The Main Conclusions Drawn by James in The Varieties of Religious Experience

In his final chapter James brings out 5 points. Three beliefs that come from his analysis of religious experience:

1. The visible world is part of a greater spiritual world.

2. Union with that greater world is our true purpose.

3. Prayer or communion with that world lets energy flow from there to our visible world, resulting in psychological and material effects.

These are:

4. A new zest to life which is morally beneficial.

5. An assurance of safety and peace resulting in loving actions.


It is important, this focus on psychological effects, James was a pragmatist and psychologist.


But he is also interested in the cognitive content of the religious experience. Do they have anything to say to us?

He believes there is a common core to al religious experience which can be summarised:

1. An uneasiness – there is something wrong with us as we are

2. Its solution – we are saved from this wrongness by making connection with higher powers.


This ties together many strands of his book – the idea of a divided self and its struggle to surrender the lower self for a higher less egocentric life.


“The conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come”


“That which produces effects within another reality must be termed a reality itself”

or more succinctly,

“God is real since he produces real effects”


However, James admits such subjective experiences as far as they remain as such, don’t really become cognitive


It is when the step is taken that “not only they themselves, but the whole universe of beings are secure in His hands” that a “real hypothesis” comes into play:


James is purposefully using the terminology of science to demonstrate his position – the reality of the spiritual world


Religion in this case, he says, will be a postulator of new facts, rather than ” a mere illumination of facts already given” (as it would be in a non-cognitive sense) – it will be different from a material world, there will be different events in it and different conduct will be required.


    • Hi Rachel.
      I’ve had a look at two of the essays (on analogy and symbol comparison and disembodied existence) on that website. They are quite useful in that they are set out strengths and weaknesses in a clear way. The two essays that I read were better with AO1 than AO2. For instance the essay critically compare analogy with symbol needed to actually evaluate and compare, giving reasons why one might be stronger, but it remained pretty much a list of the strengths and weaknesses of analogy and symbol, which doesn’t quite answer the question fully. This is unlikely to get the top level therefore. All in all, they are quite useful though. Thanks, Matt

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