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The Varieties of Religious Experience
A Study in Human Nature
Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion
Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902

by William James

Table of Contents

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Lecture I : Religion and Neurology
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  • Introduction: the course is not anthropological, but deals with personal documents

  • Questions of fact and questions of value

  • In point of fact, the religious are often neurotic

  • Criticism of medical materialism, which condemns religion on that account

  • Theory that religion has a sexual origin refuted

  • All states of mind are neurally conditioned

  • Their significance must be tested not by their origin but by the value of their fruits

  • Three criteria of value; origin useless as a criterion

  • Advantages of the psychopathic temperament when a superior intellect goes with it especially for the religious life

Lecture II : Circumscription of the Topic
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  • Futility of simple definitions of religion

  • No one specific 'religious sentiment'

  • Institutional and personal religion

  • We confine ourselves to the personal branch

  • Definition of religion for the purpose of these lectures

  • Meaning of the term 'divine'

  • The divine is what prompts solemn reactions

  • Impossible to make our definitions sharp

  • We must study the more extreme cases

  • Two ways of accepting the universe

  • Religion is more enthusiastic than philosophy

  • Its characteristic is enthusiasm in solemn emotion

  • Its ability to overcome unhappiness

  • Need of such a faculty from the biological point of view

Lecture III : The Reality of the Unseen
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  • Percepts versus abstract concepts

  • Influence of the latter on belief

  • Kant's theological Ideas

  • We have a sense of reality other than that given by the special senses

  • Examples of 'sense of presence,'

  • The feeling of unreality

  • Sense of a divine presence: examples

  • Mystical experiences: examples

  • Other cases of sense of God's presence

  • Convincingness of unreasoned experience

  • Inferiority of rationalism in establishing belief

  • Either enthusiasm or solemnity may preponderate in the religious attitude of individuals

Lectures IV and V : The Religion of Healthy Mindedness
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  • Happiness is man's chief concern

  • 'Once-born' and 'twice-born' characters

  • Walt Whitman

  • Mixed nature of Greek feeling

  • Systematic healthy-mindedness

  • Its reasonableness

  • Liberal Christianity shows it

  • Optimism as encouraged by Popular Science

  • The 'Mind-cure' movement

  • Its creed

  • Cases

  • Its doctrine of evil

  • Its analogy to Lutheran theology

  • Salvation by relaxation

  • Its methods: suggestion

  • meditation

  • 'recollection'

  • verification

  • Diversity of possible schemes of adaptation to the universe

  • APPENDIX: Two mind-cure cases

Lectures VI and VII : The Sick Soul

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  • Healthy-mindedness and repentance

  • Essential pluralism of the healthy-minded philosophy

  • Morbid-mindedness--its two degrees

  • The pain-threshold varies in individuals

  • Insecurity of natural goods

  • Failure, or vain success of every life

  • Pessimism of all pure naturalism

  • Hopelessness of Greek and Roman view

  • Pathological unhappiness

  • 'Anhedonia'

  • Querulous melancholy

  • Vital zest is a pure gift

  • Loss of it makes physical world look different

  • Tolstoy

  • Bunyan

  • Alline

  • Morbid fear

  • Such cases need a supernatural religion for relief

  • Antagonism of healthy-mindedness and morbidness

  • The problem of evil cannot be escaped

Lecture VIII : The Divided Self, and the Process of its Unification

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  • Heterogeneous personality

  • Character gradually attains unity

  • Examples of divided self

  • The unity attained need not be religious

  • Counter conversion' cases

  • Other cases

  • Gradual and sudden unification

  • Tolstoy's recovery

  • Bunyan's

Lecture IX : Conversion
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  • Case of Stephen Bradley

  • The psychology of character-changes

  • Emotional excitements make new centres of personal energy

  • Schematic ways of representing this

  • Starbuck likens conversion to normal moral ripening

  • Leuba's ideas

  • Seemingly unconvertible persons

  • Two types of conversion

  • Subconscious incubation of motives

  • Self-surrender

  • Its importance in religious history

  • Cases

Lecture X : Conversion - Conclusion

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  • Cases of sudden conversion

  • Is suddenness essential?

  • No, it depends on psychological idiosyncrasy

  • Proved existence of transmarginal, or subliminal, consciousness

  • 'Automatisms'

  • Instantaneous conversions seem due to the possession of an active subconscious self by the subject

  • The values of conversion depends not on the process, but on the fruits

  • These are not superior in sudden conversion

  • Professor Coe's views

  • Sanctification as a result

  • Our psychological account does not exclude direct presence of the Deity

  • Sense of higher control

  • Relations of the emotional 'faith-state' to intellectual beliefs

  • Leuba quoted

  • Characteristics of the faith-state: sense of truth; the world appears new

  • Sensory and motor automatisms

  • Permanency of conversions

Lectures XI, XII and XIII : Saintliness
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  • Sainte-Beuve on the State of Grace

  • Types of character as due to the balance of impulses and inhibitions

  • Sovereign excitements

  • Irascibility

  • Effects of higher excitement in general

  • The saintly life is ruled by spiritual excitement

  • This may annul sensual impulses permanently

  • Mechanical scheme for representing permanent alteration in character

  • Characteristics of saintliness

  • Sense of reality of a higher power

  • Peace of mind, charity

  • Equanimity, fortitude, etc.

