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William James

Varieties of Religious Experience

(with page references to what is now the Touchtone Books edition)


Beware: these notes are quickly put together from classroom handouts over the past several years.  They are not consistent in the kinds of things they attempt, nor thorough in coverage, and undoubtedly need to be improved.  They are offered as a study aid in process.


1.  Note the difference (that James, among others, notes--pp. 25-26) between statements expressing claims about matters of fact and claims expressing judgments of value. 

2.  "Heathy-mindedness" is a title used to DESCRIBE an attitude, not to RECOMMEND an orientation.  James is NOT saying that if you want enhanced health you should embrace this type of religion.

3.  Consider differentiating between attitudes that are associated in the same category by James: (1) Pantheism affirms that everything is divine; or everything that happens is expressive of the will of God; or we're all already perfect, except that some of us don't realize it yet.  Pantheism is criticized by those people who insist that it is important to realize the importance of human choices between good and evil, important to recognize that perfection is our destiny, not our present status.  (2)  One need not be a pantheist in order to enjoy religious experiences in which the divine presence is so fulfilling and pervading that one celebrates that the divine is, that the divine is in us, and that we are in the divine.  (3)  It may even be inconsistent with pantheism (though consistent with some varieties of what James calls "healthy-mindedness" to cultivate a vigorously affirmative--"to feast upon uncertainty, to fatten upon disappointment, to enthuse over apparent defeat, to invigorate in the presence of difficulties, to exhibit indomitable courage in the face of immensity, and to exercise unconquerable faith when confronted with the challenge of the inexplicable."

4.  While, strictly speaking, James does not make a universal generalization that religion is a quest for happiness, on the first page of his initial lecture on healthy-mindedness, his pragmatism orients him toward the view that religion is a solution for some uneasiness or dissatisfaction.  The question remains: does the happiness come as a by-product of spiritual discovery, or shall we use the term "spiritual discovery" as a name for whatever brings a certain kind of happiness?  In other words, is there any possible insight here?  The people that James records as having powerful spiritual experiences tend to speak as people who have realized truth.  James's psychological approach treats them as people who have had experiences that they interpret in certain ways.  Does his approach enable him to do justice to his topic?  The question may be put in a different way.  Suppose one has a religious experience such that, during that time, there was no occasion to question the meaning of what was occurring.  Looking back, one can consider how to interpret it.  One has (at least) two options: (1) to affirm the apparent meaningfulness of the experience and to live and speak from the stance made possible by that affirmation; (2) to describe conservatively: to affirm the obvious fact of the experience while introducing an epistemological qualification about the "overbeliefs" one uses to describe it.  That epistemological qualification can range from (a) an acknowledgement of human limitations to (b) agnosticism to the claim that doing (a) honestly requires (b).


Lectures 6-7 The Sick Soul.  Life has a way, sooner or later, of bringing you into evil or difficulties or pain and suffering so great that a simplistic affirmation of religious happiness doesn't speak deeply enough to your need (140).  WJ insists that he is simply describing, however, not arguing against the religion of "healthy-mindedness."  Moreover, some types of body-and-mind need the strong medicine of a kind of religion that moves through the depths of agony (cf. Job, "I abhor myself") in order to ascend to the heights of affirmation (139).

            The facts of evil make it hard for a theology that takes God as a Total dominant One.  A pluralistic philosophy makes more sense: the believer may worship God as good so long as God is supreme (not all-powerful, but most powerful, by comparison to a plurality of independently originating beings) and goodness wins out in the end (117; 141). 

            Depression has different degrees: a flat lack of enjoyment in things (127), a "positive and active anguish" (129).  The theme of depression may be the meaninglessness of life, the vanity of mortal things (Tolstoy--130-35), the wretchedness of the self (Bunyan--136-37), or fear--even panic--of the universe (138-39).

            Facts, by themselves, however, do not determine the values that our feelings may sense.  Facts that appear to justify pessimism and resignation for one person provide another person with a stimulus to heroic effort and the mobilization of faith-vision (130-31). 

