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The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature

by William James

"Evolution is better than Revolution. New Thought Library's New Thought Archives encompass a full range of New Thought from Abrahamic to Vedic. New Thought literature reflects the ongoing evolution of human thought. New Thought's unique inclusion of science, art and philosophy presents a dramatic contrast with the magical thinking of decadent religions that promulgate supersticions standing in the way of progress to shared peace and prosperity." ~ Avalon de Rossett


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LECTURE I RELIGION AND NEUROLOGY 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 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 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 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 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 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 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--concluded 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 value 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 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-- Probable subconscious influences involved-- 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 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.

LECTURES XVI AND XVII MYSTICISM 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 Primacy of feeling in religion, philosophy being a secondary function-- Intellectualism professes to escape objective 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 uncoercive as reasoned proof-- What philosophy CAN do for religion by transforming herself into "science of religions."

LECTURE XIX OTHER CHARACTERISTICS 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 Summary of religious characteristics-- Men's religions need not be identical-- "The science of religions" can only suggest, not proclaims 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 deliverance-- 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.

POSTSCRIPT Philosophic position of the present work defined as piecemeal supernaturalism-- Criticism of universalistic supernaturalism-- Different principles must occasion differences in fact-- 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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