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Accepted Paper:

Spiritual individualism and the experience of prayer  
Richard Irvine (University of St Andrews)

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in an English Benedictine monastery, this paper aims to provide an account of the relationship between contemplative prayer and sources of authority in the Catholic Church. A strong tradition of private prayer is understood to be an important part of English Benedictine identity. This tradition is understood as 'contemplative', in the sense that it aims towards a non-conceptual and non-imagistic approach to prayer. This approach makes communication about the experience of prayer difficult, and limits the role of spiritual guidance, therefore granting the monks a sphere of independence from authority. Through the importance placed upon private prayer, it appears that the monks are granted considerable individualistic freedom in their spiritual lives. But if the experience of prayer is inexpressible, does this run the risk of isolating the individual in an ineffable inner world that can never be adequately connected with the experience of others?

Panel W034
Crisis in church? Religious authority and religious experience
  Session 1