March 1: “Science and Religion in Conversation” Forum Addresses James’s “The Varieties of Religious Experience”

ISSR LogoThe Barton College monthly public forum ‘Science and Religion in Conversation’ will be held again on Tuesday afternoon, March 1st at 3 PM in Barton College’s  Hackney Library.  Our discussion this month highlights The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, a classic in psychology and religion.  A psychological theorist turned philosopher, James has a style that is imbued with humor, lucid writing, and an engaged curiosity that asks fundamental questions about spiritual experience.

James says that what interests him is not religious institutions but religious feelings and impulses.  He says, “religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge; only this time it comes over us at the thought of our supernatural relations.”   What is important is to view the quality of the fruit and not the source of religious experience.  The idea of religion comprises “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individuals in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”

James argues for the power of “psychological peculiarities … of belief in an object we cannot see” in his chapter on The Reality of the Unseen. For instance, we cannot conceive of truth, beauty and goodness by themselves, yet they are central to the way we conceive concrete objects.  Abstract ideas exert more power in our minds than concrete realities. We perceive a ‘something there’ and have an undifferentiated sense of reality.

James goes on to detail several characteristics of saintliness and mysticism.  Though he does not make a sure case for the existence of God, what is certain is “… that we can experience union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find our greatest peace”.  He endorses a critical science of religion seeking practical value and religious diversity.  The value of spiritual experience cannot be verified by science.  Appreciating religion is to experience ‘something more’ than ourselves.

Our monthly meeting aims to facilitate the ongoing dialogue between the disciplines of science and religion, one of the most important current areas of debate in terms of understanding the nature of humanity.  You may come to just listen or to freely participate in our conversation.

Please join our gathering for the forum ‘Science and Religion in Conversation’ this Tuesday afternoon, March 1st at 3 PM in the Barton College’s Hackney Library.


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