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The Varieties of Religious Experience

by William James

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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 261

James did not put a lot of faith in organized religion, but rather in the personal experience of religious inspiration. Focus on his arguments against institutionalized religion, then research the philosophical ideas of Martin Luther. How do the two mens’ ideas clash? Write your conclusions and explain where you stand in this debate.

Research the basic tenets of the transcendentalists, and read Emerson’s lecture ‘‘Self Reliance.’’ Create a dialogue between James and Emerson on the topic of religion based on your comparison.

Choose one of James’s contemporaries (such as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, or Wilhelm Wundt) and compare his theory of people’s need for religion to James’s. In what areas are they of like minds? How do they differ? In your opinion, are their theories compatible with modern times? Why or why not?

Interview two clerical leaders of two very different local churches, synagogues, and/or mosques. Prepare yourself for the meetings with a list of at least fifteen to twenty questions. These questions should reflect the ideas that James has put forth in his book. Some of the questions might reflect some of your own considerations after reading the book. Write a paper of your findings, comparing the thoughts of the clerics with James’s theories.

One of the concluding chapters of James’s book deals with mysticism. Research three major organized religions (such as Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, or Judaism). How does each define mysticism? Who are the primary mystics of each religion? How does the subject of mysticism differ from one religion to another?

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