Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things

By Ann Taves | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B Personal Accounts of Stephen Bradley and William Barnard (James 1902/1985, 157–60; Barnard 1997, 126–29)

William Barnard: “When I was thirteen years old, I was walking to school in Gainesville, Florida, and without any apparent reason, I became obsessed with the idea of what would happen to me after my death. Throughout that day I attempted to visualize myself as not existing. I simply could not comprehend that my self-awareness would not exist in some form or another after my death. I kept trying, without success, to envision a simple blank nothingness. Later, I was returning home from school, walking on the hot pavement next to a stand of pine trees less than a block from my home, still brooding about what it would be like to die. Suddenly, without warning, something shifted inside. I felt lifted outside of myself, as if I had been expanded beyond my previous sense of self. In that exhilarating and yet deeply peaceful moment, I felt as if I had been shaken awake. In a single, 'timeless' gestalt, I had a direct and powerful experience that I was not just that young teenage boy but, rather, that I was a surging, ecstatic, boundless state of consciousness” (127–28).

Stephen Bradley: “Before entering upon a minuter study of the process, let me enliven our understanding of the definition by a concrete example. I choose the quaint case of an unlettered man, Stephen H. Bradley, whose experience is related in a scarce American pamphlet.1

I select this case because it shows how in these inner alterations one may find one unsuspected depth below another, as if the possibilities of character lay disposed in a series of layers or shells, of whose existence we have no premonitory knowledge.

Bradley thought that he had been already fully converted at the age of fourteen.

1 James cites the source of the account as: A sketch of the life of Stephen H. Bradley, from
the age of five to twenty four years, including his remarkable experience of the power of the
Holy Spirit on the second evening of November, 1829. Madison, Connecticut, 1830.

-172-

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