The Varieties of Religious Experience

The Varieties of Religious Experience

William James Jacques Barzun / Feb 17, 2020

The Varieties of Religious Experience I am neither a theologian nor a scholar learned in the history of religions nor an anthropologist Psychology is the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed To the psychologist the

  • Title: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • Author: William James Jacques Barzun
  • ISBN: 9780451626301
  • Page: 231
  • Format: Paperback
  • I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned in the history of religions, nor an anthropologist Psychology is the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his mental constitution It would seem, therefore, as a psychologist, I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned in the history of religions, nor an anthropologist Psychology is the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his mental constitution It would seem, therefore, as a psychologist, the natural thing for me would be to invite you to a descriptive survey of those religious propensities When William James went to the University of Edinburgh in 1901 to deliver a series of lectures on natural religion, he defined religion as the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine Considering religion, then, not as it is defined by or takes place in the churches, but as it is felt in everyday life, he undertook a project that, upon completion, stands not only as one of the most important texts on psychology ever written, not only as a vitally serious contemplation of spirituality, but for many critics one of the best works of nonfiction written in the 20th century Reading The Varieties of Religious Experience, it is easy to see why Applying his analytic clarity to religious accounts from a variety of sources, James elaborates a pluralistic framework in which the divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all find worthy missions It s an intellectual call for serious religious tolerance indeed, respect the vitality of which has not diminished through the subsequent decades.

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      • William James Jacques Barzun

        William James January 11, 1842 August 26, 1910 was an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician The first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States, James was one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century and is believed by many to be one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced, while others have labelled him the Father of American psychology Along with Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey, he is considered to be one of the greatest figures associated with the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and is also cited as one of the founders of the functional psychology He also developed the philosophical perspective known as radical empiricism James work has influenced intellectuals such as mile Durkheim, W E B Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty.Born into a wealthy family, James was the son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James Sr and the brother of both the prominent novelist Henry James, and the diarist Alice James James wrote widely on many topics, including epistemology, education, metaphysics, psychology, religion, and mysticism Among his most influential books are Principles of Psychology, which was a groundbreaking text in the field of psychology, Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy, and The Varieties of Religious Experience, which investigated different forms of religious experience.William James was born at the Astor House in New York City He was the son of Henry James Sr a noted and independently wealthy Swedenborgian theologian well acquainted with the literary and intellectual elites of his day The intellectual brilliance of the James family milieu and the remarkable epistolary talents of several of its members have made them a subject of continuing interest to historians, biographers, and critics.James interacted with a wide array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including his godfather Ralph Waldo Emerson, his godson William James Sidis, as well as Charles Sanders Peirce, Bertrand Russell, Josiah Royce, Ernst Mach, John Dewey, Macedonio Fern ndez, Walter Lippmann, Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Jr Henri Bergson and Sigmund Freud.William James received an eclectic trans Atlantic education, developing fluency in both German and French Education in the James household encouraged cosmopolitanism The family made two trips to Europe while William James was still a child, setting a pattern that resulted in thirteen European journeys during his life His early artistic bent led to an apprenticeship in the studio of William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island, but he switched in 1861 to scientific studies at the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University.In his early adulthood, James suffered from a variety of physical ailments, including those of the eyes, back, stomach, and skin He was also tone deaf He was subject to a variety of psychological symptoms which were diagnosed at the time as neurasthenia, and which included periods of depression during which he contemplated suicide for months on end Two younger brothers, Garth Wilkinson Wilky and Robertson Bob , fought in the Civil War The other three siblings William, Henry, and Alice James all suffered from periods of invalidism.He took up medical studies at Harvard Medical School in 1864 He took a break in the spring of 1865 to join naturalist Louis Agassiz on a scientific expedition up the River, but aborted his trip after eight months, as he suffered bouts of severe seasickness and mild smallpox His studies were interrupted once again due to illness in April 1867 He traveled to Germany in search of a cure and remained there until November 1868 at that time he was 26 years old During this period, he began to publish reviews of his works appeared in literary periodicals such as the North America


    1. 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 state-of-the-art psychological theory. What do we discover, and what do the findings tell us about the nature of religion? For the first two or three chapters, I enjoyed it and thought it was going in a good [...]

    2. I had an unusually long conversation with my daughter Georgia (also now a Goodreader) once when she was seven years old (she's now 16 going on 17, just like in the song) and the matter of eschatology came up, so I asked her directly - well, what does happen when you die? So she laid out what she thinks happens, and I was so taken by the stuff she came out with that I wrote it down. As it's a variety of religious experience I thought it appropriate to include here. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE Heave [...]

