Varieties of Religious Experience

ISBN-10: 1593080727
ISBN-13: 9781593080723
Edition: N/A
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Description: Acclaimed as one of the greatest works of nonfiction published in the twentieth century,William James’sThe Varieties of Religious Experiencewas revolutionary in its view of religious life as centered not within the Church but solely within “the  More...

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Book details

List price: $10.95
Publisher: Barnes & Noble, Incorporated
Publication date: 1/16/2004
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 512
Size: 5.50" wide x 8.25" long x 1.25" tall
Weight: 0.990
Language: English

Acclaimed as one of the greatest works of nonfiction published in the twentieth century,William James’sThe Varieties of Religious Experiencewas revolutionary in its view of religious life as centered not within the Church but solely within “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude.” Using the language of psychology, James tries to explain religious phenomena—such as conversion, repentance, mysticism, and saintliness—as psychic energy that arises from the unconscious mind in times of trouble. To support his theories, James turns to the autobiographical writings of a wide variety of mystics and writers, including Walt Whitman, Martin Luther, Voltaire, Emerson, and Tolstoy. The result is a colorful and wide-ranging collection of recorded experiences that James compares, categorizes, and analyzes. Many of his categories—including the sick soul, the divided self, and healthy-mindedness—have become standard in the study of religions. Exquisitely written,The Varieties of Religious Experiencehas had a profound influence on modern spiritual thought, including the psychology of religion and recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

William James, oldest of five children (including Henry James and Alice James) in the extraordinary James family, has had a far-reaching influence on writers and thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Broadly educated by private tutors and through European travel, James initially studied painting. During the Civil War, however, he turned to medicine and physiology, attended Harvard medical school, and became interested in the workings of the mind. His text, The Principles of Psychology (1890), presents psychology as a science rather than a philosophy and emphasizes the connection between the mind and the body. James believed in free will and the power of the mind to affect events and determine the future. In The Will to Believe (1897) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), he explores metaphysical concepts and mystical experiences. He saw truth not as absolute but as relative, depending on the given situation and the forces at work in it. He believed that the universe was not static and orderly but ever-changing and chaotic. His most important work, Pragmatism (1907), examines the practical consequences of behavior and rejects the idealist philosophy of the transcendentalists. This philosophy seems to reinforce the tenets of social Darwinism and the idea of financial success as the justification of the means in a materialistic society; nevertheless, James strove to demonstrate the practical value of ethical behavior. Overall, James's lifelong concern with what he called the "stream of thought" or "stream of consciousness" changed the way writers conceptualize characters and present the relationship between humans, society, and the natural world.

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