THE The Varieties Of Religious Experience


William James

HTML by Michael E. Nielsen, Ph.D

Table of Contents

Preface - Preface

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;
Its doctrine of evil;
Its analogy to Lutheran theology;
Salvation by relaxation;
Its methods: suggestion;
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 natualism;
Hopelessness of Greek and Roman view;
Pathological unhappiness;
Querulous melancholy;
Vital zest is a pure gift;
Loss of it makes physical world look different;
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;

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;
Its importance in religious history;

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 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 beiliefs;
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 exitement in general;
The saintly life is ruled by spiritual exitement;
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;
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;
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';
Buddhistic mysticism;
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 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 reasones 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;
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;
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 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;


Postscript - 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;


The Varieties of Religious Experience


William James


Here is William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience. This classic book was first published in 1902, and has remained in print ever since. The basic issues James discusses here remain of vital concern to people in psychology and religion today. I encourage you to go to your local bookstore and buy a copy of this interesting book. (It is in the public domain, and quite reasonably priced.) There are two very affordable copies of the book, either a softcover or a hardcover edition. The hardcover also includes several other of his works, such as his "The Meaning of Truth." With your own copy, you can make notes in the margins and you won't need to rely on a connection to the internet! But until you do that, feel free to browse this copy of his book and see what he has to say. Scroll down from the top of this page to search for specific words, or to use the completed table of contents that are linked to specific chapters and to topics within each chapter. I want to thank Heather Hartman for assisting me with creating these many links. Thanks, Heather! Finally, you may be interested in downloading the entire copy of the book from the Project Gutenberg site, which makes available many wonderful books.

To help you in your study of James's "Varieties," you may want to print out a copy of Marc Fonda's notes on this book. His outline will give you a chance to compare your understanding of the book with someone else's understanding--which is always an interesting thing to do. Remember, I welcome comments and suggestions about this or any of my other psychology & religion pages. Contact me by email or at:

Michael E. Nielsen, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Georgia Southern University
Statesboro, GA 30460-8041

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