William James

Authored by: Michael R. Slater

The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782173
eBook ISBN: 9780203387856
Adobe ISBN: 9781136677922


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William James (1842–1910) has the unique distinction of being both one of the twentieth century's most distinguished psychologists and one of its most influential and important philosophers. He was the pre-eminent American psychologist of his era and authored one of the landmark works in the emerging discipline of psychology, the monumental Principles of Psychology (1890). And by the end of his life, at a time when disciplinary boundaries were not so sharp as they are today, he was widely regarded as one of the most original and significant philosophers of his day, renowned in particular for his defense of such doctrines as pragmatism, radical empiricism, and “the will to believe.” In this chapter I shall focus on James's distinctive contributions to the philosophy and psychology of religion, paying special attention to some of the central aims and themes in his writings on religion. As we shall see, in developing his views James was responding to some of the most important intellectual challenges to religious faith of his day, and many of the concerns and positions that he articulated are as relevant today as they were at the turn of the twentieth century. Although the picture of James that emerges here is necessarily partial and selective, my hope is that it will prove helpful to readers seeking an introduction to James's religious views and a sense of their place in the history of modern religious thought.

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