The Catholic University of America

Daniel Klimek Dissertation Defense

Dissertation Title:
“Visionary Experiences Examined: Recent Scientific Studies of Extraordinary Religious Experiences and their Contribution to Spirituality - the Case of the Medjugorje Seers.”
Abstract:
This dissertation will seek to explore the neuroscientific and medical studies performed on the Medjugorje visionaries, and analyze what hermeneutical contributions they make to debates on mysticism and religious experiences. In 1981, six young people (five teenagers and one child) reported experiencing daily apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the village of Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia (modern-day Bosnia-Herzegovina). Visionary experiences are considered one type of mystical experience. Throughout the past three decades, the Medjugorje visionaries have been subjected to an extensive amount of medical, psychological, and scientific examination, even while undergoing their visionary experiences. An exploration of the various investigations related to the visionaries adds to our understanding of extraordinary religious experiences and responds to the need for incorporating new, multidisciplinary approaches for the study and interpretation of such experiences. In presenting and analyzing the scientific studies on the visionaries in juxtaposition, for the first time, with the major scholars and hermeneutical debates focusing on religious experience, this dissertation demonstrates that the Medjugorje studies make a threefold contribution to this subject: a contribution that is epistemological, hermeneutical, and that strengthens a criteria of adequacy in discerning religious experiences. The studies in Medjugorje challenge a reductionist epistemology, what William James called “medical materialism,” which postulates that every mystical experience can be understood though an alternative, pathological or natural, explanation. The scientific studies in Medjugorje point to something more in the experiences of the visionaries. This study concludes that the best hermeneutical method to approach the topic of extraordinary religious experiences is an inductive, constructive-relational approach, a multidisciplinary method that incorporates various perspectives to reach a more holistic understanding of the subject