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How to Catch James's Mystic Germ Religious Experience, Buddhist Meditation and Psychology

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Within The Varieties of Religious Experience lies the germ of a truly radical idea. It is that religious experience has something important and basic to contribute to the science of psychology. Yet now, a hundred years after the publication of James's monumental work, the mainstream academic fields of psychology are no closer to considering, let alone implementing, this idea than they were in James's day. Why? Surely one aspect of this is the way in which the categories and imagery of our society envisage an otherworldly religion and a naturalistic psychology which are on different planes of existence and cannot communicate with one other. I believe that the Eastern meditation traditions can bridge this divide and that had William James been as familiar with Eastern religions as he was with Christianity, he would have had a great deal more specifically to say about what religion had to offer science. The purpose of this paper is to look again at James's material through the lens of Eastern, particularly Buddhist, thought and meditation. Ideally this will serve not only to provide a new perspective on James's classic work but to show a new direction in which the study of religious experience can impact research in psychology and in the emerging cognitive sciences.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, 3210 Tolman Hall #1650, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA.

Publication date: 01 January 2002

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