Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism

Article excerpt

Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism. By G. William Barnard. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997. xiv + 422 pp. $21.95 (paper).

The explosion of philosophical interest in mysticism, and the indebtedness of that interest to the work of William James, renders timely this full scale treatment of James's own thoughts on mysticism. G. William Barnard widens the picture from its traditional focus on the chapters on mysticism in James's Varieties of Religious Experience, which he rightly protests are too often the limits of philosophers' acquaintance with James's thought on the subject. Barnard deliberately locates these chapters in the corpus of James's writing. Naturally he pays special attention to James's classical works like Principles of Psychology (1890) and Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912), but he also brings to light less well known essays such as 'A Pluralist Mystic' and 'A Suggestion About Mysticism,' both published in 1910.

Barnard's approach is that of an enthusiastic expositor. Although his book does contain critical analysis, his main aim is to expound what William James meant by mysticism, which Barnard specifies as 'a way of life that is centered around experiences of transformative, personally interpreted, contacts with transnatural realities' (p. 5). Ile shows how James was refreshingly open to sources of knowledge ranging from psychical research to experiments with nitrous oxide, sources often considered beyond the bounds of respectable philosophical study. He also roots James's academic work in the concerns of his personal life, especially his relationship with his father and its complicated aftermath. Barnard tries to defend James from his current critics, especially constructivists like Wayne Proudfoot and Steven Katz, though in my view this is not wholly successful. For example, he rejects Katz on the grounds that Katz's views must be based on Kantian assumptions (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.