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The Varieties of Religious Experience came about as the result of William James''s legendary lecture series at The University of Edinburgh. It consisted of 20 Lectures, 2 courses of 10 lectures each. In this series, James examines in detail the nature of religion, expanding on pragmatism in the process. As part of the canon of modern philosophy and psychology, these lectures are both classic and relevant.
William James was the son of the theologian Henry James and the eldest of five children, including the novelist Henry James (Jr.) His family traveled frequently between the U.S. and Europe, a practice which William maintained throughout his life; the many friendships he cultivated oversees secured him an international reputation. After completing his liberal arts education, James was torn between a career as a painter or a scientist. He chose the latter, receiving an M.D. from Harvard in 1869, where he taught for 35 years in the departments of anatomy, physiology, philosophy, and psychology. Of his many accomplishments, James set up the first psychology laboratory in the U.S., helped organize the American Society for Psychical Research in 1884, and received numerous awards and honors. James's lifelong fascination with human nature and culture is evident in his work, which explores the ways in which the spheres of philosophy, science, and religion intersect. William James is considered one of the great American thinkers.
"The 'Varieties' has probably been, over the years, James's most popular book, read even after his functionalist psychology was superseded by behaviorism and when his pragmatist philosophy was in eclipse. It is composed primarily of case histories, collected from all around the world and organized by category....[I]t looks, it in other words, like a psychology textbook, and that is because it is a psychology textbook. The 'Varieties' is not a study of religion; it is, as the subtitle states, 'a study in human nature.'"