Varieties of Religious Experience: Abraham and Mary Lincoln

John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer and Dawn Vogel

in Lincoln Revisited

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780823227365
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823240869 | DOI:
Varieties of Religious Experience: Abraham and Mary Lincoln

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In 1902, William James, younger brother of Henry and Alice James, veteran of the Civil War and student of religion and medicine, delivered a series of lectures at the University of Edinburgh entitled “Varieties of Religious Experience.” His audience, made up of conservative members of the Church of Scotland, sat stunned by his audacious approach to religion. This chapter uses James's understanding of religion as a point of departure for a discussion of both Abraham Lincoln and Mary Lincoln's religion. It claims that both Lincolns demonstrated the validity of James's claims — Lincoln to the extent that he intensified his belief in God's omnipotence even as he remained “unchurched” in his commitment to the sacraments. Meanwhile Mary, who at the beginning of her life was more conventional about spiritual matters, changed her understanding of a transcendent reference point from orthodox Presbyterianism to briefly Episcopalianism and then to spiritualism.

Keywords: William James; religious experience; Church of Scotland; religion; Abraham Lincoln; Mary Lincoln; God; omnipotence; Presbyterianism; spiritualism

Chapter.  3915 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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