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5.0 out of 5 stars Landmark work on religion and psychology, 22 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Varieties of Religious Experience (Hardcover)
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 arguments. Religions are not compared; the study is restricted to the experiences of the individual. The field of study is clearly defined and circumscribed. Chapter titles include Religion & Neurology, the Reality of the Unseen, the Religion of Healthy-Mindedness, the Sick Soul, the Divided Self & the Process of Unification, Conversion, Saintliness, Mysticism and Philosophy.

James considers the feelings, actions and experiences of individuals, insofar as they understand themselves to be in a relationship with whatever they consider the Divine. It is thus about the religion of everyday life and has nothing to do with churches and dogma. This is similar to what emerges when Geza Vermes explores the Authentic Gospel of Jesus; there's very little on doctrine but much about relationships and behavior towards others.

He mentions the importance of the passionate side of religion and its power of adding enchantment to life. Dealing objectively with a wide spectrum of observed and personally related religious experiences, James quotes from the autobiographical writings of famous authors, theologians and mystics from many traditions including Whitman, Luther, Voltaire, Emerson and Tolstoy.

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 comprehensive survey which offers valuable insights, revelation, wisdom and points to ponder that contribute significantly to the reader's understanding of consciousness, psychological processes, mystic states, thought, emotion and the individual's relationship with the Eternal Divine. Simultaneously serving as a trenchant plea for religious tolerance, it does sometimes read like a gripping novel, especially the chapters on the religion of healthy-mindedness, the sick soul, and mysticism.

Although it is not a difficult read, patience is called for since every sentence is loaded with multiple layers of meaning; one often has to reread a previous paragraph in order to fully grasp and properly process the insights and information. A mindful, meditative study of the text will richly reward the reader. An even more rewarding experience can be had by studying Richard Maurice Bucke's 1901 classic Cosmic Consciousness and Stephan A. Hoeller's The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead at the same time. These valuable works complement one another in a most marvelous way.

Other works on psychology, religion and/or spirituality that I have found inspiring or informative are The Creative Process in the Individual by Thomas Troward, Religion in the Making by Alfred North Whitehead, The Hidden Power of the Bible by Ernest Holmes, Alter Your Life by Emmet Fox, Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover and above all, A Psychology of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.
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