Varieties of Religious Experience Book Report

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Date Submitted: 11/26/2012 09:20 PM

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Jessica Bateman



Nov 1, 2013

William James: Varieties of Religious Experience

“Varieties of Religious Experiences,” presents inductive collections of evidence in which people have had personal religious experiences with whatever they regard to as divine. Author William James completely steers clear of the institutional side of religion and focuses strictly on subjective, personal religion, “…between man and his maker” (41). James believes that the thoughts of “ordinary religious believers” (24) are too much influenced and altered by their religious culture so he isolates his studies to finding the truth in observation and patterns of mostly conversion experiences. James definitely does take a pluralistic standpoint but, even though he doesn’t claim this, it almost seems as if he takes his own a posteriori type of argument and tries to prove so by giving empirical evidence in examples of relationships and experiences across different creeds and different centuries. He does note that arguments for God’s existence prove nothing and are not solid enough to serve as religions foundation (334) but goes back to his idea of building a foundation on relationship and experience to the divine. He makes valid points on how we judge the faith-claims of other people and opens the reader’s eyes to the value of his view of pragmatism, in which if something works for someone, then it’s irrefutably true for them.

James does an amazing job at supporting his claims. He breaks down every possible argument he can come up with for us who judge those who have religious experiences and explains why the experiences are not the effects of problems and therefore should be treated without bias opinion. He feels that we should not reject people’s religion or experiences because of their preexisting medical conditions, for that would be a separate concern, as he notes in the first lecture using George Fox as one example, calling this rejection “medical materialism.”...