The Varieties of Religious Experience (Personal Religion)

At the onset we are struck by one great partition that divides the religious field. On one side of it lies institutional, on the other personal religion. Worship and sacrifice…theology and ceremony… are the essentials of religion in the institutional branch. [Here religion is] an external art, the art of winning the favor of the gods.

In the more personal branch of religion it is on the contrary the inner dispositions of man himself which form the center of interest… [Here] the individual transacts the business by himself alone and the ecclesiastical organization, with its priests and sacraments and other go-betweens, sinks to an altogether secondary place. The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from soul to soul, between man and maker.

Now in these lectures I propose to ignore the institutional branch entirely, to say nothing of the ecclesiastical organization, to consider as little as possible the systematic theology and the ideas about the gods themselves, and to confine myself as far as I can do to personal religion pure and simple. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

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