William James & Religious Experiences

William James & Religious Experiences

  • including elements of psychology + Freudian    approach 
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  • WILLIAM JAMES:The Varieties of Religious Experience
    • Pragmatist: the truth of a statement can be found by understanding the effects
      • Investigated  a large amount of religious experiences
        • religious experiences= solitary events where individuals experience the divine/god
          • religious experiences are the source of all religious institutions
          • can have a great impact- therefore have authority for the  person who has it
      • e.g S H Hadeley- after a religious experience felt a new sense of commission- had an active role in helping drunkards in a similar situation to one he had been in.
    • key characteristics of R/E: ineffable, noetic, transient, passive
      • Catholic Bishop Andrew M Greeley (sociology of the paranormal): common aspects of R/E- feelings of inner peace, intense emotions, need to help others, certainty that everything will turn out for the good, god's love is the centre of everything
    • religious experiences alone do not demonstrate God's existence but they suggest something 'larger'
      • does not deny the reality of experiences BUT examines parallels between them + occurrence of dreams/ hallucinations- there may be a link to the subconscious
        • could be a psychological phenomena which is normal to a person like other psychological experiences such as thinking- psychology could be used to explain R/E
        • FREUD: religion is an illusion
          • found obsessive behaviour seen in mental health patients were similar to religious practices e.g worship
          • R/E = childlike desire for a god who resembles a father figure
          • However: lack of understanding into the unconscious mind- weak explanation
    • R/E are the primary source of religious beliefs
      • But- many psychologists/ sociologists claim that religious experiences only happen to people who are already members of a religious tradition
      • why do religious experiences result in the formation of different religions?


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