William James' argument


The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature

James assumed that religious experience was the source of religious institutions such as churches, which he believed were secondary to each individual person's religious experiences. He suggested that religious experiences were events which were 'solitary' and in which individuals experienced the divine or God - the religious tradition to which the person belongs to (if any) is relatively unimportant

James noted that religious experiences have great authority for the person who has them and can often have a marked effect in a person's life. He noted that conversion experiences are characterised by religious beliefs becoming central to a person's life which will then in turn affect their behaviour. EXAMPLE: St. Paul on the road to Damascus. It is because religious experiences can so noticeably change people's behaviour that James suggested that they were the inspiration and source of religious institutions.

James identified some of the characteristics of religious experiences from visions to feelings of God's presence. He noted that many people's religious experiences are marked by a loss of anxiety, the…


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