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212 William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience

A comprehensive exploration of religious experiences, their subjective nature, and their impact on personal belief systems and society.

William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience


William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience" is a groundbreaking work that examines the subjective experiences of religious individuals across a wide range of traditions and beliefs. Through case studies and analyses of various forms of religious experience, James explores the psychological, emotional, and philosophical dimensions of faith and spirituality. He argues that these experiences are universal and can be studied and understood through empirical observation, leading to a deeper understanding of human consciousness and the role of religion in society.


Title: The Varieties of Religious Experience

Author: William James

Publishing year: 2011

Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Length in hours: 19 hours and 1 minute

5 main ideas

  1. Religious experiences are subjective and unique to each individual, but they share common elements across different traditions and belief systems.
  2. The study of religious experiences can shed light on the nature of human consciousness and the mysteries of the universe.
  3. Religious experiences can have a transformative impact on individuals and can shape their beliefs and values, leading to positive or negative outcomes.
  4. The relationship between religion and science is complex and multidimensional, and both can contribute to a better understanding of the human experience.
  5. The study of religious experiences can inform broader discussions about the role of religion in society, including its impact on politics, ethics, and social norms.
William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience

5 funny quotes

  1. "Religion is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism."
  2. "In the metaphysical and religious realm, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."
  3. "The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."
  4. "Religion is essentially a practical affair."
  5. "There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The question of the reality of the divine is not a question of fact, but a question of personal attitude."
  2. "Our normal waking consciousness...is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."
  3. "Religion, therefore, as I ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us 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."
  4. "The religious phenomenon, studied as an inner fact, and apart from ecclesiastical or theological complications, has shown itself to consist everywhere, and at all its stages, in the consciousness which individuals have of an intercourse between themselves and higher powers with which they feel themselves to be related."
  5. "The world of our experience consists at all times of two parts, an objective and a subjective part, of which the former may be incalculably more extensive than the latter, and yet the latter can never be omitted or suppressed."

5 dilemmas

  1. How to reconcile the subjective nature of religious experience with the objective study of it as a scientific phenomenon?
  2. How to respect and appreciate the diversity of religious experiences and beliefs without promoting relativism or rejecting critical analysis?
  3. How to differentiate between genuine religious experiences and delusions or pathological states of mind?
  4. How to navigate the tensions between religious experiences and the social and cultural norms and values of different communities and societies?
  5. How to address the potential conflicts between religious experiences and rationality, empirical evidence, and scientific knowledge?

5 examples

  1. Saint Teresa of Avila, and her mystical visions and experiences.
  2. Friedrich Schleiermacher, and his concept of "feeling of absolute dependence" as the essence of religious experience.
  3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his ideas about the transcendental experience and individual intuition.
  4. William James himself, and his own religious experiences and views on the subjectivity of faith.
  5. Gautama Buddha, and his enlightenment experience under the Bodhi tree.

Referenced books

  1. The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Saint Augustine
  2. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
  3. The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Ávila
  4. The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross
  5. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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"The true opposition in this world is not between north and south, or east and west, but between up and down."

William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
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