            Note that WJ, despite his lecture one acceptance of the causal claims of the medical materialist, affirms that our wonderful passions are "gifts to us, from sources sometimes low and sometimes high" (131).

Lecture 8.  The Divided Self, and the Process of Its Unification.  WJ characterizes the religion of the twice-born with reference to a common traditional generalization about religious discipline: first you must uproot your attachment to the goods of this world before the higher life can genuinely emerge (143--do you agree?).  (The once-born are those simply positive affirming types discussed in lectures 4-5.) 

Some people have a high degree of inner psychological conflict.  Insofar as we do have inner conflict, "the normal evolution of character chiefly consists in the straightening out and unifying of the inner self.  The higher and the lower feelings, the useful and the erring impulses, begin by being a comparative chaos within us--they must end by forming a stable system of functions in right subordination.  Unhappiness is apt to characterize the period of order-making and struggle" (146).

            The conflict can be agonizing indeed "when the higher wishes lack just that last acuteness, that touch of explosive intensity . . .that enables them to burst their shell, and make irruption efficaciously into life, and quell the lower tendencies forever" (148). 

            The process of unification to a new quality of firmness, stability, and equilibrium may be gradual or sudden, religious or irreligious.  In persons with positive religious outcomes, "they could and did find something welling up in the inner reaches of their consciousness, by which such extreme sadness could be overcome.  Tolstoy does well to talk of it as that by which men live; for that is exactly what it is, a stimulus, an excitement, a faith, a fore that re-infuses the positive willingness to live, even in full presence of the evil perceptions that erewhile made life seem unbearable" (159).  A small additional stimulus "will overthrow the mind into a new state of equilibrium when the process of preparation and incubation has proceeded far enough" (151n).

            [Comment.  Realizing that many of his people were at the parting of the ways, Joshua put the decision before them:"Choose this day whom you will serve."  If there is a moment where we forever and finally say YES or NO to God and/or the universe adventure of progress in truth, beauty, and goodness, our decision at the parting of the ways is prepared partly in our subconscious, as the results of attitudes we choose and decisions we make incubate until they are ready to burst into consciousness in full force.  WJ here sees an aspect of the subconscious that Freud, as far as I know, did not observe.  Our conscious attitudes and commitments, our daily life of decision-action scatters seeds that grow subconsciously.  We do well, therefore, to be aware what sort of seed we thus sow.  A man said, "My life is a fight between two dogs--one is good and noble, the other vicious and hostile."  His companion said, "And which dog wins?"  The reply came back, "The one I feed."  Such thinking is, at least, deeply compatible with WJ.]


Conversion =" the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities" 160).

Stephen H. Bradley's case shows how "one may find one unsuspected depth below another, as if the possibilities of character lay disposed in a series of layers or shells" (160).

"Transformation" suggest a permanent changes in the habitual center of [a person's] personal energy (165), expelling any competing centre of gravity (166) in the soul (163)--Buddhists or Humians can perfectly well describe the facts in . . . phenomenal terms" (164).  Psychology cannot account for all the factors involved in a particular case (165).

Suggestion and imitation play a large role in many cases, but not all (168, 189).

Some conversions are purely ethical (170), without regard for religion religion.

Some persons can't imagine the invisible or are permanently "barren" or "dry," or doubts keep subverting their faith, or they lack the capacity for religious responsiveness, though perhaps only temporarily (171).

Surrender, Releasing effort (after emotional exhaustion of exertion) often opens the gates (172), though there are volitional types as well, more gradual, though not without sudden forward steps.  Most of us are more preoccupied with the bad in ourselves than with the glories of the new and better way (174).  The personal will is inferior to the higher powers in the subconscious (175). 

Psychology and religion are in harmony, except that psychology's vocabulary, e.g., of subconscious incubation (173), carries [reductionistic implications] (176).  We leave the question open and inquire further.  Theology concludes that the spirit of God is present in such dramatic moments (187).

There is a tendency of people and traditions that emphasize conversion to assert that only those who have gone through such an experience can be saved or sanctified (188ff).

