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The Big Answer

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The Varieties of Religious Experience

a book by William James and Reinhold Niebuhr

(our site's book review)

First published by James in 1902, this book is a 19th century treatment of religious experience, pragmatically studied by a psychologist. James is a functionalist, one of the first teachers of the subject of psychology, and a brilliant child of the Enlightenment.

The book is anti-historical and overly simplistic, but does succeed at applying 18th century Enlightenment insights to the matter of religious dogmatism, realizing that one’s personal religious experience is where meaning and spirituality develop.


Religion was and is a subjective experience and religious orthodoxies can sometimes be more in the way than facilitative of religious spirit. James champions the progressive over the orthodox, and says: “I believe that no so-called philosophy of religion can possibly begin to be an adequate translation of what goes on in the single private man.” Was this boost for progressivism combined with a slam at orthodoxy merely an omen at the turn of the last century that presaged the coming Culture War that began in the 1960s? James Davison Hunter, author of Culture Wars, says yes. In fact, the Culture War can be most precisely defined as the conflict between those who reject the Enlightenment and those who accept and admire the Enlightenment.

See also:

Forecasting The Future Of Religion

Using Religion To Judge Preferable Futures: An Assessment

Challenges to American Values: Society, Business and Religion

The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State