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William James (1842-1910)  Considered by many to be one of the top psychologists of all time  Principles of Psychology (1890)  Classic work in psychology.

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Presentation on theme: "William James (1842-1910)  Considered by many to be one of the top psychologists of all time  Principles of Psychology (1890)  Classic work in psychology."— Presentation transcript:

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2 William James ( )  Considered by many to be one of the top psychologists of all time  Principles of Psychology (1890)  Classic work in psychology  Prominent figure in psychology of religion  His definition of religious experience is the starting point for most studies in the field  Not particular religious orientation, but recognized the value of religion

3 Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)  Pure Experience  Experiences were discreet episodes that needed to be analyzed as a whole  Introspection – personal examination of experience  Pluralistic Universe  Religious experiences are not based on a common element  Experiences are diverse and disconnected

4 Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)  Essence of religion is experience rather than belief  Must investigate individual experiences to understand religion  Religion based on individual feeling (Schleiermacher)  Passionate  Emotional  Energetic

5 Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)  Institutional religion is less important than individual experiences  Definition of religion:  “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual [persons] in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider divine” (from Varieties )  Varieties contains a number of different accounts of religious experiences

6 Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)  James struggled with depression for most of his life  Felt that a religious temperament may help with psychological difficulties  Located persons on a continuum  Healthy Minded  Sick Souled  Religious experiences may help the sick souled  Helpful for dealing with psychological problems

7 Will to Believe (1897)  Three different Aspects of Religion  Alive – live options that must be dealt with  Forced – cannot be skeptical (example of a marriage proposal)  Momentous – something important to be gained

8 Will to Believe (1897)  Differences in forms of Belief  Scientific – Rational  May be amended with no real bearing on my life  Religious  Too important to wait before choosing  Seeks out what is good  Any decision that is of utmost importance requires an act of faith

9 Defining Religious Experience  Highly Diverse, Culturally Distinct  Difficult to Define  May be heightened emotional and unusual sensory experiences  Ordinary experiences interpreted through a religious framework  Communion

10 Defining Religious Experience  Rodney Stark (1997)  Confirming – Sensing the presence of the Divine  Silent time during a prayer  Responsive – Experience of being helped in some aspect of life  Ecstatic – More intense feeling of connectedness with the divine  Glossolalia – speaking in tongues  Revelational – Receiving some sort of special knowledge from the divine  Prophecy

11 Mysticism  Non-conceptual knowledge of the divine  Characteristics in Varieties  Ineffability – unable to give a verbal description of the event  “Beyond words”  Noetic Quality – Something life-changing has been learned  Transiency – experience lasts for a brief time  Passivity – Feeling like the experience was out of one’s control

12 Mysticism  Unitive experience  A sense of union with God  Usually a fundamental part of defining a religious experience  Perceiving a unity to God or the Supernatural  Sense of participation in that unity  Paradoxical  Beyond normal reason, cannot be described  Yet, believed to be true  Knowledge was gained, yet can’t describe what that knowledge is

13 Christian Mysticism  Kataphatic tradition (Positive)  Prayer that focuses on praising the many attributes of God (love, grace, compassion, etc.)  Apophatic tradition (negative or lack of knowledge)  Realization of our own ignorance before God  Any positive statement cannot fully describe the divine attributes Long history of mysticism in Christian theology Often occurred in smaller communities seeking solitude with God

14 Potential Problems  How do you describe the indescribable?  Religious experiences cannot be completely ineffable  Use language to describe them  Use religious imagery and symbols  Translation  Language differences between psychology and religion  Can a nonreligious person understand a religious experience?  Can someone gain a first person perspective of another?

15 Potential Problems  Methodology  How reliable is introspection?  Can the subjective be transferred into the objective?  Limited to texts written by others and interviews  Was the experience a true experience of the divine?  Point of view  Theoretical stance will change the way the data is interpreted  Is it possible to be ‘objective’ in regard to religion


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