Contemplative Prayer
Noe should read Modes of Thought

The Varieties of Religious Experience

Writings 1902-1910: The Varieties of Religious Experience/Pragmatism/A Pluralistic Universe/The Meaning of Truth/Some Problems of Philosophy/EssaysWritings 1902-1910: The Varieties of Religious Experience/Pragmatism/A Pluralistic Universe/The Meaning of Truth/Some Problems of Philosophy/Essays by William James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Assigned in class in 1993, I have finally completed reading William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. Upon beginning the book a few months ago, I posted a confession about my never having read it in class at the time nor after, despite its central importance in my philosophic worldview, profession, etc. Here's that confession:

James does something which still seems vital more than a century later. A thoroughly educated progressive, he takes religious experience seriously. Oh, he criticizes much about it, particularly the particulars of various sick-minded and weak souled folk. But he does not count their experiences as less than genuine or authentic and, while criticizing, treats them with respect. He believes that religious experience can be approached scientifically and that objective truths can be formulated. Though, ultimately, it is the subjective experiences that matter most.

At times one must skim quickly through the book, but one must also slow down to appreciate his literary skill and his witty remarks. More than once I found myself guffawing at some comment he makes (these were originally lectures). This guffawing at a philosophy lecture must reveal my geekiness.

James' generosity of spirit concludes the book with where he thinks religion is headed, and by-and-large he was correct. A greater pluralism, an openness, a focus on love and action, a less-dogmatic spirituality.

For James the basic principle is does religion work, does it bear fruit, and it is from this standpoint that he criticizes the extremes. In 2012 we would do well to continue learning from James.

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