William James - Religious Experience

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  • William James
    • He noted that they had Great authority for the person who had them and conversions are due to religious beliefs becoming central to them
      • E.g Paul changes from being a persecutor of christians to a leading christian preacher
    • While James did not deny the authority of religious experiences, he examined the parallels and similarities between them and other experiences [dreams/ hallucinations]
    • Conclusions
      • James concluded that religious experiences on their own do not demonstrate God's existence BUT THEY DO SUGGEST EXISTENCE OF 'SOMETHING LARGER'
      • He suggested that religious experiences were 'psychological phenomena'. HOWEVER, he did not believe that this was an argument against God - he leaves open the possibility of his existence
      • James conclusions rest on 3 key principles
        • EMPIRICISM = many case studies he presents are empirical evidence of effects of RE
        • PLURALISM = research in different faiths led him to conclude that they were similar as they seem to be experiencing the same ultimate reality
        • PRAGMATISM = the truth was not fixed and what is true is whatever has great value for us, there is truth to be found in religion
    • Mystical experiences have meaning only for the individual who had the experience
    • James uses St. Teresa as an example, she underwent a series of visions but James saw her visions as psychologically driven


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