berkeley, and Gallup International)
have produced similarly high figures. The centre has now completed
a number of in-depth studies in Britain, in which random
samples of particular social groups (e.g., adult members
of the population of an industrial city, a sample of postgraduate
students, and a sample of nurses in two large hospitals) have
been interviewed personally and at length about their experiences.
In all these groups the positive response rate has been
over 60 percent.
The centre believes that such research is particularly important
‘‘in view of the crisis through which Western culture (and
hence the world affected by it) is now passing, in part the result
of an intellectually restricted perspective which appeared at the
time of the European Enlightenment, especially during the
eighteenth century.’’ The centre claims that modern analyses
of the alienation, meaninglessness, and violence increasingly
endemic to society have been limited by the proscriptions enforced
by this dominant (and materially successful) thought
pattern, particularly in failing to comprehend or dismissing the
religious or transcendent dimension of human experience.
The mailing address of the Religious Experience Research
Centre is Westminster College, Oxford, OX2 9AT England