Maybe the causes are ordinary, while the fruits are divine (189).

Psychology's discovery of the unconscious offers a key to explaining why conversion happens to some--those with a wider and more active subconscious field, sponsoring a wide variety of incursions, activities, and experiences, some pathological, including automatic writing or speech, post-hypnotic suggestion, hallucination (190-95).  You can predict sudden conversion in those who have "first, pronounced emotional sensibility; second, tendency to automatism; and third, suggestibility of the passive type" (197).  The value of violent emotional experiences leading to conversion is disputed even among revivalists (204-05); mescal[ine] can stimulate hallucinations (206).

Causes?  "The subject is really complex"; "subconscious incubation explains a great number of these experiences" (194n).  The meaning and value of conversion experiences for a person's life have to do simply with the consequences for the kind of life that results--whether or not physiological or divine--or diabolical--factors played any role (195).  Referring to the subconscious does not exclude the divine, which may only operate through the subconscious (198-9).  In fact, there is no chasm separating converts from others, but a continuum (195).  The main thing is that it makes a great difference to the individual to begin a new direction, even if others may be far more advanced along the way (196). 

            Conceptual, intellectual belief is not crucial (201).

            The affective state of assurance is distinguished by (1) peace, harmony, loss of all worry, a willingness to be; (2) the sense of perceiving truths not known before (sometimes--see later on mysticism--ineffable); and (3) the world looks new (202). 

            It's common to report diminished feelings after conversion, though the convictions usually endure (209-10).

Questions for class discussion.

What varieties of the quest for perfection have you observed or experienced?  What interpretations can be given of such a quest?

Pp. 254-55: Note James's subtle differentiation between varieties of asceticism.  Contrast this with the conventional comment on "Cartesian dualism and the hatred of the body that has resulted from our alienated view of our true selves as being separate from the body, from nature, from the earth, from animals."  Which, if any, of the varieties of asceticism that James mentions seem to represent the dualistic hatred of the body that is so generally attributed to ascetics?  Is the our culture, past or present, pervaded by hatred of the body?  By identification with the body?  Is it possible to subordinate the interests of the body to other values without setting up an unhealthy division within the self?

Pp. 272-73: Note James's discussion of need and importance of being able to make a decision "forever and finally" to reject and evil or affirm a good.  What does such a decision feel like?  What does it feel like to face such a decision?  To avoid such a decision?

Pp. 278-84: Carefully explain the difference between theology from above (described in the second paragraph of "The Value of Saintliness" and James's empirical method (described in the subsequent paragraphs)? 

Pp. 287-88: In what way does this passage (and this chapter generally--especially for those of you who have read the whole thing) respond to the criticism of James that he distorts religion by studying extreme and pathological examples?  Can you see another aspect to James's pluralism in this passage?  What is James's recipe for balance in life?  What ideas do you have about how to achieve balance in human living? 

The Value of Saintliness (Lectures 14 and 15)

[I]  Having portrayed the fruits of religious experience, it is time to evaluate them (261). 


[II] Our method (261-67) will not be dogmatic (using a doctrine of elements of the human being), but empirical. 

We cannot, however, dispense with the theological judgments implicit in the general cultural evolution resulting in our common sense rejection of certain religious ideas and ideals (262-64).  Religions have supplanted others by their attractions, satisfying new human needs (263).

We can hope not for certainty but for reasonable probability in our conclusions (265).

Since people differ biopsychologically, their religious needs and corresponding beliefs, ideals, and practices will differ (265).


[III]  Again, we're looking at genuine individual experience, not institutionalized fossilizations, with the institutional drive to domination.

Yes, beware excess; but the error is generally lack of equally strong balancing factors (271).


[IV] Saintly Attributes

            [A]  Devoutness, whose narrow-minded extreme is fanaticism (271-77, including accounts of dubious "revelations"). 

            [B]  Purity (277)

            [C]  Tenderness and Charity--which must be adjusted to the recipient (Spencer) (281-85).  These saints have surprisingly increased goodness in many people; "they are impregnators of the world, vivifiers and animators of potentialities of goodness" (284).

