The Varieties of Contexts for Reappraising The Varieties. . .

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Abstract:

Most authors of articles in this issue reflect on differences between the world into which William James dropped his book in 1902 and the world in which readers can confront it in 2002. Here and there are mentions that imply he was speaking in a climate where many hearers and readers were indifferent to, suspicious of, or hostile to explorations that dealt with anything coded with words such as 'transcendent', 'mystical', 'spiritual', or 'religious'. Such mentions are in place. One can sense the psychologist clearing his throat, shifting on his feet, and perhaps figuratively raising a protective arm as a shield against verbal missiles that would be hurled by audiences or readers. To deal with some medieval mystics was one thing; to take seriously the upstart and often, among academics, unrespectable movements such as Christian Science was another. It could expose him to ridicule and hurt the scientific and philosophical communities in which he was a leader. Between the turn of the last century and the turn of this one, historians of culture agree, James would have had an ever worse time carrying on his explorations or making his points. The world, which meant the world of the academy, media, arts, and often politics, was periodically described as secular, and growing ever more relentlessly so. Whatever else 'secular' meant, it implied the freedom to ignore or oppose scholarship other than historical that dealt with the transcendent or the mystical. Those were years of 'secular theology' or 'the death of God' movements or, simply, turnings of the back on mysticism and inquiries concerning it for pragmatic reasons or less discernible ones that came with the ethos.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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