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The Varieties of Religious Experience

139 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0980060546
ISBN-10: 0980060540
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

One of the seminal works of philosophy and theology. Catholic Herald --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Megalodon Entertainment LLC. (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0980060540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0980060546
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

405 of 416 people found the following review helpful By Ben Kilpela on January 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am always surprised when I am cruising around Amazon and take a look at a classic and find just 1 or 2 customer comments on a book such as James's masterful "Varieties". So, I just had to say something. This is one of the greatest and most readable books ever written on the subject of religion. Don't be surprised at what you find. WJ is not making a "case" for belief here, or any case for any particular religious "system". He is studying religious experience, trying to get to the bottom of what brings it about and what it means for human beings. Thus, he pays little attention to what we call "organized religion." He spends his time, rather, with the various ways that people have experienced God or the supernatural or the spiritual. James's style is very subtle, ornate, and powerful. Just let yourself soak in it for awhile and then try to learn. His metaphors are so stunning as to be memorable for the rest of your life. His discussion of the healthy-minded, the sick soul, and the mystic will entrall you and thrill you with his erudition, and they will become touchstones in your own religious experience and your own study of religion for the rest of your life. Religion is a living reality for WJ. He gives a powerful analysis of what it can, should, and does mean to men and women in the modern world. If you wish to understand modern thought on religion, by the way, you must read James, for much of it springs from his thought. Lastly, James is the kindest thinker who ever put pen to paper. For those of in the William james Society, this is why we love him so. He never chides or derides or condemns.Read more ›
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121 of 124 people found the following review helpful By C. Sahu on May 19, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
The previous reviews are very good descriptions of this book. I'd like to reiterate that it helps while reading to remember that this is primarily a study of many case histories of very personal and profound experiences with God. They are mostly in the form of excerpts from autobiographies and memoirs, mainly Christian and contemporary (the book was published in 1903), but many also from other times and faiths. There is no addressing the pros and cons of organized religion here, or, for that matter, of questions like whether miracles really happen, etc.
This book is a microcosm, though. James touches on so many matters of religion and, indeed, life and philosophy overall that the book makes valuable reading for anyone interested in humans generally.
He talks, of necessity, quite a bit about the subconscious, which had just recently been "invented," showing that profound religious experiences comes from there, though that doesn't mean that they're not of divine origin: perhaps it's our subconscious self that connects to God.
James then analyzes these experiences from the pragmatic point of view of, Are these experiences healthy? What are their "fruits"?
But there are no ultimate "Answers" of the kind you find suggested in other works of philosophy or theology. Despite some heady speculation towards the end, James sticks to the facts, and never expects his audience to accept anything unproven.
Especially interesting, I thought, were the descriptions of "conversion," a two-fold experience consisting of spiritual crisis and of release from that crisis and the reaching of a profound state of surety and, usually, happiness.
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Cipriano on November 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You will not draw the nectar out of this book unless you are aware (the earlier the better) of James' premise that the stronghold of religion lies in individuality. These lectures are not a study of "religion" nor even a study of religious "experiences" in toto, but a study of "individual" religious experience. Singular. It sounds narrow only until you add the other word of the title... "varieties."
Why such an emphasis upon the individual? Because, as James states, the pivot around which the religious life revolves "is the interest of the individual in his private personal destiny." All proper "religion" by such a definition must consist in an individual experiencing connection with that which he considers to be the higher power(s). In fact, at one point James states that "prayer is real religion." And further, "Wherever this interior prayer is lacking, there is no religion; wherever, on the other hand, this prayer rises and stirs the soul, even in the absence of forms or of doctrines, we have living religion." A thought-provoking principle.
You will never appease your hunger by staring at a menu. You have to actually open your mouth and "experience" the eating of some food. Similarly, we can only learn about religious experience by recounting the experiences of those who've done some profound religious eating (so to say). This is James' method. He renounces the ambition to be coercive in his arguments (this is not an apologetic work) and simply focuses on "rehabilitating the element of feeling in religion and subordinating its intellectual part." He does this by the examination of diverse case histories.
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