January 18, 2008

Sea of Faith Background

After the Sea of Faith television series and videos became very popular (and controversial!), Don Cupitt wrote a book covering the information and adding to it. Below you will find a URL for a web site in New Zealand providing some notes for the Sea of Faith book, starting out with a brief bio and discussion of Cupitt and his work which might interest you. For those of you who miss a class in which we view one of the video segments, be sure to read the information for that segment in these notes. Those who view the videos may also find the notes helpful. All of you may find the notes for the other segments of interest, as well as the additional resources listed (think possible paper topics!). Here's the URL (note that clicking on the URL does NOT generate a new page, so back page to get back to the course Web site):

January 23, 2008

Background on Spiritualism

Notes from Nineteenth Century American Spiritualism: An Attempt at a Scientific Religion, by Mary Farrell Bednarowski (1973 Ph.D. Thesis)

A key aspect of the 19th century experience of religion in the US and Britain was the cultural conflict between religion vs. science, which gave rise to new religious movements, the most broad-based and popular of which was Spiritualism. The same conflicts were at the birth of psychology as a science early in the 20th century.

Bednarowski''s sources were primarily writings by Spiritualists, and she focused on their reasons for converting to the new faith in the face of religious conflicts and doubts.

Beginnings of Spiritualism: 1848 with the "rappings" of the Fox sisters. (We won't go into the history -- rapid rise of spirit phenomena and cultivation of mediums to channel spirit voices, chiefly of discarnate/deceased spirits. Many of the key experiences and beliefs persist in some forms of nontraditional U.S. religion in contemporary times; other aspects feature in popular culture, such as in the ongoing popularity of the Ouija Board.)

Mary cites 1859, the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, as the date usually given for the beginning of the science-religion conflicts that tore through the second half of the 19th century, but this publication was really the culmination of developments in the first half in
comparative religions
Higher Criticism (of the Bible)

Higher Criticism featured attacks on doctrines such as the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ (compare to recent publications contesting the Resurrection). Originally, this work was based on comparative and close reading of the Scriptures pointing out inconsistencies (if you look at the ads in some magazines, you can order pamphlets on scriptural inconsistencies). The rise of the other disciplines above also impacted on understandings of Scriptures (such as the age of the earth, or the non-Jewish origins of some Old Testament texts, contesting the beliefs in divine revelation in Scripture).

Originally, this scholarly debate took place in scientific journals and religious journals, gradually seeping into popular understanding. Some people were happy to abandon earlier Christian belief -- George Eliot, Andrew Carnegie, John Dewey. But many others felt torn and lost, with nothing to replace orthodoxy but "abandonment in an indifferent universe." This conflict between the
need to believe
the desire to know/ have certainty
led to cognitive dissonance

Science and religion were experienced as both authorititative, attractive, and mutually exclusive -- both were essential to identity and making sense of the world, but people felt they had to make a choice.

Science versus Faith

investigation & inquiry versus truth of revelation

uncertainty as reality versus uncertainty as shortcoming

doubt as virtue, or stepping stone versus doubt as sin, stumbling block

People felt they had three choices:
agnosticism (or less commonly, atheism)

Fundamentalism (stop probing the mysteries beyond human realm. . .)

or some kind of compromise --
--"two revelations" -- those of natural and supernatural;
--softening, liberalizing theology while focus on ethics, spirituality
--coming to a new kind of religion

Spiritualism as religion and science

Spiritualism was promoted as a religion and as a science; its results, its proofs were demonstrable, relying on spiritual laws parallel to the natural laws of the physical world -- Spiritualism saw itself as a "new revelation" of truth.

Theology of Spiritualism

--no final death -- just a change to a spiritual body in a spiritual land, much like this one (familiar and home-like), where people continued to grow
--believers were free from the burden of faith
--free from what they saw as superstition
--free from organized church authority
--Humanity partook of divinity
--universal salvation
--no need for fear of hell; no need for atonement, etc. for salvation
--evil (echoing Emerson) was simply lack of good

The church as institution was seen as having corrupted original Christianity, where Christ and the Apostles were in direct communication with the world of spirit.

Christ was seen as a role model, rather than as God; the first and best of clairvoyant mediums.

The Bible was seen in differing ways: questions were raised about how much it was "revealed" or inspired -- but general agreement that the time of revelation had not ended with the Scriptures, as orthodoxy held.

Spiritualism generally adapted what was useful in Christianity and left the rest.

Spiritualists believed in "spiritual affinity" and worked for marriage reform -- this led to scandals and accusations of "free love." This, by the way, connected to the prominence of women in the movement; with no ordained clergy, women were frequent leaders and speakers. And, because they were simply the passive vehicles for spirit voices, they could retain their femininity while appearing on public platforms (otherwise frowned upon). Interestingly, because they were seen as too simple-minded for serious intellectual work, the level of complexity or profundity in their speaking was seen as evidence that spirits (male) were speaking through them (this analysis from Braude).