    3. “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 ExperienceThe amazing thing about James is he can write with precision and humility about something so completely intrinsic and fraught with pit falls. Most writers run at the subject with some large bias of the mystical, the absolute. You have thousand of books written every year proclaiming their strain of Christianity, Judaism [...]

    4. 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 his philosophy at University, but not really a lot.I had no idea this would be quite so long. I also had no idea this was based on a series of twenty lectures he gave at the University of Edinburgh betwe [...]

    5. 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 orientation, their philosophical orientation, and they do in fact represent how a person actually is in the world: how they relate, how they feel, in short their character. There is an existential edge, of cours [...]

    6. Foreword to the Centenary Edition, by Micky JamesEditors' PrefaceIntroduction: The Spiritual Roots of James's 'Varieties of Religious Experience'Introduction: The Return to James: Psychology, Religion and the Amnesia of NeurosciencePreface from the 1902 Edition--The Varieties of Religious ExperienceIndex

    7. 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, insight, and significance. James is one of those rare thinkers who values the subjective more highly than the objective: "The world of our experience consists at all times of two parts, an objective an [...]

    8. 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 present the reader with useful insights, apt examples and challenging arguments.I was particularly challenged by the idea that some people, what he calls healthy souls, are constitutionally happy. Being to t [...]

    9. "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 "The Varieties of Anglo-American Protestant Religious Experience". There was slight mention of other belief systems (Islam, Sufi-ism, and Hinduism, had small cameos). Even the more interesting Protestant s [...]

    10. It's impressive how well this book has withstood the passage of time. More than a century after its publication, it continues, on the whole, to feel extremely fresh and insightful, compared with the works of some other psychologists whom I could name. Like people whose name rhymes with "Kroid." But I digress. Unlike the dogmatic theoretic architectonics that would increasingly dominate the field of psychology in the twentieth century, James subscribed to an empirical pragmatism that is quite cu [...]

    11. Soooooo ridiculously ahead of his time. He manages to anticipate more or less the entirety of 20th Century philosophy, both analytic and continental. In fact, he's one of the few thinkers I've encountered (Freud, Marx, Beauvoir, Deleuze, Spinoza, and Said being a few others) whose intellect is strikingly original enough to pierce through the reader's own perspective. Also, in the present American popular-intellectual climate of religious/spiritual pabulum versus asshole scientism, it's hella ref [...]

    12. 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 baseline to their attitudes, their ideas, of idealism embodied in empirical and abstract ideologies of truth, effect, value- so maybe should pay attention to this bookter addition: note to readers of this review, re [...]

    13. I still haven't read this cover to cover but it's a work of art. As a student I targeted the section on drunkenness -- a lyrical description I haven't seen bettered. But don't trust my memory. I was a drunken student.

    14. Lame tells me I'm "reading this for the 2nd time". Nope. My 'to read' shelf is simply part of my 'read' shelves because I don't want monitoring my upcoming reading choices. has really gone to the dogs with all these newfangled tracking options. Leave things alone! Stop adding bells-and-whistles to everything!Anyway so, this is my first time reading William James (or any of the James family) and it's a superb book. Falling aptly in line with my recursive taste for cerebral topics and elegant, [...]

    15. A classic from a very important thinker, as fresh today as when it was written. Although the book has some limitations, such as emphasis on Christianity relative to other religions, one could echo the Bible in saying the world could not contain all the books that might be written on the subject. James examines a wide range of particulars and boils them down to general facts and some hypotheses, concluding that at the very least, conversion experiences "even for a short time show a human being wh [...]

    16. This from one of the inventors of modern psychology. Looking at religious experience not in a proscriptive way, but descriptively -- how great religious thinkers think. It embraces the breadth of our experience, and encourages us to follow our own peculiar combination of quests and impulses.

    17. Given his reputation as a thinker and writer, this is a disappointing book on substance and style.James delves into the wide variety of transcendent (the "Reality of the Unseen") experiences and provides many anecdotal accounts to illustrate them. Given James' background in psychology, and the likely influence of Darwinian theory on philosophical pragmatism ("Truth" is what best works), it is surprising that James accepts these accounts at face value without questioning whether other underlying [...]

    18. I go back and forth on giving this book 4 stars or 5. I thought it was excellent considering where the field of psychology was at the time, but I was disappointed in how James's analysis stayed in the realm of the subjective and anechdotal. Of course, religious experience is radically individual and subjective, so it makes sense that much of his work would discuss individual experiences as such. However, I felt that in the first half he relied too strongly on autobiographical passages to prove h [...]