            [D]  Asceticism, which, despite its extremes, achieves heroism (285-92).


[V]  Review and Conclusions (292-98)

            Temperament in non-religious types may produce isolated characteristics, but not the cluster: felicity, purity, charity, patience, self-severity (not the same as complete perfection).  Nietzsche is (in a sickly way) repulsed by them in contrast to vitalistic heroism (represented by the difference between men and women) (293-95).

            No one ideal is right for every type of person/situation (295).  Adaptation to diverse environments is essential and problematic (296-7).  All saints to a degree bring or herald the success of their kind of strength (297).

            To criticize his humanistic evaluation in the name of religious truth begs the question of the truth of the religion to which the critic appeals.


Questions on William James's chapter on Mysticism


1.  Why would "mysticism" sometimes be used as a pejorative term (299)?

2.  What do the following terms mean: ineffable, noetic, transient, passive (299-301), monism, and pantheism (326ff)?

3.  James proposes a scale of several levels of mystical experience (301-303).   What levels would you propose (301-303)?

4.  What would you say about claims to mystical experience stimulated by alcohol and drugs?

5.  What are your peak experiences of the beauties of nature?  Describe a favorite place in nature.  What are the meanings and values implicit in your enjoyment of that place?

6.  How do you know (how does--or can--anyone know) the truth of religious experience?

7.  How can mystic experience be interpreted within the framework of non-monistic religion (333)?

8.  What does it take to open the opportunity to adventure in the realm of religious experience (335)?


Lectures 16 and 17.  Mysticism

[Mysticism defined]  Religious experience has its root and centre in mystical states of consciousness; . . . such states of consciousness ought to form the vital chapter from which the other chapters get their light” (299).  For our discussion mystic experience will be defined in terms of the following jointly sufficient conditions: ineffability, noetic, transient, passive.

 [Degrees of mysticism]  There are degrees of mystical experience, and the next part of the chapter (301-314) is devoted to illustrating these degrees.

1.  Sometimes a strongly deepened sense of the meaning of a thought or poetic line or work of art sweeps over a person (301-02).

2.  Déja vu experiences give an uncanny sense of mystery and depth—but such experiences may be pursued in a direction leading to insanity as well as in a direction leading upward (302-03).

3.  There may be a strong sense of the meaningfulness of everything surrounding one (303).

4.  There are deeper trance mystical states (305-06).

5.  There are states induced by intoxicants or anaesthetics.  James reports one of his own experiences in this class.  A notable example of an account of an apparently spiritual experience apparently induced by chloroform, accompanied by questions, is given on 307-08. 

James concludes, “Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different” (305). 

He goes on to express his main thesis in the book: “No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.  How to regard them is the question—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness.  Yet they may determine attitudes though they fail to give a map.  At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality” (305).  The experiences James mentions tend to support a monistic account of reality, in which difference and tension are absorbed in unity.

James goes on to compare mystical moods reported by others, some occasioned by aspects of nature (310).  He quotes a writer who observes that such experiences stand the test of confrontation with “the objective realities of life.”  Furthermore, “when they came, I was living the fullest, strongest, sanest deepest life.  I was not seeking them.  What I was seeking, with resolute determination, was to live more intensely my own life, as against what I knew would be the adverse judgment of the world.” (312)

[The methodical cultivation of cosmic or mystic consciousness in major religions]  James records Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian stages and reports, leaving some abnormal phenomena aside, since “consciousness of illumination is for us the essential mark of “mystical states” (320n).  In discussing certain ecstasies, James remarks that an “organic” sensibility is also involved.  Indeed, “to the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested and imitated hypnoid states, on an intellectual basis of superstition, and a corporeal one of degeneration and hysteria” (324).

