The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature is a book by the Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James comprising 20 lectures given at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. These lectures concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science, in James’ view, in the academic study of religion. Soon after its publication, the book found its way into the canon of psychology and philosophy, and has remained in print for over a century.
James was most interested in direct religious experiences. Theology and the organizational aspects of religion were of secondary interest. He believed that religious experiences were simply human experiences: “Religious happiness is happiness. Religious trance is trance.”
He believed that religious experiences can have “morbid origins” in brain pathology and can be irrational but nevertheless are largely positive. Unlike the bad ideas that people have under the influence of a high fever, after a religious experience the ideas and insights usually remain and are often valued for the rest of the person’s life.
James had relatively little interest in the legitimacy or illegitimacy of religious experiences. Further, despite James’ examples being almost exclusively drawn from Christianity, he did not mean to limit his ideas to any single religion. Religious experiences are something that people sometimes have under certain conditions. In James’ description, these conditions are likely to be psychological or pharmaceutical rather than cultural. (From Wikipedia)
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