Science and Religion in the Era of William James
[ William James] found an eager audience waiting.
JOHN DEWEY, 1910
I will never forget the response of a fellow graduate student when I enthusiastically announced my intention to embark on researching William James for my dissertation more than ten years ago: "At least everyone will have heard of him." The comment was a many-layered text. My friend was recognizing the fact that the subject was yet another white male from the cultural canon. But the comment also offered backhanded consolation that William James was universally known within the academy and broadly familiar outside. Familiarity has not often bred contempt, and, in fact, James's prominent status has not even bred neglect. Since his own time, James has been an increasingly towering figure in a dizzying array of cultural arenas, from the popular to the professional.
William James appears as a founding father in many theoretical fields whose very diversity testifies to his cultural importance, even if he is not central to any one discipline in the late twentieth century. 1 In addition, he is no less a familiar presence in historical and cultural studies, although these fields have not yet devoted as much attention to him. 2 James is widely recognized, generally admired, and frequently studied, but his canonization has often portrayed him as a charming avuncular presence, rather than a potent cultural player and an intellectual who readily crossed disciplinary boundaries. Most important, analyses of James's theories have paid little attention to his youth, and studies of his development toward maturity have put little emphasis on his intellectual life.