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

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Published Nov 10, 2020
Ghila Amati

Abstract

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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