Doctrines Rising From 19th Century Culture

Many religious ideas came from Quakerism and Shakerism. Some influence from Mesmerism (a theory that invisible magnetic fluid pulsed between heavenly bodies and human bodies, which could be manipulated by trained healers).

Transcendentalism: Emerson wrote and spoke about the essential goodness and divinity of humans; the absence of evil as a real force; the importance of positive affirmation in religious attitudes; the Oversoul as available to all.

Universalism: a popular religious movement which taught that all people had holiness.

Swedenborgianism: generally attractive to more intellectuals, but influential on Spiritualists. Swendenborg derived much of his understanding of spiritual realities through communication with spirits, but not of deceased humans. He described a post-death heaven or state where spirits continue to work and grow, and reform of marriage. However, he also warned against initiating spirit contact, as he came to believe spirits could be demonic or malicious, and could mislead people through impersonating deceased -- having access to the memories of both living and dead. He based this warning on his own experience.

While Spiritualism was a religion patched together from other sources, the pieces all fit together: optimism, divinity of the human, the certainty of the world to come, and the basic understandability -- human scale -- of the world to come. This was tied together by seeing what they did as science.

Spiritualism as Science

For Spiritualists, belief wasn't enough -- they needed proof, evidence, use of the experimental method. They believed that natural laws would apply to both materials and immaterial realism.

They were critical of the church's unwillingness to submit to scientific observations (such as those from geology and Higher Criticism), and critical of science for excluding from their investigations the possibility of spiritual dimensions. They operated in a scientific manner:
controlled situations
regulation of variables
careful observation
use of critical analysis

They published careful instructions on how to set up a spirit circle in order to gain replicability of phenomena. They discussed how to adjust for variations in quality of mediums; they discussed ways of accounting for some of the disappointing quality of spiritual communications (such as silliness, vagueness, or downright maliciousness).

In their interest in science, Spiritualists were open to many popular pseudo-sciences of the day, as well as alternative medicine and spiritual/mediumistic/psychic healing methods. They developed other psychic talents, such as psychometry (seeing the history of an object, or giving a psychological description of a personality).

Though they saw themselves as scientific, there were many debunkers among the scientific community -- and a few converts. But not until the 1880's was there a really substantial scholarly inquiry, with the foundation of the Society for Psychical Research in England (William James became the leader of the U.S. branch). With 150 members in 1883, the Society grew to 946 in 1900, and published objective studies of psychic phenomena, but was never fully accepted by the scientific/scholarly community.

(Note: the estimates of numbers of Spiritualists range from one million up to 15 million, though most likely on the low end with a much larger number of people less seriously involved, or sporadically involved.)

Why Choose Spiritualism?

People chose the new face for comfort in the face of the loss of loved ones and in the face of their own mortality. When Christian dogma was no longer credible (such as having to accept the physical resurrection of Christ as a basis for faith), people needed a different faith. A similar phenomenon is the widespread acceptance of reincarnation in alternative religions today.

When unable to cope comfortably with the loss of orthodox faith, people accepted Spiritualism as offering proof of life after death in place of annihilation. And people stayed with the new faith even in the face of some scandals or their own experience of uneven messages or disreputable mediums because
-- they were committed to the community
-- they had already suffered scorn or pain for adopting the new faith
-- the whole set of beliefs was interlocking, mutually supportive, and comforting -- and the alternative was suffering from skepticism and doubt.

(This will also hold true in looking at contemporary believers in cults.)

Placing Spiritualism in context of other religious developments:

--> Swedenborgianism -- founded mid to late 1700's - Emmanuel Swedenborg had experienced direct communication from spirits, but felt this could only be done by very spiritually developed people, as there were good and bad spirits. His own experience led to a large body of philosophical writing examining and reforming religious beliefs, and to a movement that exists today following his religious findings (a Swedenborgian church in St. Paul).

--> Theosophy -- a movement of the late 1800's, involving rediscovery and popularization of Eastern religious beliefs, such as reincarnation. This was the beginning of a popular fusion of Eastern and Western religion (though this interconnection had happened earlier in the 19th century with the work of Schopenhauer, Goethe, and the Transcendentalists). (Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant.)

--> Early 20th century on -- Rosicrucians -- added onto the Eastern religious views a teaching of ancient wisdom of the West -- the notion that there is a secret religious discipline that people can be introduced to -- similar in some respects to first-century (time of early church) Gnosticism.

--> In Europe, the foundation of Anthroposophy (founder Rudolph Steiner - 1861-1925) very much influenced by Goethe -- accepted as real the existence of spiritual realm, and ways of interacting with it.)

