21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Masterwork of Psychology and Spirituality,
This review is from: The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Paperback)
This remarkable work remains one of the most influential books on the interface of psychology and spirituality. The style is accessible and 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 thus deals with the spirituality of everyday life and has nothing to do with churches, doctrine or 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 attitudes, relationships and behavior towards others.
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. He mentions the importance of the passionate side of religion and its power of adding enchantment to life. 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.
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."
As a comprehensive & thorough survey it offers valuable insights, revelations 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 sometimes read like a gripping novel, especially the chapters on the religion of healthy-mindedness, the sick soul, and mysticism.
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.