Search Results for William James
William James (1842-1910) was an American pragmatist philosopher/psychologist and the brother of the famous novelist Henry James.
James suffered poor health and frequent bouts of psychological exhaustion but this did not adversely affect his work. His Principles of Psychology (1890) became a popular textbook for psychologists, influencing Carl G. Jung among others.
His collected lectures on religion, published as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), remains a classic in religious studies.
James was raised in an affluent and literary Presbyterian family in New York City, later moving to various European cities, Boston and eventually Cambridge Massachusetts. Prominent guests frequented his New England residence, to include statesmen and intellectuals.
This diversity of blue chip characters and opinions likely influenced his outlook. Jung says that he was struck by James’ curiosity and fresh approach to psychology, calling him one of the few open-minded psychological researchers of his era.
James’ theory differentiates the personal and social dimensions of religion. He advocates a religious plurality to accommodate the specific needs of diverse individuals.
In describing direct, unmediated religious experience (i.e. mysticism), James, like Rudolf Otto, says the Godhead possesses a mysterious, non-discursive authority. His ‘Four Marks’ of mysticism have become standard fare in university religion courses.
James says these four marks of mysticism are
- Ineffability: Mysticism must be experienced first-hand, it cannot be adequately described to others through language
- Noetic Quality: The experience is accompanied with an increase in knowledge that cannot be obtained through discursive reasoning
- Transciency: Mystical experiences do not last very long (nuns, monks, yogis and some religious persons would likely disagree on this point)
- Passivity: While bodily exercises or meditation may prepare, facilitate or, perhaps, generate an experience of mysticism, the experience itself is overwhelming, rendering one a passive receptor
James also makes a distinction between “healthy-minded” – i.e. positive – approaches to religion and the morbidly pessimistic “sick soul.”
His comments about the value of saintliness reveal a materialistic bias, especially in his discussion of St. Teresa of Ávila. In keeping with this bias, James’ Principles of Psychology outlines a functionalist approach.
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After the show’s early demise in 1969 and before its resurrection on film in 1979, William Shatner, the Canadian-born actor portraying Kirk, did various film and TV jobs, including supermarket ads for Loblaws, a Canadian supermarket chain.
Since then, Star Trek and its various spin-offs arguably have created a global mythology. It’s also proved to be a lucrative franchise. Among other things, Captain James Tiberius Kirk embodies the victory of human freewill over societal and religious tyrants and their oppressive demands for slavish obedience.
Kirk was always the ladies man and the original series seems sexist from a contemporary perspective. But its creator Gene Roddenberry made efforts to overcome this pitfall in the pilot episode, which included a woman first officer to the original captain, Captain Christopher Pike (played by actor Jeffrey Hunter).
After completing the pilot episode, TV network brass made some changes. They brought in Shatner to play Kirk because Jeffrey Hunter didn’t want to film another pilot for the Pike character. They also moved to a less significant female presence on the set. Majel Barrrett now played the character of Nurse Chapel instead of No. 1 to (the departed) Pike.
More recently, Shatner authored and acted in the less commercially successful but innovative TV series, Tek War. He also appears as a befuddled lawyer in the TV program, Boston Legal. And he starred in the 1980′s TV program T. J. Hooker.
While many actors quietly disappear in their golden years, Shatner has remained in the spotlight. He’s still doing ads and spoke at the 2010 Olympics closing ceremonies. Also, he’s the host of the Discovery Channel television series Weird or What? and can be seen on his own show, “Shatner’s Raw Nerve” on the BIO channel. His continued success might be partly due to ability to not take himself too seriously, and partly due to that same charisma that landed him the role as Kirk, back in the ’60s.
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Active Imagination is a therapeutic technique developed by C. G. Jung that uses some form of self-expression, such as a fantasy-image, to represent and analyze the contents of the hypothesized collective unconscious.¹
Active imagination may involve artistic representation but this is secondary to its essentially internal character.
Jung says imaginary changes within active imagination should be carefully observed and noted because they indicate underlying unconscious processes.
In advanced stages of active imagination, Jung suggests a more direct engagement with imaginary contents, where one places oneself on the stage, as it were, of the unconscious to become one of the players. By doing so, one explores unconscious attitudes toward a person or situation by running imaginary trials – fantasy dialogue or interactions – that Jung says contribute to an overall integration of the unconscious within consciousness.
Jung, himself, practiced active imagination deeply, going as far to say that he was guided by a “ghost guru” called Philemon.² When Jung became bored with Philemon, however, he cut him off.
We cannot know whether Jung was dealing with a spiritual being, a personification of an archetype, or a mere product of his imagination.
