For many people, knowing about God is not enough; they also want to feel Gods presence. Whether like St. Pauls experience on the road to Damascus or like Wesleys "strangely warmed heart," people believe that nothing can substitute for religious experience. Even today, people go to church in order to encounter the Divine, by which they mean experience God in their midst. This desire to meet or be met by God is as old as humanity, but America especially has been the seed bed for what William James famously called "varieties of religious experience." These experiences cover a wide spectrum from classic mysticism to revivalist conversion to a contemporary pursuit of spirituality. A Sense of the Heart traces the nature of religious experience from the colonial era to the present, attempting to define and describe the nature of religious experience and noting common and distinct approaches in the work of various scholars and practitioners. Following that, A Sense of the Heart offers a historical review of representative types of religious experience, the nature of such experiences and their impact on the American religious and cultural context as evident in awakenings, controversies, denominations, and new religious communities.
Bill J. Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies, Professor of Religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.