  • Connection of this with relaxation

  • Purity of life

  • Asceticism

  • Obedience

  • Poverty

  • The sentiments of democracy and of humanity

  • General effects of higher excitements

Lectures XIV and XV : The Value of Saintliness

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  • It must be tested by the human value of its fruits

  • The reality of the God must, however, also be judged

  • 'Unfit' religions get eliminated by 'experience'

  • Empiricism is not skepticism

  • Individual and tribal religion

  • Loneliness of religious originators

  • Corruption follows success

  • Extravagances

  • Excessive devoutness, as fanaticism

  • as theopathic absorption

  • Excessive purity

  • Excessive charity

  • The perfect man is adapted only to the perfect environment

  • Saints are leavens

  • Excesses of asceticism

  • Asceticism symbolically stands for the heroic life

  • Militarism and voluntary poverty as possible equivalents

  • Pros and cons of the saintly character

  • Saints versus 'strong' men

  • Their social function must be considered

  • Abstractly the saint is the highest type, but in the present environment it may fail, so we make ourselves saints at our peril

  • The question of theological truth

Lecture XVI and XVII : Mysticism

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  • Mysticism defined

  • Four marks of mystic states

  • They form a distinct region of consciousness

  • Examples of their lower grades

  • Mysticism and alcohol

  • 'The anaesthetic revelation'

  • Religious mysticism

  • Aspects of Nature

  • Consciousness of God

  • 'Cosmic consciousness'

  • Yoga

  • Buddhistic mysticism

  • Sufism

  • Christian mystics

  • Their sense of revelation

  • Tonic effects of mystic states

  • They describe by negatives

  • Sense of union with the Absolute

  • Mysticism and music

  • Three conclusions

  • (1) Mystical states carry authority for him who has them

  • (2) But for no one else

  • (3) Nevertheless, they break down the exclusive authority of rationalistic states

  • They strengthen monistic and optimistic hypotheses

Lecture XVIII : Philosophy
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  • Primacy of feeling in religion, philosophy being a secondary function

  • Intellectualism professes to escape subjective standards in her theological constructions

  • 'Dogmatic theology'

  • Criticism of its account of God's attributes

  • 'Pragmatism' as a test of the value of conceptions

  • God's metaphysical attributes have no practical significance

  • His moral attributes are proved by bad arguments; collapse of systematic theology

  • Does transcendental idealism fare better? Its principles

  • Quotations from John Caird

  • They are good as restatements of religious experience, but uncoersive as reasoned proof

  • What philosophy can do for religion by transforming herself into 'science of religions'

Lecture XIX : Other Characteristics

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  • Aesthetic elements in religion

  • Contrast of Catholicism and Protestantism

  • Sacrifice and Confession

  • Prayer

  • Religion holds that spiritual work is really effected in prayer

  • Three degrees of opinion as to what is effected

  • First degree

  • Second degree

  • Third degree

  • Automatisms, their frequency among religious leaders

  • Jewish cases

  • Mohammed

  • Joseph Smith

  • Religion and the subconscious region in general

Lecture XX : Conclusions
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  • Summary of religious characteristics

  • Men's religions need not be identical

  • 'The science of religions' can only suggest, not proclaim, a religious creed

  • Is religion a 'survival' of primitive thought?

  • Modern science rules out the concept of personality

  • Anthropomorphism and belief in the personal characterized pre-scientific thought

  • Personal forces are real, in spite of this

  • Scientific objects are abstractions, only individualized experiences are concrete

  • Religion holds by the concrete

  • Primarily religion is a biological reaction

  • Its simplest terms are an uneasiness and a deliverance; description of the deliverances

  • Question of the reality of the higher power

  • The author's hypotheses: 1. The subconscious self as intermediating between nature and the higher region

  • 2. The higher region, or 'God'

  • 3. He produces real effects in nature

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  • Philosophic position of the present work defined as piecemeal supernaturalism

  • Criticism of universalistic supernaturalism

  • Different principles must occasion differences in act

  • What differences in fact can God's existence occasion?

  • The question of immortality

  • Question of God's uniqueness and infinity: religious experience does not settle this question in the affirmative

  • The pluralistic hypothesis is more conformed to common sense


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