--> mid-20th century -- psychic development movements such as Silva Mind Control (founded by Jose Silva with money he reportedly got from following a dream about where to buy a raffle ticket).

--> a very popular mid-20th century movement -- Edgar Cayce, medium and healer. Reportedly successful in many long-distance healings. Cayce accepted Christianity and the importance of Christ as teacher and leader, but also accepted reincarnation, communication with spirits, many psychic phenomena, the use of gems as psychic tools, and the fall of Atlantis -- which suggested a danger for over-industrialized cultures.

The main phenomena of Spiritualism continued, with new mediums channeling new revelations: the Seth Books, Course in Miracles, extraterrestrials (lots of info on the Web about this). Other related popular movements: many books about near-death experiences; many books about experiences with angels.

In recent decades -- also the Esalen studies on all sorts of alternative healing, psychologies, and spiritualities, and mind/body research (Harvard institute) drawing on non-Western psychologies.

Similar psychic or unconventional experiences happened to founders of Jungian psychology, but they were explained differently -- as phenomena rising from the "Unconscious" rather than from the "Spiritual Realm" -- though many Jungians ended up in practice treating the two as two descriptions of the same reality.

January 29, 2008

Notes on James's Varieties

Here is a set of notes I created in the past as an overview of the Varieties. Hope they are helpful!

Summary Notes on William James
Mary Ellen Shaw - for Religion & Psychology, 2007

First chapter: Religion and Neurology -- especially important as a contrast to Freud. Why study religion academically? As a psychologist, James says, "the religious propensities of man (sic) must be at last as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his (sic) mental constitution." In other words, "because it is there." Of course, we know that there is also a more personal interest that James has.

James's focus in the Varieties: "If the inquiry be psychological, not religious institutions, but rather religious feelings and religious impulses must be its subject, and I must confine myself to those more developed subjective phenomena recorded in literature produced by articulate and fully self-conscious men (sic), in works of piety and autobiography." He argues that some individuals are more "accomplished in the religious life" than others and that their accounts of their experience will give us the clearest understanding of what religion is about -- what it is good for in life. He also suggests that religious founders are particularly good subjects for study because they had the "original experiences which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated conduct."

In reflecting on "holy books" (such as the Bible), James argues that the way to evaluate them is not on their historical accuracy, but using what he calls a "spiritual judgment," or value judgment -- evaluating it to see if it is a "true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of their fate."

James criticizes an approach he calls "medical materialism" which dismisses religious experience as 'nothing but' physiological or psychological disturbance or wishful thinking (very much the approach in Freud's book). His response is to argue that a psychological origin of religious experience does not explain it away or negate the value of religious ideas. In contrast, he suggests that the discussing the source of certain states of mind is not the way to evaluate them; in common life, we prefer certain states of mind "either because we take an immediate delight in them; or else it is because we believe them to bring us good consequential fruits for life." This is a good capsule summary of his pragmatic approach to truth claims in general.

He goes on to elaborate on useful criteria to evaluate religious experiences or opinions: "Their value can only be ascertained by spiritual judgments directly passed upon them, judgments based on our own immediate feeling primarily; and secondarily on what we can ascertain of their experiential relations to our moral needs and to the rest of what we hold as true. Immediate luminousness, in short, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness are the only available criteria."

This parallels the traditional Catholic practice in determining the validity of religious experience, which James quotes: "The good dispositions which a vision or voice, or other apparent heavenly favor leave behind them are the only marks by which we may be sure they are not possible deceptions of the tempter."

In the second chapter, "Circumscription of the Topic," James goes on to defend his decision to limit the topic to individual religion. This is the key definition:

"Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men (sic) in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. "

(I find this language curiously close to that of the A.A. Twelve Steps, by the way, and I understand that James's work was influential with the founders of A.A. See the "Twelve Steps" document later posted on this site.)

James purposefully does not limit the "divine" to a traditional view of God, because Emersonian philosophy and Buddhism both allow for religious experience without reference to a transcendent Deity. Rather, what he focuses on is the states of mind, the attitudes, that are generated in the individual believer .

"There must be something solemn, serious, and tender about any attitude which we denominate religious. . . The divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse nor a jest."

What follows is a lengthy discussion of religious states of mind, which brings in the topics covered in more detail of human psychological types, or the progression of religion in the individual, with the culmination of a state where the "will to assert ourselves and hold our own" (that is, the ego-focused state, in Jungian terms) has been "displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God." (Similar to the displacement of the ego by the Self, in Jungian thinking.)

