RE1d The Varieties of Religious Experience: Visions

The second type of religious experience you need to know about are visions.

A vision is usually defined as something seen other than by ordinary sight, that is, not normally with the physical eye.  Usually visions are linked with revelations soothes contain some kind of information or message.  Consequently, visions are often found as part of other types of religious experience, for example, in Saul’s conversion, there is a visionary experience.

Let us first consider the most striking aspect of visions, that is, what is seen.  Here there are a wide variety of seen things, what we call the object of the vision.

Before going any further, it is vital that you have read and made notes on the examples of visions.  You can read then here.


One example of what is seen in a religious visions is a religious figure, perhaps a saint, the Virgin Mary or Jesus.  Another example of what is seen in a vision is a place such as heaven or hell, while in some visions, what is seen is a fantastical creature or figure, maybe an angel.  A further possibility involves seeing the future as part of the vision, perhaps the end of the world.

Perhaps the one key component of visions is their message.  Sometimes the message is in the form of clear instructions, such as in the case of Moses.  Other times it is a more implicit message, where it is not so much instructions, but information in the form of a picture, such as in John’s vision of heaven.

It is also worth noting that while some visions are internal, that is seen by the ‘mind’s eye’, others seem to be more ‘real’, an external vision.  In the case of Moses at the burning bush it is clear that there is distance between Moses and what he is seeing, suggesting that this vision is happening outside of him.

This has led to the idea of three types of vision: corporeal visions, imaginary visions and intellectual visions.

Corporeal visions

Corporeal visions are those visions of a body (the Latin word corpus means body) and are usually regarded as visions in which the object is external to the subject, but not seen by anybody but the subject.

Imaginary visions

Imaginary visions are those internal visions that take place in the mind or the ‘mind’s eye’.  Note that in philosophy, the imagination is what the mind does, so saying that these are imaginary visions does not mean they are made up, just that they are happening in the mind.

Intellectual visions

Intellectual visions are those that bring messages or information, that is, the subject learns something as a result of the vision.


In summary, visions are religious experiences where the subject sees something.  They always include some kind of message or revelation.  Corporeal visions are those of a body, imaginary visions are those that take place in the mind and intellectual visions are those when the subject learns something or gains knowledge.

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