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“William James Revisited: Pragmatic Approaches to Religion” David Lamberth, Professor of Philosophy and Theology, Harvard Divinity School, October 15, 2014
Abstract: William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience has long been considered a classic among theoretical texts for the study of religion. Published in 1902 by the noted American psychologist and philosopher, it animated a turn to experience from doctrine as the touchstone for understanding religion, and set the stage for critical studies that sought to consider not only the plurality of human religiosity, but also its positive and negative effects.
Varieties was not James’s only engagement with religion, nor was it by any means comprehensive of his wide ranging view of human nature. In this lecture Professor Lamberth selects from James’s key writings concerning religion from the 1880s to 1910, developing a composite of his central ideas and connecting them to the animating philosophical and scientific insights that led James’s to his views. Lamberth argues that the critical features driving James’s views—taking human evolution seriously in understanding thought and action, noting the affective dimensions in our neural makeup, seeing the critical potential for religion to contribute not only to individual but social transformation—make James a surprisingly productive interlocutor for one estimating the future of religion.