For James, religion does not, at its best, offer equanimity or passive acceptance of fate (which seems to me the best that Freud can offer), but "(religion) ought to mean nothing short of this new reach of freedom for us, with the struggle over, the keynote of the universe sounding in our ears, and everlasting possession spread before our eyes." He is characterizing a kind of happiness which includes an element of depth:

"The more commonplace happiness which we get are 'reliefs,' occasioned by our momentary escapes from evils either experienced or threatened. But in its most characteristic embodiments, religious happiness is no mere feeling of escape. It cares no longer to escape. It consents to the evil outwardly as a form of sacrifice--inwardly it knows it to be permanently overcome."

This attitude includes an element of self-surrender: "For when all is said and done, we are in the end absolutely dependent on the universe; and into sacrifices and surrenders of some sort, deliberately looked at and accepted, we are drawn and pressed as into our only permanent positions of repose. . . . Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary. . . ." (James's emphasis.)

An important argument in "The Reality of the Unseen" is that "reality" as we experience it includes our reactions to "things of thought" (e.g. mental objects, which include beliefs, memories, images) as well as "sensible presences" (that is, objects which our senses can see, hear, feel, taste, etc.) He refutes Kant's argument that all concepts must have "a sense-content to work with" (that is, be derived from sensory data); in contrast, James points out that people experience non-sensory ideas in meaningful ways: "Yet strangely enough (such concepts) have a definite meaning for our practice. We can act as if there were a God; feel as if we were free; consider Nature as if she were full of special designs; lay plans as if we were to be immortal; and we find then that these words do make a genuine difference in our moral life.

James also suggests that there are indeed other ways of knowing than the sensory ways: "it is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call 'something there,' more deep and more general than any of the special and particular 'senses" by which the current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed." (Note the similarity to the "More" argument in the final chapter.) This argument figures strongly in later chapters. The key here is that these perceptions, which come from some other source in the human psychology than sensory input, create beliefs and attitudes which actually make a difference in human life, which is what counts, for James.

In the discussions of "The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness", James begins his argument that different people may experience life and religion very differently. This is similar to Jung's belief that there are very different types of personalities (detailed in other parts of his writing). A rather amusing characterization of a "healthy-minded" sort of religious person follows:

"It is to be hoped that we all have some friend, perhaps more often feminine than masculine and young than old, whose soul is of this sky-blue tint, whose affinities are rather with flowers and birds and all enchanting innocencies than with dark human passions, who can think no ill of man or God, and in whom religious gladness, being in possession from the outset, needs no deliverance from any antecedent burden."

(This passage feels somewhat dismissive or even sexist to me. Clearly, James does not feel himself to be this type of person, and, while he enjoys them, he may not feel that theirs is as mature and deep a nature as the darker souls describes later.) In other words, the "healthy-minded" is "once-born" -- optimistic, in possession of a faith in the goodness of the Divine, able to transcend difficulties or experiences of evil either through rising above them or denying their essential existence (which is the direction Christian Science has gone). Using this framework, our exploration of the 19th-century religion of Spiritualism shows it to be very "healthy-minded", with an optimistic picture of human potentialities. For the "healthy-minded" or "once-born" individual, sin and evil can be transcended by the effort of the will, by simply understanding that they are errors (Buddhism has some of this sense as well.) We can call this approach a "high" view of human nature.

This "healthy-minded" or "high" view of human nature is also very much characteristic of many of the new religions (a good example is Eckankar), and also very much characteristic of humanistic psychologies (Freud, though, has a darker picture of the innate troublesomeness of the Id and instinctual pull toward death of the psyche).

In "The Sick Soul," in contrast, James describes a psychological type closer to his own, one which has a consciousness of evil, or of darkness, of dividedness, of human limitations, which no amount of will-power or self-talk can overcome. For such individuals, life is a problem. They may experience life as innate suffering (as the Buddha proclaimed). For periods of time, they may experience life as having no meaning. The way out of this experience can be an experience of "conversion" -- a transformation which dramatically alters the sense of reality and of the self.

This description of meaninglessness, dullness, grayness, darkness is similar to definitions of neuroses, by the way, so the same thing is going on in psychology. (Note James's own account of a youthful depression in the account of the "French sufferer".)

James goes on to discuss the problem of the sick soul in the chapter "The Divided Self, and the Process of Its Unification." When an individual becomes aware of the problem of life, which involves a division between what one knows one ought to be able to do (or feel) and what one can in fact do (or feel), there comes an experience of stuckness, of self-division. This state is, by the way, very well described by Jung in some of his work, and he also describes a process by which the psyche "grows" its way out of this dilemma, very similar to the dynamic suggested by James.

Another place this self-dividedness is very well characterized is in the writings of St. Paul, especially Romans.

