Cover image for Varieties of religion today : William James revisited
Varieties of religion today : William James revisited
Taylor, Charles, 1931-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
vii, 127 pages ; 20 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BL53.J363 T39 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A hundred years after William James delivered the celebrated lectures that became The Varieties of Religious Experience, one of the foremost thinkers in the English-speaking world returns to the questions posed in James's masterpiece to clarify the circumstances and conditions of religion in our day. An elegant mix of the philosophy and sociology of religion, Charles Taylor's powerful book maintains a clear perspective on James's work in its historical and cultural contexts, while casting a new and revealing light upon the present. Lucid, readable, and dense with ideas that promise to transform current debates about religion and secularism, Varieties of Religion Today is much more than a revisiting of James's classic. Rather, it places James's analysis of religious experience and the dilemmas of doubt and belief in an unfamiliar but illuminating context, namely the social horizon in which questions of religion come to be presented to individuals in the first place. Taylor begins with questions about the way in which James conceives his subject, and shows how these questions arise out of different ways of understanding religion that confronted one another in James's time and continue to do so today. Evaluating James's treatment of the ethics of belief, he goes on to develop an innovative and provocative reading of the public and cultural conditions in which questions of belief or unbelief are perceived to be individual questions. What emerges is a remarkable and penetrating view of the relation between religion and social order and, ultimately, of what "religion" means.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the early 20th century, Harvard sociologist William James delivered a series of lectures in Edinburgh that were eventually put together in book form as The Varieties of Religious Experience, still in print today. A century later, philosophy professor Charles Taylor spoke for the same lecture series, revisiting James's work for a postmodern audience. His Varieties of Religion Today is a provocative, witty and worthy conversation with James's timeless work. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In these lectures, delivered at the Institute for the Human Sciences in Vienna, Taylor (philosophy, McGill Univ.; Sources of the Self) reconsiders William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), a seminal text in American religious studies, examining whether the points James made are relevant today. While recognizing James's extraordinary insight into the spiritual needs of the modern world, Taylor makes one major criticism: that James rejected the legitimacy of communal religious experience, i.e., the experience of Church, and concentrated on individual religious experience as paradigmatic. But even as he takes issue with the narrowness of James's focus, Taylor finds much of interest in his subject and uses James's works as a springboard for his own discussions of the current state of religion in America, which he sees as struggling with the same debate about religious faith and doubt. In doing so, Taylor offers a well-written, easily accessible overview of today's individualistic religious tendencies. Recommended for larger public collections and those with strong holdings in theology. Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This short sparkling book contains a communitarian's reflections on the individualistic, experience-oriented religiosity of William James's Varieties of Religious Experience. Taylor's lectures wrestle with the question: "What does it mean to call our age secular?" They offer an account of "how we got to be that way." Taylor (emer., McGill Univ.) thinks that James prefigured the "spread of expressive individualism and the culture of authenticity" that were invented during the Romantic period in the late eighteenth century but have become mass phenomena only in the last half-century. Taylor's concerns with meaning and community are rooted in his deep, nondogmatic Catholicism. Like James's colleague and neighbor, Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce, Taylor sees the congregation and the church as vital; religion is not purely individual. He reflects on the "strange zone between loneliness and communication" while discussing the mega-events so characteristic of our lives; i.e., billions watching Princess Di's funeral on television. It is a great pleasure to read a discussion of New Age spirituality by a gifted intellectual who eschews both sociological detachment and nostalgic, partisan jeremiads. This book is also an excellent introduction to Taylor's more demanding volumes: Hegel (1975) and Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (CH, Feb'90). Recommended for all levels. D. Christie University of New Hampshire

Table of Contents

1 James: Varietiesp. 1
2 The "Twice-Born"p. 31
3 Religion Todayp. 61
4 So Was James Right?p. 109
Notesp. 119