    19. Okay, I shall claim having read this in 2016. But it was a first pass for me, and this is one of those books I don't think I should really claim as having read until at least a second read, and maybe a third.At this distance from August (now December), when I set James aside, never to really return to it, what stands out to me are a) while mystical experiences are a "real" part of human life, they in and of themselves are not adequate to empirically demonstrate the existence of divinity existing [...]

    20. I tried reading this book about 35 years ago and gave up in despair. The lack of distinct between philosophy and psychology at the time James wrote the book led to bad philosophy and unsubstantiated psychology. ( There's still a great deal of both around. ) This time around, I decided to read the book for what it is, an historical document which looks back on an interesting period of changing concepts in psychology. Once again, I am giving up in despair. There are simply too many words that take [...]

    21. Having just read Oliver Sacks's Hallucinations, I decided to plow through a book that has been on my shelf for a long time: The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. My reasoning was as follows: Sacks's book offers a neurologist's explanation for almost any imaginable religious phenomenon. In effect, where God is concerned, the human brain can do it all: hear voices, see angels, receive instructions, imagine the unimaginable. Sacks did not set out to prove that God doesn't exist, [...]

    22. Testimonials belong inside a comic book and offer nothing but anecdotal curiosities for those who already believe without sufficient reason or for those who like to pretend to know things they don’t really know. This is clearly one of the worst books I’ve ever read and I can’t believe that I had such high esteem for the author before having read this. The book is an incredibly dangerous approach to understanding a topic. Over a hundred different case studies of personal experiences are men [...]

    23. A well written book, accessible to a relatively broad public, but not likely to convince anyone not already responsive to James’ intuitions. His cautious claim on truth is bound to bother non-believers as well as those who are sure their faith has a firm basis in reason or revelation. To the last mentioned any view of religion as primarily (though not ultimately) a psychological phenomenon must be both wrong and dangerous. And the chance that James’ anecdotal empiricism will convince any cri [...]

    24. I was an intrigued by this often-quoted book by the learned physician and pyschologist brother of the novelist Henry James. Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous derived the concept of higher power, letting go of your anxiety, and diverse spiritual experiences from the book. His descriptive analysis of the diverse religious experiences of Madame Guyon, Emerson, John Wesley, George Fox, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, Teresa of Alvila, Transcendentalists, Ignatius of Loyola, Philo, certain Buddhis [...]

    25. I can understand why this has so many 5 star reviews and why it is considered a classic. This is a collection of lectures James gave, and you get some of the feel of the current “Modern Scholar” or “Great Courses” series. He is engaging with the audience. There are a boatload of examples. And the path he takes to get to his conclusion isn’t what you’d expect (I didn’t expect major detours through saintliness and mysticism, but those topics were about a third of the book). I found t [...]

    26. To be honest I didn't finish this whole book. I began reading this while on my own religious journey and found it to be a great resource to understand the different feelings and experiences I had along the way. I sort of stopped and started this book as my journey progressed because it helped me to relate to the continuing evolving ideas that were put forth. I actually recommend reading the book this way as it's hard to relate to things like the "dark night of the soul" if you've never been thro [...]

    27. A true classic of religious scholarship and psychology that is both relevant and readable. James explores many psychological and philosophical characteristics of the religious experience, and shows at least some of its variety in terms of its extreme and benign forms.This leaves us with an essential account of what religion truly means and the way in which it is or can be intertwined with social, political and other factors. It lets us unravel such threads in an effective way, and shows us that [...]

    28. شاهکار ویلیام جیمز من رو با انواع تجربه های دینی آشنا کرد. بعد از خوندن این کتاب به امور دینی نگاهی چند بعدی و عاری از قضاوت خواهید داشت

    29. Religion is a contentious topic. It is normal that each of us should look on our own form of belief or lack there of as truthful and the other options as various forms of eccentricity. So I feel that the best way to start a review of a classic book which surveys the field of varying forms of religious experience, is to give an overview of my views on the topic so that my own bias can be accounted for.I identify as a pantheist. gives this definition : “Pantheism is the belief that the Universe [...]

    30. For obvious reasons, I've been trying to avoid news and politics for the last while, but I am fascinated by the anthropology of it - how people are capable of disagreeing so virulently on such fundamental issues. Take Mencius Moldbug, a brilliant scientist who happens to think that everything went downhill from the Glorious Revolution; or the fact that all the best historians of the 20th century were doctrinaire Marxists. When I was younger I naïvely thought that rational, intelligent actors wo [...]

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