The chapter on "Conversion" details the "way out" for the divided self. As in the first chapter, it is imperative for the person to give up the ego and let the Divine act to solve the crisis of dividedness (similar to the "third thing" Jung describes coming out of an inner conflict honestly confronted in all its intransigence). The feeling the individual has is that something totally new and powerful enters into the dynamic. The individual is now a "twice-born" person. James seems to feel that this kind of religious attitude is deeper and more interesting than the serene, "sky-blue" faith of the "healthy-minded" individual.

In "Saintliness," James shows the "fruits" of religion for the "twice-born" person. He includes the virtues of "charity, devotion, trust, patience, and bravery". He is careful to show that differing kinds of people will have differing kinds of virtues or strengths. Some find that earlier temptations (we today might say 'addictions') are not longer compelling: sexual temptations, alcoholism, a nasty temper.

Here is a summary of the "saintly character," which James says is universal across religions (note the similarity in tone to the Twelve Steps):

1. A feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world's selfish little interests; and a conviction, not merely intellectual, but as it were sensible, of the existence of an Ideal Power. . . .
2. A sense of the friendly continuity of the ideal power with our own life, and a willing self-surrender to its control.
3. An immense elation and freedom, as the outlines of the confining selfhood melt down.
4. A shifting of the emotional centre towards loving and harmonious affections, towards 'yes,'es,' and away from 'no,' where the claims of the non-ego are concerned.

These fundamental inner conditions have characteristic practical consequences, as follows: --
a. Asceticism.-- The self-surrender may become so passionate a to turn into self-immolation. It may then so overrule the ordinary inhibitions of the flesh that the saint finds positive pleasure in sacrifice and asceticism, measuring and expressing as they do the degree of his loyalty to the higher power.

By the way, I take issue to James's emphasis on asceticism, preferring the "middle way" of the Buddha.

b. Strength of Soul.--The sense of enlargement of life may be so uplifting that personal motives and inhibitions, commonly omnipotent, become too insignificant for notice, and new reaches of patience and fortitude open out. Fears and anxieties go, and blissful equanimity takes their place.

c. Purity.--The shifting of the emotional centre brings with it, first, increase of purity. The sensitiveness to spiritual discords is enhanced, and cleansing of existence from brutal and sensual elements becomes imperative. Occasions of contact with such elements are avoided; the saintly life must deepen its spiritual consistency and keep unspotted from the world. In some temperaments this need of purity of spirit takes an ascetic turn, and weaknesses of the flesh are treated with relentless severity.

(Again, I'm not comfortable with this emphasis, and I'm not sure it is as universal as James finds it to be, though it is certainly true of much of historical Christian mysticism.)

d. Charity.--The shifting of the emotional centre brings, secondly, increase of charity, tenderness for fellow-creatures. The ordinary motives to antipathy, which usually set such close bounds to tenderness among human beings, are inhibited. The saint loves his enemies, and treats loathsome beggars as his brothers.

James goes on in "The Value of Saintliness" to further evaluate the usefulness of religion in human life. He traces religious practice historically, adopting as do Freud and Jung a fairly dismissive view of "primitive" religion. However in contrast to Freud, he credits the experience of divinity throughout history as being a psychological reality for believers, whose value was usefulness:

"In any case, they chose (their deity) for the value of the fruits he seemed to them to yield."

And this standard is still the measure James would use. He rejects the suggestion that all people should have the same sort of religion, in light of his view that human personalities can be very different.

In this historical scan of religion, James very strongly argues that the historical atrocities done in the name of religion did not stem from religious impulses as he understands them.

"Piety is the mask, the inner force is tribal instinct. You believe as little as I do, in spite of the Christian unction with which the German emperor addressed his troops upon their way to China, that the conduct he suggested, and in which other Christian armies went beyond them, had anything whatever to do with the interior religious life of those concerned in the performance."

This passage reminded me of the story of the boy scout-turned-Marine in the film "A Still Small Voice". In the name of religion, many terrible acts have been perpetrated.

James also suggests that it is possible to go too far in some of the virtues of saintliness: "The fruits of religion, in other words, are, like all human products, liable to corruption by excess. Common sense must judge them." He then goes on to show the "too far" state of the virtues, but suggests that we not reject some unpopular virtues without further reflection, especially that of asceticism.

"For in its spiritual meaning, asceticism stands for nothing less than for the essence of the twice-born philosophy. It symbolizes, lamely enough no doubt, but sincerely, the belief that there is an element of real wrongness in this world, which is neither to be ignored nor evaded, but which must be squarely met and overcome by an appeal to the soul's heroic resources, and neutralized and cleansed away by suffering." He contrasts this view to the "ultra-optimistic form of the once-born philosophy" which "thinks we may treat evil by the method of ignoring." (c.f. Christian Science.)

