Synopses & Reviews
JamesÆs masterful treatise on the psychology of individual religious experience was originally composed for the prestigious Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh University in 1901-1902. Emphasizing subjective religious experience in its many guises, as opposed to the distinctions among specific creeds or theologies, this trenchant exploration of the religious imagination is still unsurpassed as an overview of the human belief in a transcendent reality, whether personalized as God or viewed impersonally as some higher spiritual reality. As such JamesÆs study is relevant to any religious context, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, ôNew Age,ö or any other.
Perhaps no other aspect of culture is so amorphous and difficult to grasp in its totality as religion. It is this very daunting aspect of the subject that makes JamesÆs achievement in these lectures so impressive. His gift for distilling the essential ingredients of the religious experience from the great mass of details is evident in every chapter. Taking the approach that extreme manifestations of the religious temperament give us more insight into the subject than the routine features of worship and ritual, he discusses many intriguing accounts of remarkable religious experiences, grouping these experiences into broad types: healthy-mindedness, the sick soul, the divided self and the process of its unification, conversion, saintliness, and mysticism. He also discusses the distinctions between religious experience and philosophy; psychological theories concerning the origin and nature of religious belief; religionÆs personal, individualistic approach to reality vs. scienceÆs impersonal abstract approach; and the overall value of religion to human well-being.
James concludes that religious experience is real insofar as it produces real effects on peoplesÆ lives and characters, and therefore it can and should be the subject of serious scientific inquiry.