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The Varieties of Religious Experience weaves together acute observations with simple anecdotes to argue that individual religious experiences, rather than the tenets of organized religion, are what form the backbone of spiritual life. The book explores all sides of religion, from repentance and conversion to mysticism and the value of saintliness. Written with James's characteristic humor and skill, The Varieties of Religious Experience sounds the depths of what he termed "man's religious appetites."
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time
The Varieties of Religious Experience was an immediate bestseller upon its publication in June 1902. Reflecting the pluralistic views of psychologist turned philosopher William James, it posits that individual religious experiences, rather than the tenets of organized religions, form the backbone of religious life. Jamess discussion of conversion, repentance, mysticism, and hope of reward and fears of punishment in the hereafteras well as his observations on the religious experiences of such diverse thinkers as Voltaire, Emerson, Luther, and othersall support his thesis. Walter Houston Clark in Psychology Today deemed it "the most notable of all books in the field of the psychology of religion."
William James (1842–1910), brother of writer Henry James, was born in New York and studied medicine at Harvard, where he taught from 1872; James continued on to write books and become one of the most renowned psychologist-philosophers in the Western world. His other famous works include Principles of Psychology (1890) and Pragmatism (1907).