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J.Z. Smith on William James

August 9, 2009

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.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. larry c wilson permalink
    August 9, 2009 5:14 pm

    Say what you will, I believe Jame’s “Varieties of Religious Experience” is the only book one need read on religion.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    August 10, 2009 4:58 pm

    Do you have an argument for that allegation, or was that just a case of drive-by commenting?

  3. larry c wilson permalink
    August 10, 2009 6:55 pm

    I read the book in high school and it helped me put religion in the proper perspective, i.e., of no imporance to me as I was quite happy without it.

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