The Varieties of Religious Experience

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by William James
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The Varieties of Religious Experience, published in 1902, is comprised of the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religioun delivered by William James at the University of Edinburgh in 1901 and 1902. Using individual case histories of people “for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever,” James describes religious feelings and impulses from a psychological point of view. The significance of religious belief for James is not found in its origins, but rather in the practical effects it has on an individual’s conduct and happiness. “There is an unseen order,” he states in Lecture III, “and our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”

Reprinted in the Notes from the Editor is an address by J. Seelye Bixler, “William James as a Religious Thinker,” given at a symposium held at the University of Wisconsin in 1942 in celebration of the centenary of James’ birth. The gathering had been planned before the United States entered World War II, yet Professor Bixler found James a natural philosopher to whom to turn in perilous times. “The love of the dangerous and uncertain went very deep in him,” he said. Primarily, though, Bixler assesses James as “a largehearted, generous, human, and courageous philosopher who above all else was receptive to new truth in whatever quarter it might appear and who urged this same receptiveness and courage upon us as the basic philosophical and religious virtue.”

 

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