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The Varieties of Religious Experience

A Study in Human Nature

By William James
21-minute read
Audio available
The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James

Based on a series of lectures given by William James between 1901 and 1902, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) is an in-depth exploration of how we experience religion and how a personal approach to religion can be profoundly useful to us.

  • People interested in psychology
  • Students of philosophy and religion

Trained physician William James (1842-1910) was an American psychologist and philosopher. Considered by some to be the father of American psychology, he played a key role in the development and both pragmatism and radical empiricism.

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The Varieties of Religious Experience

A Study in Human Nature

By William James
  • Read in 21 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 13 key ideas
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The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James
Synopsis

Based on a series of lectures given by William James between 1901 and 1902, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) is an in-depth exploration of how we experience religion and how a personal approach to religion can be profoundly useful to us.

Key idea 1 of 13

Studying religious experience sheds light on otherwise mysterious parts of human psychology.

What springs to mind when you think of religion? A church or mosque? A prayer chanted or sung? Psychology may not be the first thing one thinks of, but it turns out that religious experiences has much to teach about the mind. Of course, science and philosophy have their place, but they simply can’t explain everything in the world.

In the author’s time, science and philosophy were burgeoning, and today we’re witnessing even more developments in these fields. Yet science and philosophy simply aren’t enough to explain everything that we experience and perceive. For instance, the way we see the world is subjective; no two people view it in exactly the same way. As we shall discover in the following blinks, we’re filled with emotions and judgments that inform our unique perceptions.

Furthermore, religious experiences expose people to new emotions and guide them toward new conclusions. Such effects clearly bear on human psychology.

Some people might regard certain religious experiences as symptomatic of mental illness or instability, but regardless of whether they are or aren’t, such experiences can still be immensely valuable and educational.

Take, for example, the founder of Quakerism, George Fox. Fox experienced revelatory visions; he saw the streets running with blood and had bizarre epiphanies that some would consider psychotic. But by drawing on all his experiences, Fox founded a religion that is alive and well today.

So what exactly is the value of religious experience? In order to answer this question, we have to separate the history, constitution and the origin of religion, and then extrapolate its importance and significance to us.

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