Superior Points of View William James and Aldous Huxley’s Reflections on Mystical and Religious Experiences



Published Nov 10, 2020
Ghila Amati


The question of the nature, truthfulness and value of mystical and spiritual experiences is thought-provoking and puzzling. Even today, it is not possible to provide a clear and univocal answer. There are multiple unsolved questions: What is a mystical or religious experience? Does a mystical experience supply knowledge about the transcendental? Are psychological, theological, and metaphysical speculations forever relegated to the limbo-land of mere possibility, or do they, on any level, reflect anything real? This article is an attempt to analyze these questions and to elaborate upon them; if not to find a definite answer to these questions, then to propose possible answers. I start by analyzing the account of the pragmatist American philosopher and psychologist William James, mostly focusing on two chapters of his work The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. Secondly, I discuss how James’ account supports and expands upon that of Aldous Huxley as set out in his work The Doors of Perception. Then, I show how both James and Huxley’s ideas find empirical support in a scientific study. Finally, I bring in the phenomenon of shamanism as a practical explanatory example of the views of these two thinkers. In this way, I propose a different and new outlook on the shamanic practice, less common in academic discourse.

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