David O’Malley – The youth minister as mystic and martyr. Recognizing and supporting religious experience in young people

The study of religious experience and young people is a relatively new field of research. It is important to recognize at the outset that it offers a different entry point into the spiritual lives of young people. It contrasts markedly from the approaches proposed by the cognitive studies of faith development based on Piaget’s work in the last century. The approach to the study of religious experience is phenomenological; it deals with what happens from the point of view of the individual to whom it is happening. The material in this article is not something that the reader can stand apart from with a cool academic objectivity. The material will move and challenge the reader with its immediacy and needs to be approached with what Ninian Smart once described in a lecture as sympathetic imagination and a structured empathy. What is revealed in the material of this study is an expression of spiritual awareness that is not usually allowed into the light. 

Lo studio dell’esperienza religiosa e giovanile è un campo di ricerca relativamente nuovo. É importante riconoscere fin dall’inizio che offre un diverso punto di ingresso nella vita spirituale dei giovani. Esso contrasta nettamente con gli approcci proposti dal studi cognitivi sullo sviluppo della fede basati sul lavoro di Piaget del secolo scorso. L’approccio allo studio dell’esperienza religiosa è fenomenologico; si occupa di ciò che accade dal punto di vista dell’individuo a cui sta accadendo. Il materiale in questo articolo non è qualcosa che il il lettore può comprendere con una fredda obiettività accademica. Il materiale sfiderà il lettore con la sua immediatezza e ha bisogno di essere affrontato con ciò che Ninian Smart una volta ha descritto in una lezione come immaginazione simpatica e empatia strutturata. Ciò che viene rivelato nel materiale di questo studio è un’espressione di consapevolezza spirituale che di solito non viene alla luce. 


  • 1. The Development of Religious Experience
    • Personal Experience v. Creedal Formulas
    • Validating Personal Experience
    • More Recent Data
    • The Nature of Religious Experience
    • Common Characteristics of Religious Experience
    • Ineffable
    • Noetic
    • Transient
    • Passive
    • The Feeling Elements of Religious Experience
    • The Interpretation Problem
    • A Language Problem
  • 2. Religious Experience and Youth
    • The Ministry Mystic
    • Religious Experience of Children and Young People
    • Relational Consciousness
    • Learning Models Underlying this Research
    • Polanyi and Making Connections
    • Vygotsky and Social Interaction
    • The Spiritual Landscape and Adolescents
    • Awareness sensing
    • Value Sensing
    • Personal Research into Adolescence and Relational Consciousness and Its Implications
    • A Sense of Othemess
    • The Sense of Self
    • The Sense of Reality
  • 3. A Salesian Reflection on Religious Experience
    • Don Bosco and Religious Experience
    • Don Bosco ‘s Own Religious Experience
    • Keeping the Conversation Going
    • The Need for Mystic Ministry

Reference time period: 2005 – 2006

D. O’Malley, The youth minister as mystic and martyr. Recognizing and supporting religious experience in young people, in «Journal of Salesian Studies» 14 (2006), 71-111.

Reference institution:
Institute of Salesian Studies
Institute of Salesian Studies

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