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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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.
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.
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.
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).
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)?