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PHIL/RS 335. Varieties , Lectures 2 & 3. Chapter 2: “Circumscription”. James begins by notion that the variety of definitions suggests that "religion" denotes not a single essence, but a collective one.

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phil rs 335


Varieties, Lectures 2 & 3

chapter 2 circumscription
Chapter 2: “Circumscription”
  • James begins by notion that the variety of definitions suggests that "religion" denotes not a single essence, but a collective one.
    • To avoid dogmatism, we need to remain open to the possibility that all we’ll ever get is an enumerative definition.
  • The same can be said for the concept of “religious sentiment.”
    • James once again asserts the continuity of the mental phenomena of religion with non-religious mental phenomena (religious awe is a species of awe).
towards a definition of religion
Towards a Definition of Religion
  • Despite the lack of a universal definition of these concepts, progressing in our inquiry demands some concreteness. James recognizes the necessity to stipulate a definition that will be operative for these lectures.
  • His first movement towards such a definition is a contrastive one, dividing the field of religion into two regions: Institutional and Personal.
    • Institutional religion is characterized by the dominance of ritual, theology and hierarchy which seems to result in an account of religion as the art of winning the favor of the divine.
    • Personal religion is characterized by a focus on the inner dispositions of believers, doctrines of conscience, and deserts which supports an account of religion as a specific relationship between humans and the divine.
a personal focus
A Personal Focus
  • James makes clear that it is the personal aspect of religion that he is interested in.
  • In response to the criticism that this focus is too one-sided, James is willing to broaden the inquiry to encompass "morality," but he still insists on the specificity and primordiality of the personal approach (35).
    • All institutional religious experiences are based on a personal one, so the personal is more primordial.
  • On p. 36, we get the operative definition.
what about the divine
What about “the Divine”?
  • This definition is not without difficulties, in particular, the term “divine.”
  • As James notes, there are a number of “religions” which don't include belief in a god (Buddhist, Transcendentalism)
  • Why are they religions? James's first approximation of an answer: “Walks like a duck, talks like a duck….”
  • A better answer is that they all share a reference to something “godlike.”
  • What makes something godlike?
  • That it is first and overarching. In this sense, religion can be understood as a human attitude toward primal truth.
    • James calls this sort of attitude a “Total reaction.”
  • But not all “total reactions” are equal. James is particularly dismissive of a favorite "TR" of mine: Irony.
    • Religion is serious, but not morose (Schopenhauer/Nietzsche).
  • So, as a further qualification of our definition, divine = “That primal reality that an individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely” (44-5).
the essence of the personal religion
The Essence of the Personal Religion
  • This definition still covers a wide range, but James proposes to deal only with the most obvious (read ‘extreme’) cases.
  • This emphasis on the extreme cases of religious conviction helps us to clarify the “something more” that religion has over morality.
    • Both religion and morality are an assent, a form of acceptance of an order, but only religion is necessarily characterized as a joyous assent.
  • To clarify this emotional distinction, James contrasts in some detail Stoicism and Christianity (48). The contrasting terms include: resignation vs. passion; heroism vs. consolation. The sum: (49).
  • James summarizes this unique characteristic of personal religious experience as a specific state of mind (54).
  • As this state of mind, religion makes a positive and particular addition to our conscious experience (55-6).
lecture 3 the reality of the unseen
Lecture 3: The reality of the Unseen
  • Though it is unclear how his definition of religion in the preceding lecture prefigures it (invocation of ‘divine’?), James begins Lecture 3 with a new characterization of religious experience: belief in an unseen order and belief that harmonious adjustment to that order is our supreme good (61).
  • This is not a casual addition to our understanding of our object. It signals the basically epistemological character of this lecture.
  • As such, the purpose of this lecture is to specify the psychological dimensions of these beliefs.
polarizing belief
Polarizing Belief
  • James's epistemological concerns are centered on a very basic feature of much of what we understand as religious experience (esp. of Christianity): the lack of a sensible object of religious consciousness.
    • Contemporary theistic religions are almost entirely abstract.
    • "The sentiment of reality can indeed attach itself so strongly to our object of belief that our whole life is polarized through and through, so to speak by its sense of the existence of the thing believed in, and yet that thing, for purposes of definite description, can hardly said to be present to our mind at all" (63-4).
  • What do we need to account for? An apparent feature of human consciousness (66-7).
a psychological exploration
A Psychological Exploration
  • One way of characterizing the experience James is pointing at is as an "undifferentiated sense of reality."
  • There is another psychologically 'common' experience that is so characterized: hallucination, a feeling of a presence + feeling of unreality (see the accounts from 67-73).
    • Obviously, many religious experiences are felt these ways.
  • The purpose of this comparison is not to reduce the significance of religious belief, but to note that it is an instance of a particular human intuitional capacity.
ontological imagination
Ontological Imagination
  • James calls this capacity “ontological imagination” (83). Key to his treatment of it is the ‘convincing’character of the imaginings.
  • James contrasts this imagination with “rationalism,” to rationalism's discredit, insisting that this imagination has deeper roots (born of intuitions more fundamental than those animating an inquiring mind).
  • James is careful to insist that his is not an evaluative claim, just a statement of fact. Is this true(84), (85-6)?
the fruits
The Fruits?
  • If we accept James's claim here, then his response to the epistemological issue is a straightforwardly pragmatic one: the beliefs are justified by their fruits.
  • As his examples have suggested, the belief in the ‘something larger’opens an affective dimension of experience characterized by solemn joy and by moods of contraction and expansion.
  • These parameters establish the context within which James will examine two distinctive tendencies animating religious belief: Healthy-Mindedness and The Sick Soul.