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William James on the "hither side of the unconscious"

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  • walto
    When...we take religious mysticism into the account, when we recall the striking and sudden unifications of a discordant self which we saw in conversion, and
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 26, 2011
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      When...we take religious mysticism into the account, when we recall the striking and sudden unifications of a discordant self which we saw in conversion, and when we review the extravagant obsessions of tenderness, purity, and self-severity met with in saintliness, we cannot, I think, avoid the conclusion that in religion we have a department of human nature with unusually close relations to the trans-marginal or subliminal region....[This] B-region...is obviously the larger part of each of us, for it is the abode of everything that is latent and the reservoir of everything that passes unrecorded or unobserved. It contains, for example, such things as all our momentarily inactive memories, and it harbors the springs of all our obscurely motived passions, impulses, likes dislikes, and prejudices. Our intuitions, hypotheses, fancies, superstitions, persuasions, convictions, and in general all our non-rational operations, come from it. It is the source of our dreams, and apparently they may return to it. In it arise whatever mystical experiences we may have, and our automatisms, sensory or motor; our life in hypnotic and `hypnoid' conditions, if we are subjects to such conditions; our delusions, fixed ideas, and hysterical accidents, if we are hysteric subjects; our supra-normal cognitions, if such there be, and if we are telepathic subjects. It is also the fountain-head of much that feeds our religion. In persons deep in the religious life, as we have now abundantly seen...the door into this region seems unusually wide open; at any rate, experiences making their entrance though that door have had emphatic influence in shaping religious history....

      Let me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its farther side, the `more' with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life....[T]he theologian's contention that the religious man is moved by an external power is vindicated, for it is one of the peculiarities of invasions from the subconscious region to take on objective appearances, and to suggest to the Subject an external control. In the religious life the control is felt as `higher'; but since on our hypothesis it is primarily the higher faculties of our own hidden mind which are controlling the sense of union with the power beyond us is a sense of something, not merely apparently, but literally true....[W]e have in the fact that the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come, a positive content of religious experience which, it seems to me, is literally and objectively true as far as it goes.


      James, _Varieties of Religious Experience_

      W
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