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2 Beaverton Religion Western- General and Comparative Religion

This title in other editions

The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Modern Library)


The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Modern Library) Cover

ISBN13: 9780679640110
ISBN10: 0679640118
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The Varieties of Religious Experience was an immediate bestseller upon its publication in June 1902. Reflecting the pluralistic views of psychologist turned philosopher William James, it posits that individual religious experiences, rather than the tenets of organized religions, form the backbone of religious life. Jamess discussion of conversion, repentance, mysticism, and hope of reward and fears of punishment in the hereafter—as well as his observations on the religious experiences of such diverse thinkers as Voltaire, Emerson, Luther, and others—all support his thesis. Walter Houston Clark in Psychology Today deemed it “the most notable of all books in the field of the psychology of religion.”


Includes bibliographical references and index.

About the Author

William James (1842-1910), brother of writer Henry James, was born in New York and studied medicine at Harvard, where he taught from 1872; James continued on to write books and become one of the most renowned psychologist-philosophers in the Western world. His other famous works include Principles of Psychology (1890) and Pragmatism (1907).

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Chris Hartman, December 10, 2006 (view all comments by Chris Hartman)
According to William James, the unconscious mind plays a key role in religious experience and conversion. People who have conversions are especially susceptible to "incursions" from the unconscious into the conscious.

But even if a person?s individual psychological makeup is the cause, James argues it does not reduce the religious significance of a conversion. In James?s formulation, we ought to judge a conversion by its ?fruits, not its roots.? James also argues that the "subliminal theory" does not rule out the participation of a Diety in a conversion. He proposes that higher spiritual agencies might touch us through a ?subliminal door.?

Here James confronts the medical-materialist view, which posits a natural explanation for all supposedly religious phenomena, and James tries to accommodate religion by building a doorway between the natural and the supernatural. It?s the sort of accommodation that tends to displease both sides of the issue, and it makes the whole system less elegant.

Overall, James?s conception of the unconscious and its role in conversion is powerful and coherent in either the psychological or the theological realm. The trouble comes when James tries to argue that the unconscious can serve both masters at once. Scientists find his accommodation of religion superfluous, and theologians find the psychological mechanisms insufficiently supernatural or even heretical. James says both camps are excessively sterile, dogmatic, and monistic. Forget about One Big Truth in favor of billions of individual truths, says James.

James?s pluralism is admirable. And his pragmatism ? judging beliefs by their fruits, not their roots ? is a remarkably good way to live, day-to-day. But at the end of the day, for someone seeking to understand the way the world really works, James?s pluralism and pragmatism constitute elaborate cop-outs, evasions of the question. Many, if not most, of the people who have religious or conversion experiences become dogmatists themselves ? what of those fruits of conversion? Unfortunately, James does not say.
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Product Details

James, William
Modern Library
James, William
New York
Comparative Religion
Philosophy and religion
Psychology, Religious
Experience (religion)
Religion Comparative-General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.03x5.23x1.36 in. 1.08 lbs.

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Health and Self-Help » Psychology » General
Humanities » Philosophy » General
Religion » Comparative Religion » General
Religion » Comparative Religion » Spirituality
Religion » Eastern Religions » Philosophy General
Religion » Western Religions » General and Comparative Religion
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"Synopsis" by , Includes bibliographical references and index.
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