As James returns to his analysis in terms of fruits, he notes “stupefaction” in some persons as well as “indomitable spirit and energy” in others (324).  James considers whether the quality of the fruit is an indication of the truth of its origin and asks the major epistemological question, “Do mystical states establish the truth of those theological affections in which the saintly life has its root?” (326).  He reviews the monism (often expressed negatively or paradoxically, since the One is so radically beyond any identifiable characteristic) and “optimism”—affirmative character—of the mystic’s Absolute.  Then he modifies his question, “Does [the mystic consciousness] furnish any warrant for the truth of the twice-borness and supernaturality and pantheism which it favors?” (331).

            “1. Mystical states, when well developed, usually are, and have the right to be, absolutely authoritative over the individuals to whom they come.

            “2. No authority emanates from them which should make it a duty for those who stand outside of them to accept their revelations uncritically.

            “3. They break down the authority of the non-mystical or rationalistic consciousness, based upon the understanding and the senses alone.  They show it to be only one kind of consciousness.  They open out the possibility of other orders of truth, in which, so far as anything in us vitally responds to them, we may freely continue to have faith” (331).

James expands on these themes, in particular insisting that a more detailed review of mystical literature would show many who are not monists or pantheists, in other words, many personalists, for whom relationship and ontological plurality remains basic.  He continues by reminding us of the overlap between the phenomena of successful mystics and those of the insane, and he insists that both come from the same “subliminal or transmarginal region” of the unconscious (334).  

            In conclusion, mystical states offer potentials of meaning that are consistent with what we otherwise know and cannot be overturned by what we otherwise know.  What mystical experience points to is also consistent with religion generally: “They tell of the supremacy of the ideal, of vastness, of union, of safety, and of rest” (336; 305).  There is a reconciliation, a unity, in which lower level conflicts find their resolution.  They furnish hypotheses, and we are permitted to honor such experiences and to orient ourselves in the direction they indicate.


Lecture 18.  Philosophy

            The question of truth returns.  Mysticism “is too private (and also too various) in its utterances to be able to claim a universal authority.  But philosophy publishes results which claim to be universally valid if they are valid at all . . . . ( 337)  But philosophy cannot prove the matter either.  “Feeling is the deeper source of religion, and philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products . . . .”(337).  Feeling is private and dumb, and unable to give an account of itself” (338) but we interpret our feelings intellectually, philosophically, using general terms (338); but all such intellectual over-beliefs “presuppose immediate experiences as their subject matter” (339).  Though it may be claimed that the concept of God elicits emotion (340) and even that denial of a systematic theological science of God reduces religion to mere emotional preferences, philosophy never resolves anything, and feelings establish the convictions that direct its employment (340).  Thus neither scholastic theology nor idealistic philosophy can prove as advertised, though philosophy can clarify what is implied in prior felt religious experience.  Philosophy may better change into a science of religions, refining hypotheses for further testing in experience.  The feeling gives rise to new philosophy, which, in turn gives rise to new feeling, and so on.

            Arguments for the existence of God merely convince those who already believe.  Consider, however, the argument from design (behold the marvelous design exhibited in natural phenomena demonstrate/indicate the reality of the Designer).  In fact order and disorder are simply the products of the interpretive human mind (342-43n). 

            James’s pragmatism is particularly evident in the following.  Arguments to prove the attributes of God give us ideas whose “cash value” is nothing more than the practical, experienceable, verifiable, facts that they imply (343-46).  As Charles Sanders Peirce realized, the function of thinking is to fix belief—a stable foundation for action; so meaning consists only in what can make a difference for action (347).  James describes the claims about God offered by metaphysical theology (as opposed to moral theology) as being irrelevant to life, secondary, artificial, and monstrous (348-49).  The moral attributes attributed to God are relevant to conduct but equally devoid of logical force (349).        The book of Job gives the last word on this issue, presenting “an intellect perplexed and baffled, yet a trustful sense of presence” (350).   

