Varieties of Religious Experience

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Psychological study by William James, published in 1902, originally delivered in two courses of lectures at the University of Edinburgh (1901–2).

This “description of man's religious constitution” is written from the point of view of a psychologist, and based on the principle that “All states of mind are neurally conditioned” and that “Their significance must be tested not by their origin but by the value of their fruits.” Asserting that institutional religion is “an external art” of “ritual acts,” the author limits his study to personal religion, in which “the inner dispositions of man himself … form the center of interest, his conscience, his deserts, his helplessness, his incompleteness.” He offers an “arbitrary” definition of religion: “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in religion to whatever they may consider the divine.” Pointing out that it is thus a “way of accepting the universe,” and is of great value “from the biological point of view,” he proceeds to the consideration, profusely documented by individual case histories, of such phenomena as “the religion of healthy-mindedness,” “the sick soul,” “the divided self, and the process of its unification,” conversion, and saintliness. The study concludes with a discussion of values in the religious life, mysticism, and religious philosophy, as well as a definition of the author's own position as a refined “piecemeal super-naturalism” and philosophic pluralism.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William James (1842—1910) American philosopher and psychologist

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