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William James: Varieties of Religious Experience - Essay Example

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William discourages using a single principle or essence to define the theology as many authors have been doing (William 30-32). Why William used variety of religious sentiments rather than a single concept in circumscribing the topic is because he perceived dogmatic conceptual frameworks could only over simplify the many entities in religion rather than providing a useful insight to it. William viewed religion as a “store house” of sentiments to religious people. Further he describes how traditional definitions focus only one sort of sentiments such as feeling of dependence, derivative of fear, sexual life, and feeling of infinite (William 31). In contrary William use collective form of religious essence for introducing the content of subject. In describing psychological entities associated with religions William did not introduce a new set of human emotions. Alternatively he describes common emotions associating with human mind such as love, fear, joy and awe are the same with respect to religion although the factors explaining burgeoning of religious emotions are different. Further, he emphasizes the fact that religious sentiments are different from common human emotions based on concrete grounds. Example, religious love is described as love occurring in human mind directed at a religious object, religious fear is described as human fear occurring from divine retribution and religious awe as thrill occurring at the thought of supernatural relationships in religion (William 31). William advocates all human emotions burgeoning from religious attributes are unique yet not different from common human sentiments which arise from non-religious sources. To be an "explainer" of religion one does not have to have "experienced" it In lecture three “Reality of the Unseen”, William explains the ability of religious concepts and objects to attract devotion from human beings while such attributes may not have been experienced by the practitioners through their common senses. He describes abstract entities in fact are stronger in burgeoning religious sentiments than figurative concepts. Example God, his holiness, justice, mercy and absoluteness are capable of producing vast sentiments in human minds and devotion although few followers may claimed to have experienced them in real (William 61). William avoids rationalizing such abstract objects and concepts providing the fact that such by definition are beyond the human eye and ability of conceptualizing. To support this argument he also provides examples where people claimed to have experienced mysticism (William 64-75). Clearly William does not account comprehending as a must in practicing religions. Further, in lecture sixteen William identifies “an ability to see truth in a special way” as “Mysticism”. Accordingly there are four qualities in mystical experiences. Among these characteristics ineffability or not being able to explain the experience verbally provides evidence to the fact that mystical experiences are not fully comprehended by the practitioners. Noetic or states of deep knowledge indicates that mystic experiences may not incorporate experiencing deity. The practitioner may not know from where such deep knowledge came but could link the religion. Moreover, transiency means mystic experiences can only last a short period of time such as an hour or two while passivity means mystical states are accepted in a passive consciousness (William 371-372). These four characteristics indicate that William does not perceive comprehending or pragmatism as necessary qualities of religious experiences. James thinks a critical science is important in explaining religions In the second ...Show more


William’s “circumscription of the topic” is not focusing on creating an outline for the subject rather it opens the minds of natural theology students to the vastness of the subject and disadvantageous of attempting to define it…
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William James: Varieties of Religious Experience essay example
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