            Can idealism do any better?  Idealist philosophers elevated Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception (the “I think” that must be able to accompany all our representations”) an infinite abstract self consciousness, the world soul in which the individual ego exists (350).  Ideas elicit their negations.  To be conscious of a limit is to be beyond it.  Thus the activity of the idea-object engages us in an infinite life (351).  The train of thinking in idealism is this: attempting to think away my finite self, I land in my true, infinite self.  The contradiction between the ideal and the actual is healed by religion (not morality).  Religious progress is not toward but in the infinite—the surrender of the soul to God, the life of God in the soul (353).  But idealism has not been found logically persuasive as a foundation for religion (354).

            Philosophy can change from theology into science of religions, refining and perhaps advocating the best hypotheses for continued experiment in personal experience.


Lecture 19.  Other Characteristics (357 - 376)

 Aesthetic preferences influence religious choices.  [Is this a mistake?  Yes and no?  Explain.]

Prayer—felt interaction with Deity—is the most important function of religion.

Religion is convinced that there are real effects on our inner lives (or outer circumstances) that result from our intercourse with God.

            The aesthetic appeal of a certain type of theology or ecclesiastical architecture makes Catholics incomprehensible to austere Protestants, devoted to truth in its purity.

            Sacrifice and confession have been widespread, filling persisting psychological needs. 

            Prayer—intercourse with God—is the essential in religion. 

Is active and mutual interaction in prayer illusory?  For living religion, something is genuinely transacted in this consciousness.  Does prayer itself release the operation of energies that operate—objectively or subjectively—in the world of facts?  That is the key question; it matter less just who gives the answer.  Consider the example of a man who did enormous good by relying on God for very material aid (364).  A divinely led life experiences marvelous, providential synchronicities (367).  It is not that God thrusts a hand into the course of events, but our interpretation of things makes the divinely led life so spiritually effective (368).  The faith-filled heart finds the wonders of the living God everywhere (369).  Whether the effects be outer or inner, religion affirms that in communion higher energies operate and make a difference (371).

Automatisms are phenomena in which the initiative seems to originate from beyond the self and which therefore enhance belief (this category is indiscriminate) (372).  Prophesy may be artificial, but it is sometimes a response to the experience of a strong “hand” or message or impulse (373).  Philo, Mohammed, and Joseph Smith manifest diverse kinds of inspiration (374).  These may be regarded as incursions from the wide realm of the unconscious (375), whence much that enters into the religious life comes (376).


Conclusions (377-402).

Roughly speaking, religions share five things: three beliefs and two psychological characteristics (377).

“What are the dangers in this element of life? And in what proportion may it need to be restrained by other elements, to give the proper balance?”  (378).  Since persons are so different, no one definitive solution is possible.  The science of religions cannot be the solution, since it is no substitute for religion itself; but it may try to decide “how far, in the light of other sciences and in that of general philosophy, such beliefs can be considered true” (380).  Science and philosophy do not ground any dogmatic answer; they may even lead toward suspicion (380-81).  Religion is a matter of individuals’ interests in their own personal destiny.  “Religion, in short, is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism” (381).  But science is impersonal and focuses on the universal, and from this perspective human beings appear epiphenomena, like bubbles of foam (384). 

Religion responds to dramatic aesthetic qualities in nature, not the quantities measured by science.  Despite the impressiveness of science, its appeal is shallow.  “As soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena as such, we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term” (386).  [Note the phenomenological philosophy used by the pragmatist in this couple of pages of exposition.]  The “egotistic,” the subjective are an essential part of any fact (387).  Moreover, “individuality is founded in feeling” and it is in [subjectivity] where facts are fashioned (389).  Thus religion will endure (390).  This concludes the preliminaries.  Now to the final summing up: Does religion reveal “anything distinct enough to be considered a general message to mankind?” (390)

I’ll attempt to give the minimal core “which all religions contain as their nucleus” (390).  Thoughts are secondary and variable; systems and institutions are not always necessary; feelings and conduct are more constant.  The faith state involves a positive, expansive, vitality (391), and that energy can be stamped upon a belief.  God is above all used by the individual in quest of a richer life (Leuba) (391).   

