Cover image for The varieties of religious experience
Title:
The varieties of religious experience
Author:
James, William, 1842-1910.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Garden City, N.Y. : Image Books, [1978]

©1978
Physical Description:
516 pages ; 18 cm.
General Note:
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780385132671
Format :
Book

On Order

Summary

Summary

American pastoral counseling movement, and beyond its role in spawning the psychology of religion, it remains a book that empowers individuals and inspires readers with erudition, insight, and kindness. No discussion of current religion - from the fundamentalist revival to the New Age movement - is complete without an appreciation of this groundbreaking work.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Introduction A popular edition of William James' justly renowned Varieties of Religious Experience is very useful because the attitude and method of the study, which made it a milestone in religious thought when James first delivered the substance of the volume as the famous "Gifford Lectures" at the University of Edinburgh at the turn of the century, represent as rare a combination in our day as sixty years ago. The combination is not only rare but creative. For James combines a positive approach to religion with a non-dogmatic and thoroughly empirical approach to the religious life and various types of religious experience. James inherited his life-long interest in religion from his Swedenborgian father. In terms of basic conviction his affirmative attitude rests upon a thoroughly empirical but very valid approach to religious faith. He defines faith as "the sense of life by virtue of which man does not destroy himself, but lives on. It is the force by which he lives." This definition of faith as an affirmation of the meaning of existence is drawn from and not negated by his anti-metaphysical philosophy, his empirical bent. He did not believe that it would be possible to give rational coherence to the many systems of structures which are manifested in life. But it would be possible to assert their ultimate meaning, despite incongruities, by religious faith. James was a rigorous opponent of the impressive and pretentious rational idealistic system of the German philosopher Hegel. In his volume "A Pluralistic Universe" he inveighed against a "Bloc Universe" and against any philosophy which identified the real with the actual. His anti-Hegelian bias establishes his affinity with such diverse anti-Hegelians as Karl Marx on the one hand, and Søren Kierkegaard, the Christian existentialist, on the other hand. His empirical attitude and his aversion to metaphysical systems, erected on the foundation of logic, whose abstractions have little relation to the life we live and the world we experience, place him in a stream of thought which began in the modern era, with David Hume, and which expresses itself in contemporary philosophy with the school of "philosophical analysis." The school consistently examines philosophical and religious statements with the criterion of the question, whether they have meaning. James was probably more ready to ascribe meaning and significance to religious statements than contemporary empiricists. James' empirical bent and scientific interest are partly explained by his rather unique academic career. He took a degree in physiology at Harvard, then turned to psychology and wrote a textbook on the subject before transferring to philosophy, to become America's most influential philosopher of his day. The largeness of his heart, transcending all philosophical polemics, may be revealed by the fact that his colleague and life-long friend at Harvard was Josiah Royce, the American exponent of the school of absolute idealism, or Hegelianism, which James so resolutely opposed. Royce, incidentally, was the second American to be invited to give the Gifford Lectures as James was the first. Royce's lectures were published under the title "The World and the Individual." The debate between these two giants in philosophy made the philosophy department of Harvard the most exciting center of philosophical learning in the nation. James' Varieties of Religious Experience proved exciting reading to his generation, and should prove equally exciting to ours not only because of the virtue of his affirmative, though critical, view of religion, but because of the catholic breadth of his sympathies and the width of his erudition in religious and non-religious literature. The examples of religious thought and life which he subjects to analysis are chosen from the widest variety of theological and religious viewpoints. He draws on the thought of Voltaire, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell when these serve to illumine a point. Among the specifically religious writers and thinkers he skips over the centuries and over the theological fences to draw some illumination from such diverse religious leaders as Cardinal Newman, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, the