29+ quotes from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

Quotes from The Varieties of Religious Experience

William James ·  519 pages

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“Good-humor is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature that we take her no more seriously than she takes us. I maintain that one should always talk of philosophy with a smile.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“I am no lover of disorder and doubt as such. Rather I fear to lose truth by the pretension to possess it already wholly.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“The perfect stillness of the night was thrilled by a more solemn silence. The darkness held a presence that was all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not any more have doubted that HE was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“The lunatic's visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic, or naturalistic scheme of philosophy. Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact depends on the remoter schemes and hopes with which it stands related. Its significance and framing give it the chief part of its value. Let it be known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy, its glow and gilding vanish. The old man, sick with an insidious internal disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it; and the knowledge knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions. They are partners of death and the worm is their brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“To suggest personal will and effort to one all sicklied o'er with the sense of irremediable impotence is to suggest the most impossible of things. What he craves is to be consoled in his very powerlessness, to feel that the spirit of the universe recognizes and secures him, all decaying and failing as he is.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Earnestness means willingness to live with energy, though energy bring pain. The pain may be pain to other people or pain to one's self — it makes little difference; for when the strenuous mood is on one, the aim is to break something, no matter whose or what. Nothing annihilates an inhibition as irresistibly as anger does it; for, as Moltke says of war, destruction pure and simple is its essence. This is what makes it so invaluable an ally of every other passion. The sweetest delights are trampled on with a ferocious pleasure the moment they offer themselves as checks to a cause by which our higher indignations are elicited. It costs then nothing to drop friendships, to renounce long-rooted privileges and possessions, to break with social ties. Rather do we take a stern joy in the astringency and desolation; and what is called weakness of character seems in most cases to consist of the inaptitude for these sacrificial moods, of which one's own inferior self and its pet softnesses must often be the targets and the victims.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly—the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labor, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion. It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to be chosen. But wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption. There are thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman. Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer hold our tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket. Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces; yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our example would help to set free our generation. The cause would need its funds, but we its servants would be potent in proportion as we personally were contented with our poverty. I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Thus, when a superior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce...in the same individual, we have the best possible conditions for the kind of effective genius that gets into the biographical dictionaries. Such men do not remain mere critics and understanders with their intellect. Their ideas posses them, they inflict them, for better or worse, upon their companions or their age.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. "I am no such thing," it would say; "I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“...our moral and practical attitude....impulses, inhibitions.... how it contains and moulds us by its restrictive pressure almost as if we were fluids pent with the cavity of a jar.... It becomes our subconscious. [p. 287]”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Contempt for one's own comrades, for the troops of the enemy, and, above all, fierce contempt for one's own person, are what war demands of everyone. Far better is it for an army to be too savage, too cruel, too barbarous, than to possess too much sentimentality and human reasonableness.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“What right have we to believe Nature under any obligation to do her work by means of complete minds only? She may find an incomplete mind a more suitable instrument for a particular purpose.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Lectures IV and V - The Religion Of Healthy Mindedness If we were to ask the question: "What is human life's chief concern?" one of the answers we should receive would be: "It is happiness." How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“No fact in human nature is more characteristic than its willingness to live on a chance. The existence of the chance makes the difference… between a life of which the keynote is resignation and a life of which the keynote is hope.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Phrases of neatness, cosiness, and comfort can never be an answer to the sphinx's riddle.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“In the Louvre there is a picture, by Guido Reni, of St. Michael with his foot on Satan's neck. The richness of the picture is in large part due to the fiend's figure being there. The richness of its allegorical meaning also is due to his being there—that is, the world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“how infinitely passionate a thing religion at its highest flights can be. Like love, like wrath, like hope, ambition, jealousy, like every other instinctive eagerness and impulse, it adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or logically deducible from anything else.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“A solemn state of mind is never crude or simple—it seems to contain a certain measure of its own opposite in solution. A solemn joy preserves a sort of bitter in its sweetness; a solemn sorrow is one to which we intimately consent.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“The individual's religion may be egotistic, and those private realities which it keeps in touch with may be narrow enough; but at any rate it always remains infinitely less hollow and abstract, as far as it goes, than a science which prides itself on taking no account of anything private at all.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Who says “hypothesis” renounces the ambition to be coercive in his arguments. The most I can do is, accordingly, to offer something that may fit the facts so easily that your scientific logic will find no plausible pretext for vetoing your impulse to welcome it as true.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“I gave all up to him to do with me as he pleased, and was willing that God should rule over me at his pleasure, redeeming love broke into my soul with repeated scriptures, with such power that my whole soul seemed to be melted down with love, the burden of guilt and condemnation was gone, darkness was expelled, my heart humbled and filled with gratitude, and my whole soul, that was a few minutes ago groaning under mountains of death, and crying to an unknown God for help,”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned in the history of religions, nor an anthropologist. Psychology is the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed. To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his mental constitution.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Science” in many minds is genuinely taking the place of a religion. Where this is so, the scientist treats the “Laws of Nature” as objective facts to be revered.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


“Our impulsive belief is here always what sets up the original body of truth, and our articulately verbalized philosophy is but its showy translation into formulas. The unreasoned and immediate assurance is the deep thing in us, the reasoned argument is but a surface exhibition. Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow.”
― William James, quote from The Varieties of Religious Experience


About the author

William James
Born place: in New York , The United States
Born date January 11, 1842
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