J.Z. Smith on William James
This is one of my all-time favorite snarky comments, and one with which I am in full agreement:
What my college students derive from [William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience] is their own take on religion read back to them: the priority of the individual, the centrality of experience and feeling, a vague but palpable sense of transcendence, a distrust of thought about religion (especially from “afar”), and the necessity of raising questions of ethical implications. None of these are helpful to a science of religion. If Harvard is to be our guide in the construction of such a science, I far prefer the lectures of James’s colleague and critic, Josiah Royce. In his The Problem of Christianity Royce privileged both a theory of language and of community—two essential elements in any theoretical proposal concerning religion. Both are lacking in James.