Spanish Jesuit Molina, his Jesuit master Ignatius Loyala, François de Sales, and of course George Fox and Leo Tolstoi. He brings order out of the wide variety of religious experiences by categories suggested by his interests and empirical standards rather than by the traditional historical categories. He probably shocked his Edinburgh audience by delivering the first lecture on the subject of "Religion and Neurology" and under the topic examining the psychopathic aspects of many religious experiences. While he disavows sympathy for some of the varieties he examines because he thinks them to be significant, he has an obvious sympathy for those in one of his categories, "The Religion of Healthy-mindedness." Here his sympathies betray the understandable reaction to all forms of religious morbidity, particularly those of Calvinist and Evangelical sects, and the characteristic optimism of the late nineteenth century, which knew nothing of, and did not anticipate, the anxieties of two world wars and of a nuclear dilemma. When an example does not quite fit his categories he cheerfully admits the fact. Thus Luther's deep sense of sin obviously does not fit into the category of religious "healthy-mindedness." But James glories in the affirmative attitude of Luther's "Commentary on Galatians" because the sense of forgiveness and release from the burden of guilt is essentially affirmative and healthy-minded. Sometimes his categories are too non-historical to illumine the sweep of thought on a particular issue of the religious life. Thus he has a sympathetic chapter on "Saintliness" in which he does full justice to the quest for perfection in both the medieval ascetic movement and modern sectarian Protestantism. But he does not come to terms with the charge of Reformation thought, that the quest for perfection is bound to be abortive, since even the most rigorous human virtue cannot escape the ambiguity of good and evil, with which all human striving is infected. His chapter on mysticism reveals in what way mystic disciplines release from anxieties and contribute to a joyful nonchalance of life. But he does not come to terms with one defect in the mystic tradition: its tendency to flee the responsibilities of history and engage in premature adventures into eternity. An appreciation of any classic of philosophical, scientific or religious thought (and James' volume is a classic in all three categories) cannot obscure the dated quality of the thought. No degree of genius can lift even the profoundest mind completely above the characteristic mood of his age. Thus James' optimism is an obvious reflection of the mood of the late nineteenth century, a mood which he expressed succinctly in a little essay, now little known but given wide publicity by the peace societies. The title of the essay was "A Moral Equivalent for War." One need not examine the thesis of the essay carefully in this context, but merely observe that he found a rather too simple road to a warless world. Perhaps the chief effect of examining religious life in an untroubled era, and reexamining it in a more troubled era, is to reveal that even a rigorous analysis of the relation of religion to life neglects to survey the problems of man's collective and historical destiny. Living after two world wars and in the midst of a nuclear dilemma, we are bound to take the problem of the meaning of history more seriously than James did. It is perhaps a tautology to suggest that James' lack of interest in the problem of meaning and meaninglessness in the human drama is akin to his lack of interest in the collective experiences of men. For history is always collective destiny. James surveys the effect of religious faith upon the health and wholesomeness of the individual, upon the capacity or incapacity to withstand the strains of life; upon the ability to give up old ways for new, and upon the ability to accept the perplexities of life not with sullen patience but with a certain amount of cheerfulness. All these criteria of religious vitality and relevance have been surrounded by collective problems and perplexities. Our generation is bound to be anxious, not so much about the brevity of our individual life (though that anxiety can never be suppressed) but about the chance of the whole world escaping a nuclear catastrophe. We must worry not only about establishing wholesome relations in the intimate communities of family and friends. We must be concerned about establishing just relations in the increasing intricacies of a technical civilization. Even a genius like James, bound by the limits of his age, cannot help us with these problems of community and the meaning of human history. But the fact that his analysis of religious life is defective in these realms of current interest must not obscure the virtue of his creative approach to both life and religion on the level of personal existence. Reinhold Niebuhr March 1961 Copyright (c) 1997 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Excerpted from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. v
