Respectability and the wild beasts of the philosophical desert: The heart of James's

This commentary was suggested to me in part by a colleague's remark that it would be nice if we could make William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience "respectable." The implication was that though there was something redeemable about the book, it somehow wasn't philosophically or scientifically proper. The remark awakened me to—or at least reminded me of—the fact that this has been a traditional take on James's text. As Julius Bixler points out, ridicule began soon after the book was published: "The Varieties of Religious Experience, appearing at about the same time as Ernest Thompson Seton's book of animal stories, was soon nicknamed 'Wild Religions I Have Known'" (1926, 1). My awakening to this attitude—a prevalent if not a pervasive one among contemporary intellectuals—led me to consider that it would be better, and crucially important to James himself, to keep James "unrespectable." James may have been a renegade and...
Keywords William James  Varieties  Religious experience
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DOI 10.1353/jsp.2003.0020
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