For almost half a century, the Archive founded by Sir Alister Hardy has been expanded by the accounts offered by ordinary people to produce a repository of immense scientific worth. The aim of this planning grant is to draw together contemporary expertise from the wide range of disciplines that are now involved in the study and exploration of religious and spiritual experiences (RSEs) to address the question: How can Sir Alister's legacy be developed fifty years later, drawing on the advances in scientific inquiry and intellectual understanding since the original Archive was developed?
While the existing Archive still has an online presence, the analytic potential of extant records is limited by whatever the contributors of RSE narratives found personally salient. It is rare that any account would include all the information needed for a researcher to test a given hypothesis about the causes, consequences, or nature of RSEs. The existing Archive has the capacity to continue to collect new accounts, but it does not have the sort of robust infrastructure that is capable of augmenting these with the richer contextualization that we envisage to be necessary for future, deeper, more detailed, and more richly contextualized study.
The idea is to complement the existing Archive by building a more comprehensive and intelligent framework for capturing and interrogating the variety and significances of ‘ordinary’ (i.e., non-expert, lay) contemporary RSEs. The culminating output of this planning grant will be a well-considered application to JTF for the development of an electronic portal and associated database capable of fulfilling the vision of Sir Alister, based on wide consultation with experts. This will be better adapted to collecting data and testing hypotheses related to RSEs, thereby creating an appropriate and rich resource for a new generation of scientists, philosophers, theologians, religion scholars, and other researchers.