William James (1842-1910) was an American philosopher (noted for his influence on Pragmatism) and psychologist (the first educator to offer a psychology course in the U.S.; see his Principles of Psychology); he was also the brother of the novelist Henry James. He wrote many other books, such as Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth, The Will to Believe, Essays in Radical Empiricism, etc. [NOTE: page numbers correspond to a 406-page Mentor paperback edition.]
He wrote in the Preface, "This book would never have been written had I not been honored with an appointment as Gifford Lecturer on Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. In casting about me for subjects of the two courses of ten lectures each for which I thus became responsible, it seemed to me that the first course might well be a descriptive one on `Man's Religious Appetites,' and the second a metaphysical one on `Their Satisfaction Through Philosophy.' But the unexpected growth of the psychological matter as I came to write it out has resulted in the second subject being postponed entirely, and the description of man's religious constitution now fills the twenty lectures. In Lecture XX I have suggested rather than stated my own philosophical conclusions.... I hope to be able at some later day to express them in more explicit form." (Pg. ix)
He begins the third lecture with the statement, "Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto. I wish during this hour to call your attention to some of the psychological peculiarities of such an attitude as this, of belief in an object which we cannot see." (Pg. 58)
In his chapter on Conversion [IX], he says, "In his recent work on the Psychology of Religion, Professor ([E.D.] Starbuck of California has shown by a statistical inquiry how closely parallel in its manifestations the ordinary `conversion' which occurs in young people brought up in evangelical circles is to that growth into a larger spiritual life which is a normal phase of adolescence in every class of human beings. The age is the same, falling usually between fourteen and seventeen. The symptoms are the same---sense of incompleteness and imperfection; brooding, depression, morbid introspection, and sense of sin; anxiety about the hereafter; distress over doubts, and the like. And the result is the same--a happy relief and objectivity, as the confidence in self gets greater through the adjustment of the faculties to the wider outlook. In spontaneous religious awakening... and in the ordinary storm and stress and moulting-time of adolescence, we may also meet with mystical experiences, astonishing the subjects by their suddenness, just as in revivalistic conversion. The analogy, in fact, is complete; and Starbuck's conclusion...would seem to be the only sound one: Conversion is in its essence a normal adolescent phenomenon, incidental to the passage from the child's small universe to the wider intellectual and spiritual life of maturity." (Pg. 164)
He adds, "Some persons... never are, and possibly never under any circumstances could be converted. Religious ideas cannot become the centre of their spiritual energy. They may be excellent persons, servants of God in practical ways, but they are not children of his kingdom. They are either incapable of imagining the invisible; or else... they are life-long subjects of `barrenness' and `dryness.' Such inaptitude for religious faith may in some cases be intellectual in its origin. Their religious faculties may be checked in their natural tendency to expand, by beliefs about the world that are inhibitive... To the end of their days they refuse to believe, their personal energy never gets to its religious centre, and the latter remains inactive in perpetuity. In other persons the trouble is profounder. There are men anaesthetic on the religious side, deficient in that category of sensibility... All this may, however, turn out eventually to have been a matter of temporary inhibition. Even late in life some thaw, some release may take place... and the man's hard heart may soften and break into religious feeling. Such cases more than any others suggest the idea that sudden conversion is by miracle." (Pg. 167-168)
In the lectures [XVI & XVII] on Mysticism, he observes, "The words `mysticism' and `mystical' are often used as terms of vague reproach, to thrown at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either facts or logic...I will... simply propose to you four marks which... may justify us in calling it mystical for the purpose of the present lectures... 1. Ineffability---The handiest of the marks... is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words... its quality must be directly experienced... 2. Noetic quality... mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain... 3. Transiency---Mystical states cannot be sustained for long... at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day... 4. Passivity... the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power... Mystical states... are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence." (Pg. 292-294)
In the concluding lecture [XX], he states, "It does not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore lave off being religious at all. By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all. You see now why I have been so individualistic throughout these lectures, and why I have seemed to bent on rehabilitating the element of feeling in religion and subordinating its intellectual part." (Pg. 378-379) "We must... make inquiry into the intellectual content itself. First, is there, under all the discrepancies of the creeds, a common nucleus to which they bear their testimony unanimously? And second, ought we to consider the testimony true? I will... answer [the first question] in the affirmative. The warring gods and formulas of the various religions do indeed cancel each other, but there is a certain uniform deliverance in which religions all appear to meet. It consists of two parts: 1. An uneasiness; and 2. Its solution. 1. The uneasiness... is a sense that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand. 2. The solution is a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers." (Pg. 383)
This is one of the most fascinating psychological and philosophical studies of religion that has ever been made; yes, it's true that James overemphasizes the "WOW!" kinds of religious experiences; and, in addition to downplaying the "intellectual" aspects, nearly ignores the more "everyday" types of religious experiences. Such caveats aside, this book is "must reading" for anyone seriously studying religion.