Due to a hypothesized interconnectedness of all things, some depth psychologists and New Age enthusiasts believe that the internal dialogue of active imagination has real effects on other people and the visible world. But this claim is hard to prove in the usual scientific sense.
The American psychologist/philosopher William James similarly wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience about ‘thought insertion,’ where the power of thought apparently influences another person at a distance. Today, the archaic idea of ‘thought insertion’ is sometimes called Remote Influence within parapsychological circles. Or in a negative sense, some believe that the mind can be psychically “hacked” like a computer on the internet.
Jung mentioned but didn’t emphasize the of Remote Influence in his published works, perhaps to avoid negative repercussions from skeptics and the “medical materialists,” as he put it, of his era.
However, Jung did speak of belonging to an alleged “inner circle” of notable, mystically inclined thinkers like the novelist Herman Hesse and the Chilean diplomat Miguel Serrano.
The idea of Active imagination is similar to Shakti Gawain’s notion of creative visualization but is more about developing psychological balance instead of achieving external goals.
¹ Antecedents to Jung’s therapy can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_imagination
² Jung’s father was a Protestant pastor and Jung, himself, had extensive knowledge of the Christian Bible. So a skeptic could point out that Philemon is a character in the New Testament. Would Jung have actively imagined Philemon had he not been steeped in the Gospels? In reply, one could ask, does it matter? Those sympathetic to Jung’s claims could say that God knew all about the preconditions leading up to Jung’s active imagination. The fact that his father was a pastor and that Jung knew the name Philemon from the Bible does not invalidate the idea that the collective unconscious (or possibly a spirit) spoke to Jung.
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In Catholic theology one aspect of discernment is the use of reason and experience coupled with divine gifts to distinguish between true and false interior perception.
As Henri Martin P.S.S. puts it:
The charism of discernment is “a kind of supernatural instinct by which those who have it perceive intuitively the origin, either divine or not, of thoughts and inclinations submitted to them.” (J. de Guibert, Lecons, p. 306). It is to be distinguished from revelation of the secrets of hearts, properly so called, made directly by God. In such revelations, which is extremely rare, objective certitude is absolute. In the case of discernment the chances of error lie in the subjective interpretation and use of the supernatural light received. Lacking an infused charism, ordinarily “God will assist by special interior light a gift of discernment acquired by experience and prudence in the application of the traditional rules of discernment.”¹
On the need for seekers to be sincere, humble and rational in the discernment process, the scholar of mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, says:
Ecstasies, no less than visions and voices, must, they declare, be subjected to unsparing criticism before they are recognized as divine: whilst some are undoubtedly “of God,” others are no less clearly “of the devil.”²
Likewise, the Protestant William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, suggests that some lower forms of mysticism may have “proceeded from the demon.”³ The Lutheran Rudolf Otto also talks about different types of mysticism. See, for instance, “An Outline of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy,” Chapter XVI – The ‘Cruder’ Phases.
In Protestant and Catholic Churches discernment is described as a gift and developed ability where a person learns to differentiate among
- divine spiritual influences
- evil spiritual influences
- one’s truest self.
But a problem arises in that many religious people claim to discern. And often different religious and New Age enthusiasts discern differently on the very same issue, citing the “Holy Spirit,” “Allah,” “Angels” or “Objective Truth” as their source of authority.
Discernment often seems to mean taking an alarmist, knee-jerk view of issues that one doesn’t understand, projecting bad habits and transferring the unsavory contents of the unconscious onto scapegoats. This can happen on an individual level or through a kind of institutionally reinforced hypocrisy, as we’ve seen time and again in the history of religions, cults and spiritual movements.
Indeed, unconscious anger, resentment and unresolved psychological complexes may color discernment. And it seems that psychological pain, immaturity and the potential influence of fantasy or evil influences can all be intertwined.
Another related meaning of the term discernment is to discover what God wants an individual to do in life, to find one’s calling, as it were. This relates to the first meaning of discernment because we can’t do the right thing in life if we’re following imaginary voices, fantasy desires or the promptings of an evil power.
Thomas H. Green S. J. notes that, within Catholicism, this second form of discernment of finding one’s calling was once premised on sheer authority. A spiritual director would simply tell a religious what to do. Today, however, the relationship between discernment and spiritual directors has evolved. Emphasis is now given on “co-discernment” and, in the larger sense, communal discernment. Authority figures only provide general guidelines, as plainly evident in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ultimately it’s up to each individual to flesh out God’s will for his or her life.4
Father Edward Malatesta, S. J. definition of discernment combines the two previous aspects:
By the discernment of spirits is meant the process by which we examine, in the light of faith and in the connaturality of love, the nature of the spiritual states we experience in ourselves and in others. The purpose of such examination is to decide, as far as possible, which of the movements we experience lead us to the Lord and to a more perfect service of Him and our brothers, and which deflect us from this goal.5
Interestingly, some believe that a higher power or spiritual gift can override personal biases, enabling an imperfect person to make perfect discernments. This dynamic may, indeed, occur from time to time but for the most part it seems that the development of accurate discernment is a lifelong process.
