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The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Modern Library) Hardcover – May 10, 1994
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From the Inside Flap
The Varieties of Religious Experience is certainly the most notable of all books in the field of the psychology of religion and probably destined to be the most influential [one] written on religion in the twentieth century," said Walter Houston Clark in Psychology Today. The book was an immediate bestseller upon its publication in June 1902. Reflecting the pluralistic views of psychologist-turned-philosopher William James, it posits that individual religious experiences, rather than the tenets of organized religions, form the backbone of religious life. James's discussion of conversion, repentance, mysticism, and hope of reward and fears of punishment in the hereafter--as well as his observations on the religious experiences of such diverse thinkers as Voltaire, Whitman, Emerson, Luther, Tolstoy, and others--all support his thesis. "James's characteristic humor, his ability to put down the pretentious and to be unpretentious, a
From the Back Cover
"The old cliché that Henry James wrote novels as though they were philosophical treatises whereas William James wrote philosophical treatises as though they were novels, while unfair to Henry, describes William, including the William James of Varieties of Religious Experience, very well. Believers and unbelievers (and semibelievers) will continue to find in it both a resource and a challenge. Quaint though some of it may seem at first in language and approach, The Varieties of Religious Experience can itself become for the contemporary reader not only an intellectual exercise and an aesthetic treat but a religious experience." --Jaroslav Pelikan
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I found the book itself to be quite interesting. It is a series of 20 lectures given by James at Edinburg University on the subject of Religious Experiences. James is purposely staying away from formal religious belief and focusing on personal experiences. He approaches the subject from the point of view of a psychologist.
He reviews several case studies of profound religious experiences of many people from famous `saints' to normal everyday people. He finds several things in common that he discusses. He was applying scientific methods to the study of these experiences.
This was a prelude to his book on `Pragmatism', which was highly influential in the 20th century on philosophy and religion.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology and religion. I found the case studies to be very interesting and made me realize that people of all persuasions can have religious experiences that are quite similar.