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William James's 'The Varieties of Religious Experience'

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 13 May 2010

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss 'The Varieties of Religious Experience' by William James.

The American novelist Henry James famously made London his home and himself more English than the English. In contrast, his psychologist brother, William, was deeply immersed in his American heritage.

But in 1901, William came to Britain too.

He had been invited to deliver a series of prestigious public lectures in Edinburgh.

In them, he attempted a daringly original intellectual project.

For the first time, here was a close-up examination of religion not as a body of beliefs, but as an intimate personal experience.

When the lectures were printed, as 'The Varieties of Religious Experience', they were an instant success.

They laid the ground for a whole new area of study - the psychology of religion - and influenced figures from the psychiatrist Carl Jung to the novelist Aldous Huxley.

To date, James's book has been reprinted thirty-six times and has been hailed as one of the best non-fiction books of the twentieth century.

With:

Jonathan Ree
Freelance philosopher

John Haldane
Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews

Gwen Griffith-Dickson
Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Gresham College and Director of the Lokahi Foundation

Producer: Natasha Emerson.

  • FURTHER READING

    Allen, Gay Wilson, ‘William James, A Biography’ (New York, 1967)

    Bixler, Julius Seelye, ‘Religion in the Philosophy of William James’ (Boston, 1926)

    Griffith-Dickson, Gwen, ‘The Philosophy of Religion’ (SCM Press, 2005)

    Griffith-Dickson, Gwen, ‘Human and Divine: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religious Experience’ (Duckworth, 2000)

    Haldane, John, ‘Reasonable Faith’ (Routledge, 2010)

    James, William, ‘The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy’ (Dover Publications, 2003)

    Kuklick, Bruce, ‘The Rise of American Philosophy: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1860-1930’ (New Haven, 1977)

    Matthiessen, F. O., ‘The James Family: A Group Biography’ (New York, 1947)

    Menand, Louis, ‘The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America’ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)

    Tisdale, John, R., ‘Growing Edges in the Psychology of Religion’ (Chicago, 1981)

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