“A Multitude of Superstitions and Crudities”

Christopher G. White

in Unsettled Minds

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780520256798
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942721 | DOI:
“A Multitude of Superstitions and Crudities”

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This chapter edges forward into the early decades of the twentieth century, examining how one group of religious liberals, psychologists of religion, developed new discourses about religious experience by analyzing these experiences with new, scientific methods. Yearning for intense religious feelings, yet disgusted by the excessive forms they often took, these religious liberals used scientific methods to lift ecstatic experiences out of their many unpalatable contexts. The psychologist of religion Edwin Starbuck did this most impressively in his early studies of evangelical conversion, studies that reduced the ecstatic experiences of American Methodists to natural moments that brought adjustment and maturity to adolescents. In publishing such studies, Starbuck, like James and other psychologists, made these intense experiences available to wider audiences, who read about them and lived out their intense moments vicariously. But Starbuck and others also domesticated these experiences as stages in much longer processes of spiritual development.

Keywords: religious liberals; religious experience; scientific methods; Edwin Starbuck

Chapter.  9059 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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