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The Varieties of Religious Experience (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

William James , Martin Marty
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 April 1983 American Library
Standing at the crossroads of psychology and religion, this catalyzing work applied the scientific method to a field abounding in abstract theory. William James believed that individual religious experiences, rather than the precepts of organized religions, were the backbone of the world's religious life. His discussions of conversion, repentance, mysticism and saintliness, and his observations on actual, personal religious experiences - all support this thesis. In his introduction, Martin E. Marty discusses how James's pluralistic view of religion led to his remarkable tolerance of extreme forms of religious behaviour, his challenging, highly original theories, and his welcome lack of pretension in all of his observations on the individual and the divine.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (28 April 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140390340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140390346
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 13 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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One of the seminal works of philosophy and theology. Catholic Herald --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

When William James went to the University of Edinburgh in 1901 to deliver a series of lectures on "natural religion," he defined religion as "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine." Considering religion, then, not as it is defined by--or takes place in--the churches, but as it is felt in everyday life, he undertook a project that, upon completion, stands not only as one of the most important texts on psychology ever written, not only as a vitally serious contemplation of spirituality, but for many critics one of the best works of nonfiction written in the 20th century. Reading The Varieties of Religious Experience, it is easy to see why. Applying his analytic clarity to religious accounts from a variety of sources, James elaborates a pluralistic framework in which "the divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all find worthy missions." It's an intellectual call for serious religious tolerance--indeed, respect--the vitality of which has not diminished through the subsequent decades. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
82 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Worthy of the Word 7 Jun 2003
By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE
A hundred years after its first publication, James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" is still probably the best place to start a study of the psychology of religion. Based on lectures delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-2, it is supplemented with an astonishing wealth of extracts from religious writings. Although understandably biased toward Western, specifically Christian traditions, it is breathtaking in its scope. Nowhere else will you find such a wide ranging and thorough survey of all those experiences and attitudes - mystical, emotional, ethical, visionary - that we term 'religious'. You will never get around to reading all of the authors quoted in this book, so this is the place to sample them.
Some readers will approach this work as believers seeking clarification, others as sceptics seeking to understand. Their viewpoint may be philosophical or theological or psychological. All will be rewarded. Critics voted this among the best 100 books of the twentieth century. If you want insight into humanity's religious dimension, it should be your number one choice.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that will change your life 10 Sep 2001
By A Customer
Don't let the title of this serious looking book put you off- this book could change your life. William James is a hypnotic writer, his thought-provoking words truly enter the heart and soul of the reader. His psychological descriptions of events such as an alcoholic's 'moment of clarity' are truly poignant without sentimentality. James does not force the reader to chose between the religious or psychological explanations for the mysteries of life, but simply explains how our experiences shape our views. Essential reading for the thinker - this book will stay with you forever.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Michael
It is often said of classics that one is meant to know about but not actually read them. How many believers in evolution have actually waded through Darwin's dry tome? Well, this book is certainly an exception to that rule, and will leave most readers with changed views both on what religion really means as well as its significance to the individual. I'd seen the book quoted so many times by other authors that finally I decided to see what it was all about, and I'm glad I did. The many quotes I'd read from the book at various times were no substitite for the real thing. Don't be put off by what may appear from the outside as one of those dry comparative religion books. This is not about ecclesiastics, ceremonials, or creeds, but focuses on the common religious experience underlying mankind's various religions and philosophies. It shows that the religious experience and its effect on the individual is a process not limited to any religion or belief, but a phenomenon underlying the human experience. As it is such a powerful personal experience, it has led to the formation of many religions, but these have generally had the effect of stifling spiritual growth. No-one has a monopoly on spirituality, however much some religions try to promote such a misconception.

Interesting is his distinction between 'once-born' and 'twice-born' people (not to be confused with the Christian concept of 'born-again' - not all born-again Christians are twice-born, while not all twice-borns are born-again Christians, which for many just means an acceptance of the Christian creeds, a belief that Christ died for one's salvation).
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Treasure trove of insights & wisdom 8 Sep 2002
It has been said that Henry James wrote his novels as philosophical treatises while his brother William wrote his philosophical works as novels. This 1902 publication is justifiably considered as one of the 20th century’s most influential books on psychology and spirituality.
James considers the feelings, actions and experiences of individuals, insofar as they understand themselves to be in a relationship with whatever they consuider the divine. It is thus about the religion of everyday life and has nothing to do with churches and dogma.
He writes objectively about a wide spectrum of religious experiences and quotes from the autobiographical writings of famous mystics from many traditions and of people like Whitman, Luther, Voltaire, Emerson, Tolstoy and many others. No religions are compared, only the experiences of the individual, and his arguments are well-reasoned.
In his own words: “Both thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be determined either by feeling or thought. When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary. If you wish to grasp its essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements.”
This book is a treasure trove of insights and collected wisdom that simultaneously serves as a trenchant plea for religious tolerance.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Well written and perceptive
Brilliant ! Well written and perceptive, and written in 1902
Published 21 days ago by J. L. Threadgold
5.0 out of 5 stars ***great seller!!! u can trust!!!***
Great book tackling the subject of Psychology of Religion. James describes how, according to him, people are emotionally predestined to be religious and what kind of religious they... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Olenga B Ossembe
4.0 out of 5 stars Survey of the subjective experience
The sense of an unseen presence, conversion experiences, mystic visions... such things are the seeds of all religion, say James, and he surveys them here with much quoting from... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ian Brawn
5.0 out of 5 stars A storm of truth
Refreshing radical and deeply relevant. It fits into the contemporary scene of scientific discovery and preserves the deep spirituality that under girds human experience.
Published 16 months ago by Rewerb
5.0 out of 5 stars William James, dismantler of barriers
Once again one of the forgotten figures of 20th century . His eminence fading into the shadows of history. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Probably only of historical interest
By chance I started reading this book after hearing an interview about the "God Helmet". A Canadian scientist can induce religous experiences in believers (and strange golems in... Read more
Published on 2 Jun 2010 by Ransen Owen
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychologist of the spiritual
A worthy subject,bringing philosophy back to its Socratic roots in our humanity,reconciling emotions with rationality. Read more
Published on 13 May 2010 by technoguy
5.0 out of 5 stars Landmark work on religion and psychology
This landmark work remains one of the most influential books ever on psychology and spirituality. The style is accessible and engaging, consistently interesting with well-reasoned... Read more
Published on 22 Oct 2009 by Pieter Uys
5.0 out of 5 stars The ways in which religion is expressed
This informative book published in 1902 remains a landmark study and one of the most influential books ever on psychology and spirituality. Read more
Published on 14 Aug 2008 by Pieter Uys
5.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding read and valuable reference work
This landmark work remains one of the most influential books ever on psychology and spirituality. The style is accessible and engaging, consistently interesting with well-reasoned... Read more
Published on 6 July 2008 by Pieter Uys
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