And, quite possibly, we may continue to sharpen our powers of discernment in the afterlife.
¹ (ibidem). (Jacques Guillet, Gustave Bardy et. al. (trans.) Sister Innocentia Richards, Ph.D., Discernment of Spirits. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1970, p. 104.)
² Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, New York: New American Library, 1955, p. 361.
³ London: Penguin, 1985, p. 423.
4 Thomas H. Green S. J., Weeds Among the Wheat - Discernment: Where Prayer and Action Meet, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1984, pp. 11-17).
5 Cited in Green, p. 41.
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The German Lutheran scholar Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) describes The Holy in terms of a personal experience.
In The Idea of the Holy (1917) he borrows from the Latin word numen when introducing the term numinous, which refers to ”deeply felt religious experience.”
Experience of the numinous may derive from a monotheistic God or from many pagan gods. When originating from God, Otto says the numinous is endowed with “rationality, purpose, personality and morality.” Pagan numinosity, he suggests, is somehow inferior.
Otto makes a similar distinction between magic and religion. Not trying to be non-judgmental or politically correct, he says magic manifests a “dimmed” numinous, in contrast to the experience of God, which he describes as an awe-filled encounter, a mysterium tremendum and a majestus.
For Otto, the experience of God is the highest type of numinosity. It’s a personal experience of an omnipotent, omniscient power that’s worthy of utmost respect and which inspires not just awe, but also a healthy kind of fear.
The individual is urgently attracted to this power, but the experience of the Godhead may also frighten, humble and purify.
In addition, Otto notes that one would experience a sense of creaturely unworthiness and perhaps wretchedness, standing naked, as it were, in the face of such a great, powerful and “wholly other” Godhead.
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John Hick (1922-) is a British philosopher of religion who notes that the monotheistic belief in a wholly other godhead runs throughout the history of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
According to Hick, the idea of a wholly other godhead is characterized by the following attributes:
- Infinite and self existent
- The sole creator of all creation
- Regarded as a personal being
- Loving and good
Recently, Hick’s work advocates religious pluralism. Hick is probably right in saying that cultural influences have an effect on religious truth claims. But it would be entirely unwarranted to assume an equivalence of religious experience among different religions or, for that matter, among individuals within a given religion.
Moreover, some individuals encounter not just one type but several different types of religious experience within their lifetime.
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St. John of the Cross (originally Juan de Yepes y Álvarez 1542-91) was a Spanish mystic born in Ávila.
As a Carmelite monk, he and St. Teresa of Ávila founded the Discalced Carmelites.
In Toledo he was imprisoned in 1577, but he escaped and became Vicar Provincial of Andalusia (1585-87).¹
Today, St. John of the Cross is best known in Catholic and contemplative Christian circles as the author of the Christian spiritual classic, Dark Night of the Soul.
In this introspective account St. John writes from personal experience about the delights and dejection involved in his own path of spiritual purification.
The work is reminiscent of another Christian classic, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. And it is often cited by Jungians and other contemporary seekers as justification for long periods of feeling lousy, alienated and/or depressed (Carl Jung, himself, used an alchemical metaphor to describe depression as the nigredo—a stage of inner darkness).
While it seems that the spiritual life can involve initial periods of psycho-spiritual darkness and confusion, we should remember that, like St. John indicates, this is usually only a stage. With healthy-minded mysticism, as William James would have put it, some kind of inner “daylight” and meaning should emerge after a period of profound confusion, despair and seeming meaningless.
However, the two states may continue to alternate to some extent through the course of one’s new life. Christian seekers use another metaphor for the negative states, calling them periods of “dryness.” This comes from the idea that the Holy Spirit is experienced as a kind of pure and clean spiritual “water” from above.
St. John was canonized in 1726 and his feast day is on December 14th.
¹ This is well described at Wikipedia:
On the night of 2 December 1577, John was taken prisoner by his superiors in the calced Carmelites, who had launched a counter-program against John and Teresa’s reforms. John had refused an order to return to his original house, on the basis that his reform work had been approved by the Spanish Nuncio, a higher authority than John’s direct superiors in the calced Carmelites. John was jailed in Toledo, where he was kept under a brutal regimen that included public lashing before the community at least weekly, and severe isolation in a tiny stifling cell barely large enough for his body. He managed to escape nine months later, on 15 August 1578, through a small window in a room adjoining his cell. (He had managed to pry the cell door off its hinges earlier that day). In the meantime, he had composed a great part of his most famous poem Spiritual Canticle during this imprisonment; his harsh sufferings and spiritual endeavours are then reflected in all of his subsequent writings. The paper was passed to him by one of the friars guarding his cell.
