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William James Essay

1379 words - 6 pages

Ethan Glass
William James

Ethan Glass
Professor Earley
Introduction to Religion
1 May 2013
William James
1.) How does the theorist define religion?
James often defines religion through supernatural experiences. He believes that religion has an active and significant role in these experiences. With that being said, James refuses to place a single definition of the term ‘religion.’ Due to the fact that there are so many different personal experiences, expectations, and beliefs associated with religion, James believes that it would be wrong to define religion in a typical “dictionary” way. Instead of defining religion, James breaks it into two parts, institutional and personal. The ...view middle of the document...

James states that daily activities and acts are important in influencing their religious beliefs and that all parts of nature must be accounted for. A person cannot focus solely on positive aspects or solely on negative aspects but they must include both. Complete religions manage to encompass both positive thoughts and ideas along with pessimistic thoughts and ideas. With that being said, James believes that several popular religions are very flawed in that their followers must be “born again.” They create a false lifestyle where one is expected to only do good and that they will only experience bliss. James contrasts this by saying negativity is normal and one must accept it to live completely. In the mysticism chapter, James ties together most of his thoughts into complete ideas that support his theory that religion incorporates spiritual and mystical beliefs whether they are positive or negative.
3.) What is the range of the theory?
When discussing religion, James relies on personal experiences to gather evidence. He takes into account all religions and their emotional journeys and argues that they are similar. While one may argue all religions are different, James states that what makes them universal is that all emotions derived from religion are real and similar. Throughout his lectures he rarely mentions a specific religion, religious institution, or scripture that aligns with a specific religion; in most instances James refers to “man” and emotional and experiences “man” experiences. In considering all religions James speaks about personal emotional experiences and how they affect a person rather then discussing how the institutional sector affects a person.
4.) what evidence does the theory appeal to?
In gathering evidence James does not search as widely as some of his fellow philosophers. At that he made the same commitment to gathering information from a variety of cultures and religions. While he did research on a slue of religions, he does not talk about them individually. Instead, James refers to the emotional experiences had by the believers as a whole. As he mentioned continuously throughout his lecture, James does not discuss the institutional branch of religion but refers primarily to the personal experiences in order to portray the significance of religion. By taking several different religions and doing research he came to the conclusion that while the experiences may be different, the emotions brought out were very similar. He believed the emotional experience was what drives one to be religious and helps one understand the meaning of religion. James refers to the spiritual aspect of religion a numerous amount of times in his lecture. He takes ideas that are universal in multiple religions, such as the idea of a ‘divine’ and puts them against mental states that are universal in all religions. James continues to make points as to why the mental states are more significant and influential. While he does not deny the...

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