Author's Prefacep. 1
1 Religion and Neurologyp. 3
Introduction: the course is not anthropological, but deals with personal documents
Questions of fact and questions of value
In point of fact, the religious are often neurotic
Criticism of medical materialism, which condemns religion on that account
Theory that religion has a sexual origin refuted
All states of mind are neurally conditioned
Their significance must be tested not by their origin but by the value of their fruits
Three criteria of value; origin useless as a criterion
Advantages of the psychopathic temperament when a superior intellect goes with it
Especially for the religious life
2 Circumscription of the Topicp. 21
Futility of simple definitions of religion
No one specific "religious sentiment"
Institutional and personal religion
We confine ourselves to the personal branch
Definition of religion for the purpose of these lectures
Meaning of the term "divine"
The divine is what prompts solemn reactions
Impossible to make our definitions sharp
We must study the more extreme cases
Two ways of accepting the universe
Religion is more enthusiastic than philosophy
Its characteristic is enthusiasm in solemn emotion
Its ability to overcome unhappiness
Need of such a faculty from the biological point of view
3 The Reality of the Unseenp. 41
Percepts versus abstract concepts
Influence of the latter on belief
Kant's theological Ideas
We have a sense of reality other than that given by the special senses
Examples of "sense of presence"
The feeling of unreality
Sense of a divine presence: examples
Mystical experiences: examples
Other cases of sense of God's presence
Convincingness of unreasoned experience
Inferiority of rationalism in establishing belief
Either enthusiasm or solemnity may preponderate in the religious attitude of individuals
4 and 5 The Religion of Healthy-Mindednessp. 60
Happiness is man's chief concern
"Once-born" and "twice-born" characters
Walt Whitman
Mixed nature of Greek feeling
Systematic healthy-mindedness
Its reasonableness
Liberal Christianity shows it
Optimism as encouraged by Popular Science
The "Mind-cure" movement
Its creed
Cases
Its doctrine of evil
Its analogy to Lutheran theology
Salvation by relaxation
Its methods: suggestion
Meditation
"Recollection"
Verification
Diversity of possible schemes of adaptation to the universe
Appendix Two mind-cure cases
6 and 7 The Sick Soulp. 96
Healthy-mindedness and repentance
Essential pluralism of the healthy-minded philosophy
Morbid-mindedness: its two degrees
The pain-threshold varies in individuals
Insecurity of natural goods
Failure, or vain success of every life
Pessimism of all pure naturalism
Hopelessness of Greek and Roman view
Pathological unhappiness
"Anhedonia"
Querulous melancholy
Vital zest is a pure gift
Loss of it makes physical world look different
Tolstoy
Bunyan
Alline
Morbid fear
Such cases need a supernatural religion for relief
Antagonism of healthy-mindedness and morbidness
The problem of evil cannot be escaped
8 The Divided Self, and the Process of Its Unificationp. 125
Heterogeneous personality
Character gradually attains unity
Examples of divided self
The unity attained need not be religious
"Counter conversion" cases
Other cases
Gradual and sudden unification
Tolstoy's recovery
Bunyan's
9 Conversionp. 142
Case of Stephen Bradley
The psychology of character-changes
Emotional excitements make new centres of personal energy
Schematic ways of representing this
Starbuck likens conversion to normal moral ripening
Leuba's ideas
Seemingly unconvertible persons
Two types of conversion
Subconscious incubation of motives
Self-surrender
Its importance in religious history
Cases
10 Conversion--Concludedp. 162
Cases of sudden conversion
Is suddenness essential?
No, it depends on psychological idiosyncrasy
Proved existence of transmarginal, or subliminal, consciousness
"Automatisms"
Instantaneous conversions seem due to the possession of an active subconscious self by the subject
The value of conversion depends not on the process, but on the fruits
These are not superior in sudden conversion
Professor Coe's views
Sanctification as a result
Our psychological account does not exclude direct presence of the Deity
Sense of higher control
Relations of the emotional "faith-state" to intellectual beliefs
Leuba quoted
Characteristics of the faith-state: sense of truth; the world appears new
Sensory and motor automatisms
Permanency of conversions
11, 12, and 13 Saintlinessp. 193
Sainte-Beuve on the State of Grace
Types of character as due to the balance of impulses and inhibitions
Sovereign excitements
Irascibility
Effects of higher excitement in general
The saintly life is ruled by spiritual excitement
This may annul sensual impulses permanently
Probable subconscious influences involved
Mechanical scheme for representing permanent alteration in character
Characteristics of saintliness
Sense of reality of a higher power
Peace of mind, charity
Equanimity, fortitude, etc.