In terms very similar to the work of Robert Bly, James suggests that something of this older "heroic" approach and understanding might be a useful corrective to the modern malaise:

"Does not, for example, the worship of material luxury and wealth, which constitutes so large a portion of the 'spirit' of our age, make somewhat for effeminacy and unmanliness? Is not the exclusively sympathetic and facetious way in which most children are brought up today--so different from the education of a hundred years ago, especially in evangelical circles--in danger, in spite of its many advantages, of developing a certain trashiness of fibre? Are there not hereabouts some points of application for a renovated and revised ascetic discipline?"

He goes on to discuss our "ancestral evolution" as warriors, the virtues of heroism and strenuous life involved in war, then suggests:

"What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war; something heroic that will speak to men (sic) as universally as war does, and yet will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proved itself to be incompatible. . . . May not voluntarily accepted poverty be 'the strenuous life," without the need of crushing weaker peoples? Poverty indeed is the strenuous life,--without brass bands or uniforms or historic popular applause or lies or circumlocutions; and when one sees the way in which wealth-getting enters as an ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one wonders whether a revival the belief that poverty is a worthy religious vocation may not be 'the transformation of military courage,' and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in need of. . . ."

James goes on to talk about how the fear of poverty keeps people from engaging themselves in social causes, especially for unpopular causes: "Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces; yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our example would help to set free our generation."

The chapter on "Mysticism" expands James's earlier suggestions that there are ways of knowing other than those of the senses. He describes the felt characteristics of mystical states: ineffability, noetic quality, transiency, and passivity. These states feel to the person to happen outside of any willed effort.

A very important quality is one of deep meaningfulness. James discusses the possibility that certain drug use can invoke these states, but that such drug-induced states are less enduring than those of religious discipline. In both cases, whether disciplined or drug-induced, the states point to the possibility that our common understanding of reality may be limited and incomplete. First of all, a "spiritual judgment" will evaluate these states for their "fruits for life," James's key test for truth. He qualifies this truth in this summary:

(1) Mystical states, when well developed, usually are, and have the right to be, absolutely authoritative over the individuals to whom they come.
(2) No authority emanates from them which should make it a duty for those who stand outside of them to accept their revelations uncritically.
(3) They break down the authority of the non-mystical or rationalistic consciousness, based upon the understanding and the senses alone. They show it to be only one kind of consciousness. They open out the possibility of other orders of truth, in which, so far as anything in us vitally responds to them, we may freely continue to have faith.

He calls these truths, or these possibilities, which mystical states point to, hypotheses which can then be tested out in life.

(We skipped "Philosophy" in our reading, and I will skip it in these notes.) In the "Other Characteristics" chapter, James discusses the role of aesthetics play in religion (aesthetics is the appreciation of beauty, roughly put). The Catholics have a much greater appreciation of this dimension than the Protestants, in his view. He discusses prayer as something actually being done, actual work:

"The conviction that something is genuinely transacted in this consciousness is the very core of living religion. . . . Through prayer, religion insists, things which cannot be realized in any other manner come about: energy which but for prayer would be bound is by prayer set free and operates in some part, be it objective or subjective, of the world of facts."

His language here suggests that there is no way to really measure the "objective" or "subjective" dimensions involved, but current research (which some class members have mentioned) has tried to do scientific experiments measuring the effects of prayer on healing or on the health of plants, or the like.

James characterizes religious experience of prayer and of contact with divine powers in psychological terms as incursions upon consciousness (or the ego) from "beyond the transmarginal region" (important discussion). This is very close to the way that Jung characterizes religious experience as being the felt interaction between the ego and the larger archetypal powers resident in the Collective Unconscious and connected personal unconscious. James descriptions here of inspiration would mirror the description of hearing a voice recounted by the author of the Book of Miracles, or of the experience of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, in his description of the writing of the Book of Mormon.

In the "Conclusions" James summarizes the following beliefs and psychological characteristics as common to religion in general:

1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;
2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;
3. That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof--be that spirit 'God' or 'law'--is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.
Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics:--
4. A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism.
5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.

James also strongly asserts that religion will be different for people with different temperaments, so that we will never have a situation where there can be "one true religion" for everyone.

He discusses what might be involved in a "science of religion," but states that this understanding (rational, descriptive, comparative, etc.) will never yield the same understanding as a "living religion". This is especially true for people in the modern era, because of the anti-spiritual bias of science.

Given this bias, there would be an assumption that "religion is probably only an anachronism, a case of 'survival,' an atavistic relapse into a mode of thought which humanity in its more enlightened examples has outgrown.� (This is very much the view that Freud takes, as a "scientist.") Science, in its present form, rejects the "merely personal" perspective and seeks to be universal in application. However, James has shown in his discussion that religion has to be personal at the base level, and can't be known in some absolute and universal manner. However, he brings in his main point here:

In spite of the appeal which this impersonality of the scientific attitude makes to a certain magnanimity of temper, I believe it to be shallow, and I can now state my reason in comparatively few words. That reason is that, so long as we deal with the cosmic and the general, we deal only with symbols of reality, but as soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena as such, we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term.