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Abraham Abulafia (born 1240) says that unlike Old Testament prophets, who passively experience different degrees of God‘s light through grace, the meditating Kabbalist consciously ascends through levels of light to the final realization of God.
Not unlike the Hindu mystics and their beliefs about Sanskrit, Kabbalist mystics believe that the Hebrew letters are both physical and spiritual. The three primordial Kabbalist letters (aleph , mem and shin) are said to contain all of the potential elements of the universe.
Because all Kabbalist letters are ruled by angels, when pronounced properly, a single letter is said to evoke its corresponding angel. And merely writing a Hebrew character apparently can transport the mind to a higher sphere.
While the Zoharic school of Kabbala advocates contemplation of various spheres within a ‘cosmic tree,’ Abulafaria says this is only a prelude to the contemplation of Names, leading to the Divine Name.
Abulafaria openly defies the chain of secrecy that has been maintained for centuries by previous Masters. In the Light of Intellect he claims to have been the first to bring this wisdom to the ordinary person (to include non-Jews), making him popular among Jews and Christians alike.
He also warns his students against the false meditation manuals found in the Middle Ages, which aimed at worldly power through magic.
The most prominent Kabbalist, Israel ben Eleazer, a.k.a. the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Holy Name), further popularized Jewish-based mysticism, making it universally accessible.
The Baal Shem Tov founded what is now called Hasidic mysticism. Following his example, the Hasidim democratized the Torah, delivering it from privileged scholars to the ordinary person.
As for the dangers of the Kabbalist mystical quest, Perle Epstein is worth quoting at length:
Kabbalists who uttered God’s Names and altered their breathing patterns were making use of the third rung of the soul’s ladder, the breath which tied them to the spiritual world. By binding himself mentally to a specific ‘spiritual being,’ the Kabbalist could either elevate himself further (as Abufalia taught) or he could obtain significant information about the future. This second practice was dangerous, for it often resulted in making contact with shedim, demonic beings who altered and confused the meditator’s mind. Along this path lay the danger of insanity. The ‘breath,’ or third level of soul, was therefore regarded as a two-edged sword. Only utmost purity of purpose assured the Kabbalist safe passage to the next rung. But spontaneous ecstasy would occur here, too-a condition in which the mystic, without any conscious effort, might find himself flooded with a rush of divine bliss. Yet even this level of ‘divine inspiration’ was not really considered true ‘prophecy.’¹
¹ Perle Epstein, Kabbalah: the way of the Jewish mystic, Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1978, p. 143.
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In mythic dissociation, the ego has a relationship with God. The psychologist-philosopher William James argues in The Varieties of Religious Experience that this characterizes the Christian approach to the deity but it also applies to Judeaism and Islam.
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Some contend that the idea of the ‘New Age’ originated as a marketing category in the 1980s, with New Age style ideas going back, of course, to the 70s and 60s.
Others note, more comprehensively, that the media also uses the term, as do many individuals and organizations. Whatever its origins, the ‘New Age’ refers to almost anything relating to contemporary spiritual discourse and practice.
New Age books, music, lectures, workshops, videos and websites deal with humanity’s development, usually with the goal of self-actualization and sometimes global transformation.
At the outset of the 20th-century, the American psychologist and philosopher William James outlined his The Varieties of Religious Experience several innovative spiritual trends remarkably similar to today’s concept of the New Age:
…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give [it] the title of the ‘Mind-Cure movement.’ There are various sects of this ‘New Thought,’ to use another of the names by which it calls itself.¹
From the 1980s to around the new millennium religious fundamentalists, especially of the North American Christian variety, targeted the New Age as the workings of Satan. Important figures like C. G. Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Fritjof Capra were caricatured as Satanic hostiles to apparently ‘true’ fundamentalist versions of the Christian faith.
However, the emphasis of fundamentalist reactionary attacks has arguably shifted from perceived psychological and spiritual threats to scientific ones. Believers in evolution sans God are the new devils in the flesh to be countered and corrected by those single-minded Fundamentalists who believe they have a privileged interpretation of Christian scripture.
This shift is probably due to recent advances in mapping and sequencing genomes. The possibilities of this technology are staggering, and the new is always scary to those deeply entrenched and invested in longstanding cultural biases.
¹ William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin, 1985 , p. 94.
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