William James

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  • William James
    • Key aims
      • Focus on primary-first-hand experience not institutional 'counsel's religion (secondary)
      • James definition of religous experience: "the feelings acts, and experiences of [individuals] in their solitude, so far as the apprehend themselves in relation to the Divine
      • Two lines of enquiry: origins (cause) and existential value
      • Approach: pluralist, empiracal, rational
      • Lecture 1: his criticism of medical materialism objections to the reductionist approach of Freud or Marx
      • Pragmatic approach: focus the'fruits' or results oofreligious experience.
    • Key findings/ conclusions
      • Anhedonia (sick soul)
        • 'A lack of taste and zest and spring'
        • There are two souls: the sick and the healthy soul
          • Some already embody the qualities of the healthy soul (they are once born)
          • When someone loses purpose in life, they turn to a higher being to give them purpose and move to a more unified understanding of self (they are twice born)
      • A conversion experience involves a transformation from a divided or imperfect soul to a more unified conscious or healthy minded soul - can be sudden or gradual.
        • Saintliness: saint like behaviour after a conversion experience.
          • A sense that the ideal power is friendly
          • elation and sense of freedom
          • willingness to surrender to said ideal power.
          • A feeling of being in a world which has an ideal power.
          • Emphasis on love and harmony
          • Consequences
            • Asceticism
            • Strength of soul
            • Purity
            • Charity
        • Four Fruits - the effects of a conversion
          • 4. A feeling of ecstacy
          • 3. A sense of perceiving things not known before (noetic quality)
          • 1. A feeling of assurance (confidence)
          • 2. A lack of feeling of loss and worry
      • Religious experiences on their own do not demonstate God's existence, although they suggest the existence of something bigger.
        • Religious experiences are 'psychological phenomena and can be explained as part of a persons psychological make-up. However he did not believe that this was an argument against belief in God.
    • Evaluation
      • Weaknesses
        • Bertrand Russell's objections to effects or 'fruits' of religious experience as grounds that such experiences must be genuine or a result of an experience of a higher reality.
        • James's attack on 'systematic theology ' or institutional are not well grounded
        • Logical positivism objections to a higher reality of higher power meaningless since such experience cannot be verified.
        • James' bifurcation of the human personality into sick/healthy souls is cconsidered too reductionist, personality is much more complex.
        • Other psychological explanations e.g. Freud's criticism that religious experience is illusionary.
        • Limited approach - focus on a few individual ''patternsetters' excluded ordinary religious practitioners | Nicholas Lash
      • Strengths
        • Focus only psychological causes and existential meaning: not setting out to prove the existence of God.
        • Pragmatic - focus on results.
        • Pluralistic approach - does not favour one religion over another
        • Empirical approach-first-hand testimonies oofferedas results


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