The Religious Experience and Desire Project

The ‘Religious Experience and Desire’ project, based in London, is a philosophical project examining the connection between religious experience and desire. Seminars will explore in various ways the idea that there is an essentially desiderative dimension to any human apprehension of the divine, and hence that religious experience is informed and infused by the desire for God.

The next seminar will be given by Prof John Cottingham, with a paper entitled ‘From Desire to Encounter: the Human Quest for the Infinite’.

Time: 24th January, 2pm refreshments for 2.30pm start

Place: Heythrop College London, Bellarmine Room


The paper begins with the journey towards knowledge of the infinite that is traced out in Descartes’s metaphysical masterpiece, the Meditations. Drawing on Levinas’s construal of the argument in the Third Meditation, I argue that Descartes’s reflections on God as infinite can be a starting point for deepening our understanding of the religious quest – the paradoxical human search for that which, by its very nature, is incomprehensible to the human mind. The second half of the paper argues that this search is from first to last structured by desire and longing, and that something prima facie non-cognitive and non-epistemic, namely the desire for God, has a cognitive and epistemic role to play. To put it crudely, perhaps desire can be our human way, or a human way, whereby we can (in Descartes’s words) ‘in a certain manner attain to’ the infinite perfection that is God.