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Varieties of Religious Experience

William James

Book Overview: 

The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature is a book by the Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James that comprises his edited Gifford Lectures on "Natural Theology" delivered at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. These lectures concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science, in James' view, in the academic study of religion. Soon after its publication, the book found its way into the canon of psychology and philosophy, and has remained in print for over a century. (Summary by Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .t all else comes as that which shall be 'added unto you'—as quite incidental and as a surprise to us, perhaps; and yet it is the proof of the reality of the perfect poise in the very centre of our being.

"When I say that we commonly make the object of our life that which we should not work for primarily, I mean many things which the world considers praiseworthy and excellent, such as success in business, fame as author or artist, physician or lawyer, or renown in philanthropic undertakings. Such things should be results, not objects. I would also include pleasures of many kinds which seem harmless and good at the time, and are pursued because many accept them—I mean conventionalities, sociabilities, and fashions in their various development, these being mostly approved by the masses, although they may be unreal, and even unhealthy superfluities."

Here is another case, more concrete, also that of a woman. I read you. . . Read More

Community Reviews

I have heard of this book for years and have meant to look into it for about as long – but earlier this year I read a book called Ghost Hunters William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death and that made me more curious about James and his philosophy. I had read some of hi...more

Foreword to the Centenary Edition, by Micky James
Editors' Preface
Introduction: The Spiritual Roots of James's 'Varieties of Religious Experience'
Introduction: The Return to James: Psychology, Religion and the Amnesia of Neuroscience
Preface from the 1902 Edition

--The Varieties of Religious Experie...more

Most people seem to think this book is important for the light it sheds on religion, or perhaps as an advancement in the field of religious studies. However, I would argue that this book's real significance lies in James' respect for our conscious experiences of things as the origin of real truth...more

I wanted to like this classic book, but I can't do it: too many things are wrong. A shame, because I completely approve of the idea. William James, writing around the end of the 19th century, sets out to take a cool look at how people experience religious feeling, basing his investigation on stat...more

"I fear that my general philosophic position received so scant a statement as to hardly be intelligible"

That about sums up this text for me. Although the language is beautiful, I never really got a understanding of what the author was trying to prove.

A more apt title for this book is probably "T...more

Being derived from public lectures, The Varieties of Religious Experience is neither a particularly deep nor demanding book. It is, however, both beautifully written and clearly expressed--hallmarks of James' style. Informally unsystematic, the painless effort of going through it will likely pres...more

You will not wait for me to remind you that William James is a great writer, a man in absolute possession of the art of expressing ideas. You will not wait for me to remind you that William James is a great professor, a scholar and an influencing thinker who contributed to founding an important s...more

A classic of course, still potent and assured. I return to it for its look at the realism of the 'sick soul'. It comforts me.

It is not religion that is the concern here. Human emotions and feelings are the focus. How these influence a personality could as equally underlay their political orientat...more

190619 later later addition: reading chapter on james in evasion of philosophy, on american pragmatism, certainly inspires more reading of his work. does not directly mention much of this text, but reveals his and others, pierce, emerson, dewey, all influenced by, all noted, christianity as basel...more

“There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.”
― William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

The amazing thing about James is he can write with precision and humility about something so completely intrinsic and fraug...more

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