James goes on to explain that reality is only known to each of us through our inner "states", where our perceptions of the outer world join with our inner experiences in creating experience.

. . . the inner state is our very experience itself; its reality and that of our experience are one. A conscious field plus its object as felt or thought of plus an attitude towards the object plus the sense of a self to whom the attitude belongs--such a concrete bit of personal experience may be a small bit, but it is a solid bit as long as it lasts; not hollow, not a mere abstract element of experience, such as the 'object' is when taken all alone. It is a full act, even though it be an insignificant fact; it is of the kind to which all realities whatsoever must belong; the motor currents of the world run through the like of it; it is on the line connecting real events with real events. . . .

It is at this point that he compares this small kind of real experience to a raison in contrast to a printed menu of a larger reality not in experience. By recognizing this personal dimension of reality and taking responsibility within this dimension, one begins to live religiously (the religious attitude of seriousness), at the level of the personal predicament and personal destiny. It is in this discussion, I believe, that James is particularly close to Jung.

At this point, James brings in what he understands to be a common set of understandings of religion:
1. The uneasiness, reduced to its simplest terms, is a sense that there is something wrong about us as w naturally stand.
2. The solution is a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers.
(Note a similarity to the understanding of the Twelve Steps. Notice also here that the "once-born" or "healthy-minded" understanding is not represented in James's summary of religious belief.)

James goes on to characterize what is really his own "doctrine" -- the core of his own belief as to what is going on in the religious life (or as much as he can really state):

"The individual, so far as he suffers from his wrongness and criticizes it, is to that extent consciously beyond it, and in at least possible touch with something higher, if anything higher exists."

(Note the importance here of awareness--a key notion of psychoanalysis.)

"Along with the wrong part there is thus a better part of him, even though it may be but a most helpless germ. With which part he should identify his real being is by no means obvious at this stage; but when stage 2 (the stage of solution or salvation) arrives, the man identifies his real being with the germinal higher part of himself . . . "

(Note the similarity to the process indicated by Jung)

"and does so in the following way. He becomes conscious that this higher part is conterminous and continuous with a MORE of the same quality, which is operative in the universe outside of him, and which he can keep in working touch with, and in a fashion get on board of and save himself when all his lower being has gone to pieces in the wreck. "

James feels that it doesn't matter if the MORE is psychological or "objective", as he has already shown that there is no useful way of making distinctions in those realms. He goes on to discuss the location of the MORE as being likely experienced as within the "subconscious self", which is exactly the position taken by Jung. James's language here is to propose a hypothesis: "whatever it may be on its farther side, the 'more' with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither (nearer) side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life."

Stating this hypothesis, he describes a starting point for "science", which, again, is the position taken by Jung, that these are empirical matters, even though experienced subjectively. However, even if we were in a position to examine this subconscious dimension of religious experience scientifically, it would not be enough; there is still a need for a personal belief (an "over-belief) and for religious discipline to take place. Given this understanding, James is finally (though very tentatively, it seems to me) in a position of offering his own "over-belief":

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in. By being faithful in my poor measure to this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true. I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist's attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor of which W. K. Clifford once wrote, whispering the word 'bosh!' Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow 'scientific' bounds. Assuredly, the real world is of a different temperament,--more intricately built than physical science allows.

William James & Gender - Supplementary Reading

Additional Supplementary Reading for Week #4: This is a chapter from my dissertation that explores gender issues in William James's Varieties of Religious Experience. Use it for background reading, especially if it is helpful for a paper topic you have chosen. Use regular footnoting protocol if references information from this chapter. The title of the full work (like a book title) is The Varieties of Goddess Experience: Feminist Pragmatism in the Study of Women's Spirituality, with a publication date of May 2001.

January 31, 2008

Buddhism as Mind Science - Reading for Session #5

Readings on Buddhism and Psychology - First read Chapter 9 in Taylor, if you haven't already - the discussion questions for that were posted last week, and are listed again below. Then read the first three articles linked below for sure, and browse the last two if you wish. Finally - the reading reflection question for your written response is here:

(Two parts:) (1) In thinking about American popular culture and popular religion, and reflecting on the reading from Taylor, what effects have you observed in religious practice, religious beliefs, and psychological therapies from the influence of Eastern religious practices and ideas? (2) From the readings on Buddhism (below), what positive impact on Western psychology might be possible from Buddhist thought and practice?

