Thursday, February 17, 2011

Books read in 2011: No.11 - The Varieties of Religious Experience

Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Natureby William James

Started: February 17
Finished: April 2

Notes: I'm not sure when I first became aware of this book, a 1902 collection of University of Edinburgh lectures looking at religion by an American psychologist. Especially as this pre-dates Freud and Jung's influences upon psychology, and as the topic of religious study is one of interest to me, I'm hoping to enjoy this quite thoroughly. It seems to me that perhaps author John Gardner mentioned this book in his On Moral Fiction, so maybe that's how I first became aware of this book.

Mini review: An interesting read. Dated in many ways, but also still quite appropriate to our modern age. The author's conclusion leans toward there being something to religion, but he's not quite sure what it is. This is a book by a scientifically-minded man who still feels a yearning for the extra-worldly, and it seemed obvious to me these two aspects were somewhat in conflict within himself. Here he is presenting a professional series of lectures, and he goes through quite well what constitutes religion and makes it important. The focus here is upon religion on the personal level, not socially and political. Worth your time to read if you have interests in such subjects. Despite the age of this book, I found it a pretty easy read, though I did feel the author was stronger when studying and describing various aspects of religion and psychology than he was in the final lecture or two when trying to make his final arguments. One interesting aspect, at least for myself, was the author's arguments that scientists shouldn't become too distanced from their subjects of study, in this case being religion, but should recognize that their subjects have not only an objective sense but a subjective one. That was a new train of thought for me.


Charles Gramlich said...

I should be ashamed I haven't read this one. James is famous in my field after all.

Ty Johnston said...

I could see how this one might slip your reading, Charles. Meaning, I expect it to be pretty dated from a scientific point of view.