Connection of this with relaxation
Purity of life
Asceticism
Obedience
Poverty
The sentiments of democracy and of humanity
General effects of higher excitements
14 and 15 The Value of Saintlinessp. 243
It must be tested by the human value of its fruits
The reality of the God must, however, also be judged
"Unfit" religions get eliminated by "experience"
Empiricism is not skepticism
Individual and tribal religion
Loneliness of religious originators
Corruption follows success
Extravagances
Excessive devoutness, as fanaticism
As theopathic absorption
Excessive purity
Excessive charity
The perfect man is adapted only to the perfect environment
Saints are leavens
Excesses of asceticism
Asceticism symbolically stands for the heroic life
Militarism and voluntary poverty as possible equivalents
Pros and cons of the saintly character
Saints versus "strong" men
Their social function must be considered
Abstractly the saint is the highest type, but in the present environment it may fail, so we make ourselves saints at our peril
The question of theological truth
16 and 17 Mysticismp. 281
Mysticism defined
Four marks of mystic states
They form a distinct region of consciousness
Examples of their lower grades
Mysticism and alcohol
"The anaesthetic revelation"
Religious mysticism
Aspects of Nature
Consciousness of God
"Cosmic consciousness"
Yoga
Buddhistic mysticism
Sufism
Christian mystics
Their sense of revelation
Tonic effects of mystic states
They describe by negatives
Sense of union with the Absolute
Mysticism and music
Three conclusions
(1) Mystical states carry authority for him who has them
(2) But for no one else
(3) Nevertheless, they break down the exclusive authority of rationalistic states
They strengthen monistic and optimistic hypotheses
18 Philosophyp. 319
Primacy of feeling in religion, philosophy being a secondary function
Intellectualism professes to escape subjective standards in her theological constructions
"Dogmatic theology"
Criticism of its account of God's attributes
"Pragmatism" as a test of the value of conceptions
God's metaphysical attributes have no practical significance
His moral attributes are proved by bad arguments; collapse of systematic theology
Does transcendental idealism fare better? Its principles
Quotations from John Caird
They are good as restatements of religious experience, but uncoercive as reasoned proof
What philosophy can do for religion by transforming herself into "science of religions"
19 Other Characteristicsp. 339
AEsthetic elements in religion
Contrast of Catholicism and Protestantism
Sacrifice and Confession
Prayer
Religion holds that spiritual work is really effected in prayer
Three degrees of opinion as to what is effected
First degree
Second degree
Third degree
Automatisms, their frequency among religious leaders
Jewish cases
Mohammed
Joseph Smith
Religion and the subconscious region in general
20 Conclusionsp. 359
Summary of religious characteristics
Men's religions need not be identical
"The science of religions" can only suggest, not proclaim, a religious creed
Is religion a "survival" of primitive thought?
Modern science rules out the concept of personality
Anthropomorphism and belief in the personal characterized pre-scientific thought
Personal forces are real, in spite of this
Scientific objects are abstractions, only individualized experiences are concrete
Religion holds by the concrete
Primarily religion is a biological reaction
Its simplest terms are an uneasiness and a deliverance; description of the deliverance
Question of the reality of the higher power
The author's hypotheses
1. The subconscious self as intermediating between nature and the higher region
2. The higher region, or "God"
3. He produces real effects in nature
Postscriptp. 385
Philosophic position of the present work defined as piecemeal supernaturalism
Criticism of universalistic supernaturalism
Different principles must occasion differences in fact
What differences in fact can God's existence occasion?
The question of immortality
Question of God's uniqueness and infinity: religious experience does not settle this question in the affirmative
The pluralistic hypothesis is more conformed to common sense
Indexp. 391