Taylor Chapter 9 discussion questions (185-207)

1. What were Vivekananda’s messages about the values of Hinduism for American people? (185-188)

2. How have American’s adapted religious ideas from Asia? (189-191)

3. How did Western writings influence Suzuki’s Zen philosophy, and what has his influence been? (194-197)

4. In what ways has the Dalai Lama been influential in America? (197+)

Articles on Buddhism and the Mind

I've listed a link below to an interview about neurological science and Buddhism. Read this for sure, and browse through the links on the article as well (especially useful is a 3-page piece by Ricard). Some are no longer current.

Here's an overview article which also gives a summary discussion of Buddhist precepts. Please read this:

Here's a brief article by a Western psychotherapist about some benefits from Buddhist understanding for psychological practice:

And the link below to an article written for a conference on Buddhism and psychology is interesting as well. Please note that the site hosting this article wants users to register. It seems a legitimate site to me, and the registration is to protect their materials, but if you are uncomfortable registering for an unknown web site, you don't have to read this article.

The link below is a more scholarly article written by a psychology student at Bryn Mawr. This is optional.

February 7, 2008

Read for Session #6

Pop Spirituality Entrepreneurs - Wannabe Indigenous Gurus

Please read this whole posting and browse through the links presented.

Here are some questions we can discuss in class: Why have so many non-native spiritual writers presented themselves as representing secret indigenous traditions? What is their audience, and why has the audience responded so positively? What is the response of native folks to these authors and texts? What are the important issues for our study of emerging spiritualities in looking at this phenomenon?

Overview: In the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, books written for Western audiences purporting to reveal secrets of indigenous people�s spirituality were very popular. One such series were the Don Juan books written by Carlos Castenada, purporting to recount the trainings he had received from a native sorcerer. Millions of copies were sold. Here�s information about Castenada and his success:

Following the Castenada books, other authors wrote books purporting to describe their own initiation into magical realms of Native American or other indigenous spiritualities. A common premise of some of these books was that the ancient ways were dying out, and that the author had been chosen as the one to receive the magical secrets from the last of the ancient teachers and, obviously, publish these secrets to the world. This sort of story was appealing on many levels: it was often very dramatic, with psychic and magical powers being bestowed on the author. The stories capitalized on the romanticism people in the United States have long had about Native American culture (think of the many summer camps for middle-class white kids with so-called Indian themes and rituals); it captured people�s nostalgia about their perceptions of simpler times, especially when people were closer to the land and to nature in general; and these texts gave a sense of ancient authority to emerging �shadow culture� spiritual ideas and practices.

Many of these authors have made a lot of money both from their books and from their later spiritual guidance businesses. Here�s a link to a good, though somewhat long, overview and critique of this kind of use of Native culture for non-Native appropriation. If you pick any of the names and do google searches on them, you will see what kind of spiritual entrepreneurs these folks are.

Marlo Morgan Case Study: We�re going to talk in class about an example of this sort of book (Mutant Message from Down Under) written by an American woman, Marlo Morgan, but set in Australia, purporting to describe her initiation into the secret ways of the indigenous people there. The book was an underground best seller later released by a major publisher in the United States. Please read through the links. Pay attention to the reviews of readers who found the book to be moving and important � what were their reasons for finding it so?

The first site will give you links to much of the history of this book, and the concerns people had about it.

This next link takes you to the reader responses listed on for this book. Note that you would have a hard time from this presentation finding out that the book had been thoroughly denounced. Obviously, has an interest in continuing to sell the book.

This last link is a strong critique of the book:

February 22, 2008

Reading on Jung

Following are a few selected links that have summary information about the life and work of C.G. Jung. There's a ton more out there - but much of it is oriented to people who are already pretty familiar with his work, so these are a pretty good start. In reading this, try to come up with a working definition for yourself of "the archetype" as used by Jung. Also try to figure out what he felt the goal of psychological development was and how, in the modern age, people are supposed to go about the work of becoming more fully themselves. How do people get it wrong?

A one-page biography.
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A several page biography and summary of key terms and ideas in Jung's work. Includes the development of his personality theory by Meyers and Briggs and a summary of their typology.
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Use this for the brief biography, the introduction to Jung - which has some especially good and succinct definitions - and the essay by Jung about psychology and art (which he sees as parallel to religion). Don't use the other links, as they take you out of the Jung material.
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A brief Jung quote on the mandala - also, a link to a long and interesting collection of Jung's quotes on dreams which is worth browsing. The other links are sometimes broken or take you to commercial places.
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March 3, 2008

Original 12 Steps

Compare these to James's closing chapter material:

The 12 Steps and Principles



Step 1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.


Step 2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.


Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.


Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.


Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.


Step 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.


Step 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Brotherly Love

Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.


Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.


Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.


Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.


Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.