The Varieties of Religious Experience-01

By Karen Martinez,2014-07-16 11:19
11 views 0
The Varieties of Religious Experience-01

    The Varieties of Religious Experience

by William James

A Study in Human Nature





Lecture I


    It is with no small amount of trepidation that I take my place

    behind this desk, and face this learned audience. To us

    Americans, the experience of receiving instruction from the

    living voice, as well as from the books, of European scholars, is

    very familiar. At my own University of Harvard, not a winter

    passes without its harvest, large or small, of lectures from

    Scottish, English, French, or German representatives of the

    science or literature of their respective countries whom we have

    either induced to cross the ocean to address us, or captured on

    the wing as they were visiting our land. It seems the natural

    thing for us to listen whilst the Europeans talk. The contrary

    habit, of talking whilst the Europeans listen, we have not yet

    acquired; and in him who first makes the adventure it begets a

    certain sense of apology being due for so presumptuous an act.

    Particularly must this be the case on a soil as sacred to the

    American imagination as that of Edinburgh. The glories of the

    philosophic chair of this university were deeply impressed on my

    imagination in boyhood. Professor Fraser's Essays in Philosophy,

    then just published, was the first philosophic book I ever looked

    into, and I well remember the awestruck feeling I received from

    the account of Sir William Hamilton's classroom therein

    contained. Hamilton's own lectures were the first philosophic

    writings I ever forced myself to study, and after that I was

    immersed in Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown. Such juvenile

    emotions of reverence never get outgrown; and I confess that to

    find my humble self promoted from my native wilderness to be

    actually for the time an official here, and transmuted into a

    colleague of these illustrious names, carries with it a sense of

dreamland quite as much as of reality.

    But since I have received the honor of this appointment I have

    felt that it would never do to decline. The academic career also

    has its heroic obligations, so I stand here without further

    deprecatory words. Let me say only this, that now that the

    current, here and at Aberdeen, has begun to run from west to

    east, I hope it may continue to do so. As the years go by, I

    hope that many of my countrymen may be asked to lecture in the

    Scottish universities, changing places with Scotsmen lecturing in

    the United States; I hope that our people may become in all these

    higher matters even as one people; and that the peculiar

    philosophic temperament, as well as the peculiar political

    temperament, that goes with our English speech may more and more

pervade and influence the world.

    As regards the manner in which I shall have to administer this

    lectureship, I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned in

    the history of religions, nor an anthropologist. Psychology is

    the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed.

    To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at

    least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his

    mental constitution. It would seem, therefore, that, as a

    psychologist, the natural thing for me would be to invite you to

    a descriptive survey of those religious propensities.

    If the inquiry be psychological, not religious institutions, but

    rather religious feelings and religious impulses must be its

    subject, and I must confine myself to those more developed

    subjective phenomena recorded in literature produced by

    articulate and fully self-conscious men, in works of piety and

    autobiography. Interesting as the origins and early stages of a

    subject always are, yet when one seeks earnestly for its full

    significance, one must always look to its more completely evolved

    and perfect forms. It follows from this that the documents that

    will most concern us will be those of the men who were most

    accomplished in the religious life and best able to give an

    intelligible account of their ideas and motives. These men, of

    course, are either comparatively modern writers, or else such

    earlier ones as have become religious classics. The documents

    humains which we shall find most instructive need not then be

    sought for in the haunts of special erudition--they lie along the

    beaten highway; and this circumstance, which flows so naturally

    from the character of our problem, suits admirably also your

    lecturer's lack of special theological learning. I may take

    my citations, my sentences and paragraphs of personal confession,

    from books that most of you at some time will have had already in

    your hands, and yet this will be no detriment to the value of my

    conclusions. It is true that some more adventurous reader and

    investigator, lecturing here in future, may unearth from the

    shelves of libraries documents that will make a more delectable