But in addition to the subjective utility of religion, religion may be studied in terms of its intellectual content.  There is a common core of belief.  Religion [as a pragmatist might be expected to say] consists of “an uneasiness” (“that there is something wrong with us as we naturally stand”) and “its solution” (that we are “saved” “by making proper connection with the higher powers”) (393).  The one who is saved “identifies his real being with the germinal higher part of himself . . . .  He becomes conscious that this higher part is coterminous and continuous with a MORE of the same quality which is operative in the universe outside of him, and which he can keep in working touch with, and in a fashion get on board of and save himself when all his lower being has gone to pieces in the wreck. (393-94).

This is a hypothesis, for which there is no coercive argument.  “The most I can do is, accordingly, to offer something that may fit the facts so easily that your scientific logic will find no plausible pretext for vetoing your impulse to welcome it as true” (395).

“Whatever it may be on its farther side, the “more” with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life.  Starting thus with a recognized psychological fact as our basis, we seem to preserve a contact with “science” which the ordinary theologian lacks” (396).  A science of religions may adopt the tenet of the “more”; but only overbeliefs can carry us further (397).  What is common and generic is this: “We have in the fact that the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come, a positive content of religious experience which, it seems to me, is literally and objectively true as far as it goes (398).  That which produces effects within another reality must be termed a reality itself” (399). 

My overbelief: God must be more than merely the posited cause of experience, however; a real hypothesis attempts to explain data beyond only those on which it is based (400).  I believe that there are other worlds of consciousness than our own, and that they produce some facts in the natural order of things in addition to “the inflow of energy in the faith-state” (401).


Postscript (403-08)

In order to clarify the brief and general philosophic statement of my overbelief, I’ll add a bit.  We can readily classify the positions on this issue.  There are naturalists and supernaturalists; and among the latter, some hold that God’s life has no impact on phenomena of human experience, whereas pragmatists look for such impact (403). 

My overbelief: “It seem as though transmundane energies, God if you will, produced immediate effects within the natural world to which the rest of our experience belongs” (406).  For example, the principle of karma seems right (405).  It does not seem necessary to posit personal immortality, “if our ideals are only cared for in ‘eternity’” . . .  (406).  The core idea is that of “a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals.  All that the facts require is that the power should be both other and larger than our conscious selves.  Anything larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step.  It need not be infinite, it need not be solitary” (407).  We need neither proof nor certitude; hope is enough (408).


            In brief, the Conclusion and Postscript features include a couple of key points, which stimulate the "dialogue" to follow.  Pay special attention to the list of common beliefs and psychological characteristics at the beginning of the conclusion on p. 401.  Note James' intention to pass beyond the [in some sense pragmatic] sense of subjective utility on 418.  See the pragmatic characterisation of religion on 418.  Pay special attention to 419, 422.1, 424.1.



  WJ: there are (a) experiences (coming from [422.1] or through [424.1] the subconscious) and (b) over-beliefs.


  Critic: How can you separate experience and belief?  They are so blended in [most] religious experience that WJ's handy distinction is artificial.

  WJ's point, to use an  e x a m p l e, has been put in this way: "The idea of the personality of [God] is an enlarged and truer concept of God which has come to mankind chiefly through revelation.  Reason, wisdom, and religious experience all infer and imply the personality of God, but they do not altogether validate it."  What is here regarded as revelation I call over-belief--a belief that one can affirm only by going beyond what is evident in the experience itself.


  Crit.  WJ has too narrow a concept of religious experience, places too much attention on the extraordinary and dramatic experiences.  Why not include as religious experiences even those ordinary life experiences in the life of a child or student when the individual acquires the ideas that are used as over-beliefs to interpret the more vivid religious experiences?


  Other: But how do you Know that revelation has occurred?  That, too, is something that you evaluate in terms of your personal religious experience (except insofar as you allow the influence of the religious group or its authorities to determine what you shall regard as revelation).


  WJ: Profound and vivid religious experiences have a noetic quality (319); they inspire unshakable conviction (though many imitate such conviction because of group loyalties and personal insecurities).  It is also true that these experiences can be described by psychology described play a role in the person's psychological history.